A diet based on foods that are locally produced may hold the key to a healthier you and a healthier planet, say the authors of a recent report.
Their view comes amid growing alarm over our planet, leading to a race to find diets that strike a balance between healthy nutrition for our growing population and environmental, cultural and economic sustainability. Two regional, largely plant-based diets – known as territorial diets – are exciting interest among researchers: the long-established Mediterranean Diet and the New Nordic Diet.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is a traditional diet based on the healthy eating habits of people living in Mediterranean countries. It is high in whole cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and olive oil, with a low to moderate amount of dairy products, and only a little meat and poultry.
The Mediterranean Diet has been associated with several health benefits, the most well-known being a healthier heart and a longer life. It has also been associated with reduced risks of cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases, and with improvement in rheumatoid arthritis.
What is the New Nordic Diet?
The New Nordic Diet was designed and launched in the Nordic countries in 2004 to improve health and have positive effects on the environment. It focuses on locally-sourced foods and is high in fruits and vegetables (especially berries, cabbages, root vegetables and legumes), fresh herbs, potatoes, whole grains, nuts, fish and shellfish, seaweed, free-range meat (including pork and poultry), and game.
The New Nordic Diet has been associated with longer life and reduced risks of blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, fats in the blood and colorectal cancer.
Sustainability of diets
Sustainability encompasses nutrition, the environment, food affordability and availability, cultural acceptability, food security for the future, and what happens to waste.
In general, the Mediterranean Diet and New Nordic Diet are associated with less environmental damage than other healthy diets containing meat, say the authors. This is mainly because these largely plant-based diets don’t include much meat, and they rely heavily on local produce so the foods produced do not need to be transported over long distances.
So taking a regional approach to diets can help tackle both poor nutrition and environmental challenges, say the authors. For these diets to become popular in other countries, they would need to be adapted to take account of local, cultural and economic circumstances.
‘Learning from a constructed diet like the NND (New Nordic Diet) and a culturally and environmentally evolving diet like the MD (Mediterranean Diet), sustainable and healthy diets need to be defined within their local, cultural, and economic contexts.’ – Hachem, 2020.