Our choice of diet has important consequences for the environment and climate change.
With droughts and diseases threatening food systems, it’s now all the more crucial that we try to make a difference with what we eat.
Luckily, the diet which has been found most conducive to biodiversity and food security is one you’re likely to be familiar with.
According to a study published last month, following this diet can combat “the double burden of climate change and non-communicable diseases.”
How do our food choices affect the environment?
The global population is forecast to rise to 10.9 billion by the end of the century. As such, food production must increase by almost 50 per cent to meet supply demands, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates.
This is likely to hamper sustainable growth and put pressure on natural resources.
The current agricultural and food systems are “considered as a major driver of environmental degradation and climate change,” according to a new study published in Advances in Nutrition.
The Greek scientists behind the study add that agricultural production occupies approximately 40 per cent of the global land. Livestock and growing food for livestock represent 75 per cent of all agricultural land.
As such, the use of irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides could cause a depletion of natural resources and environmental degradation, the researchers say.
“In addition, food production constitutes the principal consumer of freshwater and accounts for up to 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
Which diet is best for the environment?
In response to this critical situation, the study has looked at the relative benefits of different diets for sustainable development and food security.
The scientists, from various Greek universities and institutions, compared the Mediterranean diet to ‘western-type’ diets in Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Denmark and Sweden.
Their research concluded that the Mediterranean diet is the best for our planet. Used in countries such as Italy, Cyprus and Greece, it was found to be the most favourable for biodiversity and food-plant diversity.
The Mediterranean diet is best for biodiversity
The Mediterranean diet is rich in plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits and grains – although it has many variations between countries. It is also generally low in the consumption of animal products.
This means that it has advantages for our health, such as reducing the risk of chronic diseases, as well as having a low environmental impact.
The study showed that the agricultural biodiversity and the diversity in food plant varieties and species were higher in the Mediterranean diet than in western-type dietary patterns.
The researchers also found that the diet “is associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, land use and energy requirements.”
The western diet – which the scientists identify as containing lots of meat, dairy and processed foods – is based on agricultural production methods that “harm ecosystems, increase the use of fossil fuels, and increase greenhouse gas emissions.”
The study concludes that adopting the Mediterranean diet could help establish a more biodiverse environment and put less pressure on natural resources.
How to eat a Mediterranean diet
To follow a Mediterranean diet, you should make fruit and vegetables your core foods, along with whole grains like oats, brown rice and whole wheat bread.
Legumes like beans, lentils and chickpeas are a great source of protein. You should also include healthy fats like olive oil and avocados.
Foods you should cut back on include processed meat, like sausages and hot dogs, and refined grains like white bread.
The Mediterranean diet is also low in highly processed foods like readymade meals and in products with added sugar like fizzy drinks.