Mediterranean diet: Not just healthier but also better for the environment?

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mediterranean diet: Not just healthier but also better for the environment?

Related tags: Nutrition, Health care

While the health benefits of following a Mediterranean-style diet are well-known, new research has also suggested that the dietary pattern also leaves less of a carbon footprint than other options.

The new findings come after researchers analysed carbon footprint of daily menus served in Spain, based on a roughly Mediterranean diet, and compared them to those eaten in English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom and the US.

Writing in the Journal of Health Services Research & Policy​, the team behind the study found that Spanish menu’s leave less of a carbon footprint than that of the US or the UK.

"Climate change is an international priority that must be tackled from all angles, one being the family environment and consideration of our daily diet,"​ commented Professor Rosario Vidal from Jaume I University of Castellón, who led the study.

Based on a menu with the same calorific intake, the average daily carbon footprint for the Spanish diet was 5.08 kg of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) – significantly less than the average for the US (between 8.5 kg and 8.8 kg CO2e) or the United Kingdom (7.4 kg CO2e), said the team.

"The differences between the average value of the Mediterranean diet and that of English-speaking countries is due to much less beef being eaten in Spain (a food item with a larger carbon footprint) and more vegetables and fruit being eaten, which have a lower carbon footprints,"​ said Vidal. "Therefore, it is not only healthier, but our diet is also more ecological".

Research details

The menu data was gathered at the Juan Ramón Jiménez Hospital in Huelva, which analysed a total of 448 lunches and 448 dinners throughout the four seasons of the year to satisfy calorific needs of 2,000 kcal.

These were then compared to the findings of previous studies in the United States and United Kingdom – showing that the Mediterranean style diet consumed in Spain is significantly better for the environment than the diets consumed in the UK or US.

“While these differences may be partly attributed to uncertainty in the results, it is mainly due to differences in diet,”​ wrote the authors. “The consumption of meat, or specifically red meat, is the greatest contributor to GHG emissions from food consumption, and the US is among the top countries in the world in terms of red meat consumption per capita.”

“Conversely, the Mediterranean diet is characterized by abundant plant foods whilst red meat is consumed in low amounts.”​ 

Indeed, Vidal and his colleagues noted that previous research investigating the sustainability of different diets suggested that the Mediterranean diet has a lower environmental impact than the average US diet and is also closer to public health recommendations issued by the World Health Organization.

Source: Journal of Health Services Research & Policy
Volume 20, Issues 1, Pages 39–44, doi: 10.1177/1355819614553017
“Comparison of the carbon footprint of different patient diets in a Spanish hospital”
Authors: Rosario Vidal, et al

Related topics: Science

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3 comments

COLD IN UK

Posted by Jay,

I would be able to eat a Meditteranean diet if we had Meditteranean weather - when I go on holiday to Spain winter or summer, its very easy to eat like the locals ... but our British diet comes from having a much colder climate and supermarket requirements.

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British Farming needs support

Posted by isobel,

Here in the British Isles we have the best possible vegetable growers in the world - however, with the intervention of the supermarkets who dictate to the point of lunacy the growing conditions, processing formats,vegetable specifications etc., etc., for the minimum possible costs to them and the lowest possible payment to the farmer we will NEVER be able to afford and enjoy the Mediterranean healthy diet .... health for the consumer starts with less profit for the supermarkets and a living wage for the growers.

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Yes but...

Posted by Tottiforever,

Mediterranean vegetables in the UK and large parts of the US means more air miles and more GHG emissions. So a first challenge is to grow decent vegetables.

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