Get ready for the new buzz word set to crash into our vocabulary. Planeterranean: it’s not so hard to pronounce once you’ve practised it a few times, but what does it mean? Well, it’s a type of diet that’s like the Mediterranean Diet (MD) but not necessarily anywhere near the Mediterranea.
The term has been coined by a UNESCO expert group that has taken on the challenge of finding out how to extend the health and environmental benefits of the MD to reach people across the world(1).
The expert group believes that wherever you live in the world, you can enjoy the nutritional and health benefits provided by the MD but from foods grown locally to you.
Most current diet habits can be improved.
Today, many people living in urban areas present a poor diet quality and variety, with most of energy intake coming from foods with high glycaemic index (i.e., white rice and potatoes), sugar-rich and fatty ultra-processed foods (i.e., ready-to-eat foods, sugary drinks, chips, etc.). These eating habits, are known for their unfavourable effects on health, leading to obesity and other long-term diseases.
How does the Mediterranean Diet help?
A varied, plant-rich diet on the other hand, is known to be kind both to our health and to our planet (2). The MD is one such diet; highly nutritional, it comprises olive oil as a source of unsaturated fats, and nuts, legumes, vegetables, whole grain, fruit, a moderate amount of fish, as well as dairy, meat, and red wine.
A large body of evidence points to a host of health benefits of the MD thanks to its nutritional profile, including a reduced prevalence of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It’s a sustainable diet model because it uses foods that are locally-produced, limiting the impact on environmental resources and biodiversity while being part of the local culture (3,4).
How can the benefits of MD be extended globally?
The challenge is now on to transfer the benefits of the MD to non-Mediterranean countries.
That’s why the UNESCO Chair on Health Education and Sustainable Development has been tasked with finding out whether it’s possible to promote worldwide a healthy and sustainable dietary model based on nutritional properties of MD but using foods available locally. The new ‘Planeterranean’ dietary model would be consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals set by United Nations.
And the good news is that throughout the world, there are indeed specific fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain, and sources of unsaturated fats, that offer similar nutritional benefits to those of the MD, says the UNESCO group.
So wherever you live in the world, you should be able to choose your diet that shares similar health benefits to those of the MD.
The authors point to some examples that stand out, for some regions or countries in different continents:
- Latin America: avocado, papaya, green bananas, and açaí berries are all good sources of monounsaturated fatty acids and micronutrients. Quinoa, rich in proteins, provides essential amino acids and is low in fat.
- Central Africa: cereals may be good for short-chain fatty acids.
- North America: canola oil and pecan nuts contain monounsaturated fatty acids and phytosterols, and can reduce harmful cholesterol.
- Asia: Sesame seeds and soy contain bioactive compounds and antioxidants, good for reducing hypertension, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and inflammatory markers.
- Australia: Macadamia nut, Davidson’s plum, native pepper berry, finger lime, and bush tomato, rich in flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- In some countries, seaweeds, wakame and spiruline contain complex polysaccharides, minerals, proteins, and vitamins, with anti-cancer, antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-diabetic properties.
Based on the foods available in each part of the world, it should be possible to develop ‘nutritional pyramids’ that offer the same health benefits and low environmental impact as the MD, says the UNESCO Chair on Health Education and Sustainable Development.
Ultimately, the UNESCO group hopes that the Planeterranean model will help every country to develop healthier dietary patterns among the population, based on traditional and local foods.
‘…in every place of the world, it is possible to identify specific fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain, and sources of unsaturated fats which present nutritional contents and characteristics similar to those provided by typical foods of MD, likely to have also similar health benefits for populations living far from the Mediterranean area.’ – Colao A. et al, 2022.
The UNESCO Chair on Health Education and Sustainable Development is looking for possible contributors to its Planeterranean research programme, coming from all parts of the world. The programme will be launched trough a dedicated UNESCO Chair platform under the name of ‘Planeterranean’
Planeterranean or Territorial Diversified Diet…
A similar approach has been defined in other publications by the term of territorial diversified diets, which are a region-specific flexitarian diet that primarily includes seasonal, locally-sourced foods(2).
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