The Mediterranean diet as an example of sustainability

The Mediterranean diet as an example of sustainability

December 22, 2020

The Mediterranean diet as an example of sustainability

A true way of life, the Mediterranean diet is good for your health as well as bringing social, economic and environmental benefits

Yet another point in favor of the Mediterranean diet as a cornerstone of well-being, confirming the fact that this food regime is both environmentally friendly and good for human health. A recent randomized study has suggested that a “green” Mediterranean diet, i.e. with an even lower red or poultry meat content and even higher vegetable content, could be more beneficial than a “traditional” diet for people’s cardio-metabolic status and in terms of reducing their cardiovascular risk. 

Recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity, the Mediterranean diet promotes the consumption of vegetables, fruit, cereals (preferably whole grains), vegetable protein sources (legumes), dried fruit and the use of olive oil, with moderate or limited consumption of eggs, fish, meat, milk and its derivatives. A somewhat diversified heritage given the features of the different countries, each with its own food culture. But the Mediterranean model is not limited to a list of foods. It is a lifestyle that emphasizes a series of values, the benefits of which span multiple areas, including the environment.

Not only health

With the publication of the Met Diet 4.0 in 2016, the International Foundation of Mediterranean Diet identified the four benefits of the Mediterranean diet: improved health, lower environmental impact and richness of biodiversity, high socio-cultural value and positive local economic returns. This diet in fact encourages the seasonal consumption of fresh and local produce, biodiversity and food variety, stimulating traditional culinary activities, conviviality and frugality, while also respecting specificities, which can benefit local economies.

The positive effects of the Mediterranean diet on health, including protection from cardiovascular disease, are widely described in the relevant literature. In updating its guidelines on diet and physical activity in cancer prevention, the American Cancer Society recently emphasized the health benefits of healthy eating patterns. However, the experts also highlighted the fact that, compared to the average diet in the United States, these models, including the Mediterranean diet, are associated with a lower environmental impact as, among other things, they reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the use of energy, land and water. “[...] the implementation of recommended dietary models [...] can lead to greater food security and environmental sustainability for future generations,” they write.

The Mediterranean diet is definitely recognized as a sustainable diet. According to FAO, “Sustainable diets are those with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources.” 

The Double Pyramid developed by the Barilla Foundation and which is based on the Mediterranean diet is a very useful tool for understanding the different impact of food on the environment and human health. It is easy to see how foods located closer to the top of the food pyramid, and which should therefore be consumed moderately, such as beef, are also those that have the highest environmental impact. 

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