January 6, 2017  -  Vol. IX No. 1
Photo from Oldways Culinaria Trip to Emilia Romagna, Italy in May 2016. Find out more about our next trip  here
The Mediterranean Diet: Good for you and for the planet

As the new year begins, many of us are searching for diets to fulfill our healthy eating resolutions. However, popular diets typically lack scientific evidence of effectiveness and often prove short-lived due to impractical restrictions. Even the healthiest eating pattern is doomed if it’s not personally sustainable. 

At the same time, environmental sustainability is becoming more important than ever in the face of climate change and questions about food security. 2016 may go down as the warmest year on record and scientists, farmers, and policymakers continue to research how to best feed 9.7 billion people by 2050

What “diet” has shown itself to be both personally and globally sustainable by being easy to follow and environmentally friendly? The Mediterranean Diet, of course!

Sustainable for You

Three components make the Mediterranean Diet easy to follow:

  • Variety: While it does emphasize certain food groups like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting meats and sweets, the Mediterranean Diet is not about restriction. On the contrary, it celebrates variety across food groups. Rather than prescribing a certain number of servings or listing foods to avoid, the Mediterranean Diet pyramid presents a base from which to prepare meals. The specific foods you select are up to you.
  • Accessibility: The foods that comprise the Mediterranean Diet are easily obtainable at your favorite grocery store or farmers market. There is no need to spend on specialty foods or prepackaged meals. 
  • Flexibility: If you can’t find one particular ingredient for a recipe, you can substitute something else more common or affordable without sacrificing the taste or nutrition of your chosen dish.

Simply put, the Mediterranean Diet is personally sustainable because it’s enjoyable. It incorporates delicious foods along with physical activity and time with friends and family.  Following its traditional eating pattern can certainly help you lose weight and be healthier, but it is truly a long-term lifestyle change instead of a short-term fix. 

Sustainable for the Planet

On a larger scale, a sustainable diet ensures we can feed the current generation without degrading the environmental resources needed to feed future generations. Sustainable diets make efficient use of resources like water, land, and fertilizers while producing fewer greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide that contribute to climate change. Evidence continues to show that eating patterns rich in plant-based foods and limiting meat – just like the Mediterranean Diet – are best for the environment:

  • Saving Water. It takes ten gallons of water to produce a calorie of beef, but only one gallon to produce a calorie of whole grains. Fruits (three gallons) and vegetables (two gallons) are also less resource-intensive than beef. Pasta – a beloved staple of the Mediterranean Diet – is an especially smart ecological and nutritious choice
  • Saving Land. Globally, 75% of agricultural land is used to produce animal-based products, which supply just 17% of our calories. While not all of it is suitable for crops, converting a portion of that area to growing the whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds central to the Mediterranean Diet would be a more efficient and less stressful use of the world’s limited land.
  • Cutting Fertilizer Use: Pulses – the edible seeds of legumes, such as chickpeas – absorb nitrogen from the air through the soil, decreasing the need for fertilizer. Even cooler, when the plants die, the nitrogen returns to the soil, keeping it fertile for the next planted crop – a process called “nitrogen fixing.” So, pulses not only grow sustainably themselves, but they also reduce the amount of resources required for other Mediterranean Diet staples like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Join us in celebrating the many benefits of pulses during Global Pulse Day on Wednesday, January 18. 

The bottom line? When you adopt a Mediterranean Diet lifestyle, you’re choosing a way of eating that’s healthy for you and for the planet. Check out the recipes below to get started.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipes.
Recipes

Lavender Lentils

Elevate basic stewed beluga lentils with lavender and herbs de Provence, a mixture of dried herbs typical of the Provence region of southeast France. 

Recipe developed by Ellen Kanner, for the American Pulse Association. Photo: American Pulse Association.

Peanut Butter Chili

Peanuts add depth and creaminess to this delicious plant-based chili. Top it with sliced avocado, chopped radishes, and fresh cilantro. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of The Peanut Institute.

Lemony Roasted Broccoli

Before going in the oven, the broccoli florets in this recipe are flavored with olive oil and lemon to give them a tangy, heavenly kick. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes for a touch of spice.

An Oldways recipe and photo. 


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Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be.