Yet Another Reason We Love The Mediterranean Diet
For the past three years in a row, U.S. News' annual report on the healthiest overall diets has had the Mediterranean diet come out on top. It's more of a lifestyle than a diet, and if you needed another reason to give it a try, evidence suggests it may just be the most sustainable, too.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), a specialized U.N. agency that leads efforts to improve nutrition, food security, and sustainability, recently held an event in Rome. It was the third in their series discussing their initiative to achieve sustainability goals, and one of the big ways they want to do that is through preserving the Mediterranean diet.
As we look for approaches to ensure the health of the planet, and its population for generations to come, the FAO says there's ample reason to both support the diet and to keep those traditions alive.
Its environmental footprint is low.
A Mediterranean diet is characterized not only by the kinds of foods people are eating but also the accompanying lifestyle and the way people interact with their environment. Think plenty of farm-to-table or gardened produce, for example, which limits transportation and packaging.
The diet itself is also rich in olive oil, lower in red meat (which is known to have a negative impact on the environment), full of fresh produce and herbs, and lots of omega-3s from nuts, seeds, and seafood. Not only is all that stuff great for your body—the environmental impact is relatively low, too.
One 2013 study even found that if Spain were to adopt more of a Mediterranean lifestyle, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by as much as 72%, land use by 58%, energy consumption by 52%, and water consumption by 33%.
Keeping the tradition alive.
Moving forward, the FAO notes that many of the very things that make a Mediterranean lifestyle so good for the Earth are beginning to change (and not for the better).
The FAO's deputy director-general for climate and natural resources Maria Helena Semedo, M.S., warns, "This traditional way of eating is increasingly giving way to changing habits and lifestyles, from diverse and balanced meals to more monotonous meals high in fats, sugar, and salt."
Indeed, the aforementioned 2013 study also looked at the environmental impact of adopting a Western diet. Rather than the decrease observed with the Mediterranean Diet, a Western diet increases things like land use, emissions, and energy consumption by anywhere from 12% to 72%. So, not only would humans become unhealthier, but the planet would as well, due to loss of biodiversity and natural resources.
Luckily, the FAO and other international groups are well aware of this trend, making efforts to keep the Mediterranean diet alive by working with governments and farmers, as well as consumers themselves. And in the meantime, we can all incorporate a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle into our own routines—and of course, make it more sustainable along the way.
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