The green Mediterranean diet may protect health and the environment

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The so-called green Mediterranean diet may benefit human health and the planet’s health. Vera Lair/Stocksy

People who eat a traditional Mediterranean diet have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But new research suggests that a “green” Mediterranean diet — which avoids all meat and provides extra greens — may be even better for human health. If the diet catches on, the benefits for planetary health could be equally impressive.

Climate scientists believe that one of the most impactful things that people can do for the environment is to reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products.

Research notes that global production of animal-based foods — including livestock feed — accounts for 57% of total greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, whereas production of plant-based foods accounts for only 29%.

Another study estimates that if everyone became vegan, this would reduce the amount of land worldwide that farmers need to grow food by 3.1 billion hectares or 76%.

In addition to cutting emissions from food production, say the authors, rewilding the freed-up land would remove around 8.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year for the next 100 years.

Of course, the idea that billions of people worldwide would voluntarily give up their steaks, sausages, and cheeseburgers simply to curb climate change may seem far-fetched.

But perhaps they would think twice if they knew how much it would benefit their own health.

Recent research suggests that people who eat little or no meat tend to have a lower risk of cancer, in particular colorectal cancer and prostate cancer in men.

Diets that combine a reduction in meat and dairy consumption with increased intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, bring further health benefits.

People who eat a typical Mediterranean diet, for example, have a lower overall mortality rate and a lower risk not only of cancer but also cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

A series of clinical trials now suggests that eating a “green” Mediterranean diet, or green Med diet, may provide additional benefits on top of those provided by the regular Mediterranean diet.

The diet, which adds extra plant foods rich in polyphenols and aims to avoid meat completely, is also better for the planet.

“[E]liminating meat intake — beef, pork, lamb — is by far the most important single way to reduce the carbon footprint from diet,” said Dr. Meir

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