The Mediterranean Diet: Good for the Individual, Good for the Planet

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid with Food GroupsAs part of its recommendations, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) recently issued a report suggesting that Americans should focus less on individual foods and more on their overall dietary patterns. For dietary, as well as planetary health, the DGAC advocated the Mediterranean or vegetarian diets.

Adoption of the Mediterranean diet, rather than the vegetarian diet, is an easier transition for most of the omnivores among us.

Unlike some diets that exclude numerous categories of foods, the Mediterranean diet focuses on major themes to include–fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. It offers a large variety of food choices, although some foods are unquestionably shunned.

What are the black-balled foods? Certainly saturated and trans fats have no place at the table. Salt is replaced by herbs and spices. And butter? Butter is banned to make space for healthy fats, with olive oil at the head of the table.

Olive oil is considered a “healthy fat,” or monounsaturated fat, and it can actually help reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL, or the “bad” cholesterol) levels. Besides the positive impact on LDL cholesterol, “extra-virgin” and “virgin” olive oils are high in protective plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects.

The bulk of the food at the Mediterranean table is plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Fish and poultry are eaten at least a few times a week, and red meat only shows up at the table a few times a month. Red wine, only in moderation, may or may not be at the table.The Mediterranean Diet is built on a foundation of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish

Eating a Mediterranean diet has been associated with a reduced risk from heart disease, stroke and cancer, as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The American Diabetes Association  has even indicated that this may be a good diet to reduce one’s risk of diabetes. That’s great news for the individual, but how is it good for the environment?

The increased consumption of vegetables and the reduced consumption of animal products reduces the overall environmental footprint and use of natural resources. In a study comparing the environmental impact of the Mediterranean diet compared to typical Spanish or Western diets, the Mediterranean diet was found to be the most environmentally friendly with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, land use, energy consumption and water consumption.

Good for you, good for the environment, sounds like a win-win!

(Although there is no shortage of wonderful resources on the Internet, I would go here for healthy Mediterranean meal planning).


photo credit: Mayo Clinic & Huffington Post