How food is produced and consumed has consequences for the planet.
The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet), which is predominantly characterized by the consumption of high amounts of plant-based foods (such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts) as the main source of fats and moderate intakes of animal derived foods, has been proposed as a sustainable dietary model, due to its nutritional, environmental, economic and sociocultural dimensions.
Researchers from the University of Navarra, evaluated the impact on resource (land, water and energy) use and GHG emission of better adherence to the MedDiet in a Spanish cohort of over 20 000 participants. This is one of the few studies that looked at actual food intake in relation to climate impact (in contrast to simulation studies).
Participants were divided in 4 groups according to adherence to the MedDiet.
Better adherence to the MedDiet was associated with lower land use (-0.71 m2/d), water consumption (-58.88 litres/d), energy consumption (-0.86 MJ/d) and GHG emission (-0.73 kg CO2e/d). A clear linear trend was observed: the better the adherence to the MedDiet, the lower the impact on the climate parameters.
The study found that a better adherence to the MedDiet is an eco-friendly option, associated with less environmental footprints, including lower land, water and energy use and GHG emission. The higher the amount of animal-based foods in the diet, the higher the environmental impact in all analysed outcomes.
Even a gentle and moderate shift to less animal-based and more plant-based diets, like the MedDiet, may be positive not only health, but also for the environment.