Adopting sustainable and healthy diets and transitioning to sustainable food systems are critical to combating the double burden of noncommunicable illnesses and climate change. The Mediterranean diet (MD) has been generally recognized as a healthy nutrition and biodiversity resource to support food security and sustainable development. A new Advances in Nutrition study looked at biodiversity and the differences in food-plant diversity between the Western diet and the MD diet.
The global population is projected to rise to 10.9 billion by the end of the century. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food production must increase by nearly 50% to satisfy consumer demand. Rapid population growth is frequently regarded as a danger to sustainable development because it strains natural resources.
The current agro-food system has also been identified as a major contributor to climate change and environmental deterioration. Expansion of agricultural territory and related input use may result in natural resource depletion, habitat fragmentation, and environmental degradation. One could argue that biodiversity is decreasing in part as a result of the current conventional agricultural system’s practices and inputs.
The Mediterranean diet (MD) is primarily plant-based and consumes few animal products. In contrast to the Western diet, it can handle environmental and health concerns while also helping to preserve biodiversity. The MD has a low environmental impact and helps to conserve biodiversity, prevents chronic diseases, lowers public health expenses, and places less strain on natural resources.
Concerning the Research
The current research looked at biodiversity in terms of food plant species, as well as the Western diet and MD patterns. It specifically investigated whether biodiversity in food plants influences dietary trends in specific countries.
For this research, a two-stage data selection scheme was used. The first step was to conduct a filtered scan of the MEDUSA plant database. Data on species used as food and food additives were gathered in this stage between January and February 2022. The Euro+Med plant database was used in the second stage to gather information on the geographical location of various species, subspecies, landraces, and varieties. This study examined 449 species and 2,366 subspecies, varieties, and races. Six Mediterranean countries and six countries from the remainder of Europe provided data, representing the Western diet.
In comparison to the other nations, Italy was found to have the most diverse cuisine in terms of both native and majorly cultivated food plants. Denmark had the least variety of food species. Countries with MD had a greater average of both cultivated and natural food plants when compared to the Western diet group.
The mean of widely cultivated food plant races, varieties, species, and subspecies was found to be significantly higher in the MD sample than in the Western diet counterpart sample. Crop utilization, rather than crop availability, was attributed to the higher diversity of food plants in the MD nations.
The results emphasized the increased agricultural biodiversity in the MD region. They also demonstrate that the MD region has a greater variety of varieties, races, species, and subspecies than the Western diet region. This is in line with a recent study that has linked biodiversity and sustainable diets, particularly MD.
Limitations and Prospective Research
Despite the fact that the current research used a two-stage process to collect data from large and reliable databases, some limitations in the data remain. For example, knowledge of food plant accessibility constraints was lacking due to constraints in the food value chain such as cultivation practices, seasonal shortages, and price increases. Future research should take these parameters into account carefully in order to give a more comprehensive picture of the relationship between diet in the agro-food system and biodiversity.
Future studies should look into whether food imports and exports influence food choices and the decision to adopt sustainable eating habits. The current study also concentrated on a small number of countries, which should be expanded in future research to improve the validity of the results documented in this study.
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This study found that agricultural biodiversity and diversity in food plant varieties, races, species, and subspecies were greater in MD compared to Western-type dietary patterns. Furthermore, the greater diversity in the MD area was due to crop utilization rather than food plant availability. The findings also suggest that eating a more diverse diet may help to create a more biodiverse environment and, in the long term, reduce the negative effects of climate change.