Sunday, June 16, 2024

Mediterranean Diet Gets E.U. Push for Health and Climate

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A new initiative in Europe, the MEDIET4ALL, aims to revive the traditional Mediterranean lifestyle. Spearheaded by Dr. Achraf Ammar of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), this project is a collaborative venture involving ten partners across eight countries, primarily from the Mediterranean region.

According to Dr. Ammar there’s an urgent need to help Europeans make the dietary shift away from ultra-processed foods and drinks (UPFDs) both for human health and the planet. “In order to break through this vicious circle, we urgently need to change our eating habits and — in combination with physical and social activities — find a sustainable healthy active lifestyle, sustainable for us as humans and sustainable for our environment.”

Dr. Ammar says the shift toward UPFDs in recent decades has been significant, with these products now constituting over fifty percent of nutrient intake in several Euro-Mediterranean countries. This dietary trend not only impacts human health adversely but also harms the ecosystem.

The MEDIET4ALL Project

The MEDIET4ALL project is set to explore the Mediterranean diet, which was recently a highlight in the Netflix Series, “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones.” The plant-forward diet is renowned for its health and longevity benefits and its eco-friendly nature. This diet, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, with minimal dairy and meat, is considered the world’s most evidence-based eating pattern for health promotion.

The new project will study Euro-Mediterranean consumer behaviors through multilingual electronic surveys, focusing on adherence to this diet and the factors influencing it. The team plans to design and test programs that encourage a healthy Mediterranean lifestyle, encompassing dietary, physical, and social aspects.

woman at market
Photo courtesy Milada Vigerova

Dr. Ammar further elaborated on the project’s scope, “Physical activity is absolutely crucial. But exercise alone — without proper nutrition and social inclusion — is not enough for a healthy active lifestyle. The interaction of these elements is highlighted in the modern MEDIET pyramid and constitutes, with other elements, the basics for our project.”

MEDIET4ALL stands out for its interdisciplinary approach, combining food science, nutrition, sports science, digital health, and packaging technology. The project’s academic partners include the University of Burgundy, University of València, University of Palermo, University of Sfax, École Nationale d’Agriculture de Meknès, Faculté de Médecine et de Pharmacie de Rabat, and the University of Boumerdes. Non-academic partners are the Vitagora agri-food innovation cluster and Microtarians.

The project’s ambition extends beyond health. It aligns with the E.U.’s Farm to Fork Strategy, part of the European Green Deal, aiming to make the E.U. climate neutral by 2050. MEDIET4ALL contributes to this goal by promoting diets that save water, energy, reduce greenhouse gases, and preserve soils.

sustainable food system
Photo Courtesy mk. s

Funded with a budget of EUR 2.4 million, including a significant contribution of approximately EUR 510,000 from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), MEDIET4ALL is part of the PRIMA European program. This program fosters research and innovation in the Mediterranean area, addressing challenges like water scarcity and sustainable agriculture in the context of climate change, urbanization, and population growth.

The effort comes as new research found adhering to a predominantly Mediterranean diet may help reduce or even prevent PTSD symptoms, particularly for women. Other recent research found a Mediterranean diet can reduce dangerous belly fat linked to diabetes and heart disease. U.S. News & World Report has ranked the Mediterranean diet the healthiest diet for six straight years.

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