Plant-Based vs. Mediterranean Diet: Which Is Better?

Plant-Based vs. Mediterranean Diet: Which Is Better?

The popularity of the Mediterranean diet has increased dramatically during the past year. Penelope Cruz, Jennifer Aniston, and Selena Gomez are among its supporters, and it was labeled “2023’s hottest new diet trend.” It is frequently said to be among the healthiest diets available to people, but is this really the case? The plant-based (vegan) diet and the Mediterranean diet are compared in this guide to see which is more ethical, healthful, and environmentally friendly.

Ancel Keys, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, first used the term “Mediterranean diet” in the 1950s. It started out centered on foods that were common in Nicotera, a town in southern Italy whose residents valued fruits and vegetables above an excess of animal protein. Keys hypothesized that substituting polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats would lower the incidence of heart disease after observing that this region had the highest percentage of centenarians worldwide. He is recognized as the pioneer who arrived at this realization.

The term “Mediterranean diet” now designates a dietary pattern that is based on the customs of many European nations that abut the Mediterranean Sea. Spain, Italy, and Greece are a few of these. It’s a series of recommendations based on eating customs in these areas rather than a rigid diet plan. The Mediterranean diet places a greater emphasis on minimally processed plant foods than the Standard American Diet (SAD), which is heavy in dairy and red meat. These consist of olive oil, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Nonetheless, the diet does not exclude animals because its adherents are advised to consume fish, poultry, and modest amounts of dairy products like cheese and yogurt.

Because of its comparatively low consumption of animal products, the Mediterranean diet is unquestionably healthier, better for the environment, and more moral than traditional American diets. But is there a better option?

Which diet—Plant-Based or Mediterranean—is healthier?

The main reason the Mediterranean diet is well-liked is because of its extensively reported health advantages.

Followers who avoid red meat also avoid items heavy in cholesterol, salt, and saturated fat, such as bacon, beef, and sausages.

The World Health Organization has categorized processed meat as a group one carcinogen. Examples of processed meat products include bacon, beef jerky, ham, hot dogs, and sausages. This group includes tobacco use and asbestos exposure. Although the classification suggests that there is “sufficient evidence” that consuming these items causes cancer (in this case, colon cancer), it does not imply that processed meat is similarly dangerous to these things.

Consuming red meat raises your risk of developing a number of other illnesses. Just two servings per week increased the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in October 2023. Another study, released in 2022, discovered that red meat raised heart disease risk by 22%. According to research conducted in January 2024, if the entire country adopted a plant-based diet, the National Health Service (NHS) in England could save £6.7 billion (or $8.4 billion in USD).

It is obvious that avoiding red meat is good for your health. Should we, however, proceed further?

A Mediterranean Diet: is it Beneficial?

“A plant-based diet offers similar benefits with added advantages, even though the Mediterranean diet is known for its positive effects on heart health and overall well-being,” says nutrition consultant and plant-based chef Lisa Marley. “Diets high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from plants can help reduce the risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.”

Fish, dairy products, and chicken are all regarded as healthful foods and are permitted in the Mediterranean diet. However, there is growing doubt about these assertions.

“It’s important to note that these animal-based foods can contribute to saturated fat and cholesterol intake, which may increase the risk of heart disease and other health issues,” Chicken and cheese, adds Marley, are both high in saturated fat and sodium, “which can negatively impact heart health if consumed in excess.”

Fish is often considered a hugely healthy food. states that “most of us should have more fish in our diet.” But is a diet high in fish really that healthy? “While fish can be a source of omega-3 fatty acids, there are concerns about mercury contamination in certain types of fish,” says Marley.

When swallowed, the liquid metal mercury is poisonous to people. Because of industrial contamination, this element is naturally present in water. Fish and other species absorb and consume the extremely poisonous methylmercury that it transforms into once it gets into the water. Larger fish gradually accumulate more mercury over time as a result of eating smaller fish. Accordingly, predatory fish—such as swordfish, king mackerel, and sharks, which are frequently marketed to consumers without their knowledge—tend to have the highest mercury levels. Omega-3 is present in fish, but people may also readily absorb it in the form of algae, which is also where fish acquire their omega-3.

Advantages of a Plant-Based Diet for Health

A plant-based diet “eliminates these potential health risks associated with animal-based foods,” according to Marley. It “offers a wide range of nutrients that are beneficial for overall health,” the speaker continues.

“Plant-based diets are also more inclusive of a variety of wholefoods and can be tailored to meet individual dietary preferences and needs,” she says.

Renowned plant-based physician Dr. Neal Barnard talked about the advantages of a plant-based diet over a Mediterranean diet in a recent edition of the Steven Bartlett podcast, The Diary of a CEO. He brought up a research he and his colleagues did in 2022 that tracked 62 individuals. While the other individuals stuck to a Mediterranean diet, half of the participants were low-fat vegans. During the trial, the groups switched diets halfway through. In contrast to those following the Mediterranean diet, those following the low-fat vegan diet saw “improved” body weight, lipid concentrations, and insulin sensitivity, the study revealed, even though blood pressure dropped on both diets.

Several research studies have demonstrated the potential health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. The World Health Organization’s chief, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called for a change in diet earlier this year, claiming that our food system is “responsible for almost one third of the global burden of disease.”

Plant-Based versus Mediterranean Diets: Environmental Factors

Many think that reducing the amount of animal products consumed will suffice to lessen their environmental impact. However, the best course of action is without a doubt to entirely cut them out of your life.

It is true that a diet heavy in red meat is not as beneficial as a Mediterranean diet. The most harmful foods humans can consume to the environment are thought to be beef and lamb. A kilogram of beef releases 60 kilos of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in addition to consuming enormous amounts of land and causing deforestation. In contrast, one kilogram of peas releases one kilogram for every kilogram. When it comes to emissions from ruminant animals like sheep and cows, methane is the main offender. Approximately one-third of the methane produced by humans comes from “livestock.”

It’s a potent greenhouse gas that, in its first 20 years in the atmosphere, warms the planet 80 times more than carbon dioxide. However, its half life is significantly shorter, meaning it stays in the environment for shorter periods of time. Accordingly, reducing methane emissions would hasten the process of reducing global warming and provide us additional time to address carbon emissions.

Eliminating red meat from your diet is undoubtedly a positive move for the environment, but it’s not the end all be all. Although poultry, dairy, and fish are permitted in the Mediterranean diet, are they sustainable food choices?

The Issue with Chicken

The majority of land animals raised on Earth are chickens. Over time, the demand for chicken has also increased dramatically, which has made chicken raising a lucrative industry. An estimated 70 billion people die annually, the great majority of which are associated with factory farming.

Many people consider chicken to be an eco-friendly food. A recent article made the argument that a “chickentarian” diet would be a viable substitute for veganism. Even while chicken emits fewer emissions than lamb and beef, it is still not a sustainable food source.

“Chicken does have a lower carbon footprint than beef or pork but it’s still three times higher than even the highest emitting plant protein, like soy, and almost ten times higher than peas,” Nicholas Carter, ecologist and data scientist from.

The diet of chickens is the primary environmental issue. Many people think that because vegans love soy milk and burgers, they are to blame for deforestation, but in reality, most soy in the world—77 percent of it—is fed to animals raised in industrial farms, primarily chickens. Just around 7% is used to make tofu, soy milk, and other like products. Brazil soy is the second major importer into the European Union, where it is mostly used to feed hens. Every year, the UK imports 3 million tonnes. Brazil’s soy production has increased by 20 times in the last 20 years.

Carter claims that this production approach is utterly unsustainable. “People only return about 12 calories of meat for every 100 calories of grain fed to chickens,” the man said. “That is nearly a ninety percent loss, which naturally occurs because these are living, breathing animals.”

Furthermore contributing significantly to pollution are chicken farms. Farm waste (manure, feed, corpses, etc.) usually ends up in waterways where it causes algal blooms and kills aquatic life since it is too much for the land to handle. A major contributor to water contamination nowadays is the industrial farming of chickens, which also exposes nearby residents to contaminated air that is heavy in ammonia and dust.

The Price of Fish to the Environment

According to Carter, the moderate to high consumption of fish in the Mediterranean diet is its “biggest environmental footprint.” The main cause of the ocean’s declining wildlife and biodiversity is fish eating.

Every year, billions of marine species are removed from the ocean by commercial fishing techniques that use enormous nets and lengthy lines to capture large numbers of targets at once, including any unwanted animals that happen to come in the way. Many fish products advertise themselves as “sustainable,” however it is a well-known fact that fish products cannot be sustainable as long as the oceans are so severely depleted.

Carter cites a recent study showing that almost all (97%) species fish listed under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), including freshwater sturgeon and migratory sharks, are in danger of going extinct. Less than ten percent of sharks now inhabit the ocean. Less than 1% of whale populations were originally found. The oceans would suffer greatly if a Mediterranean diet that consumes more fish than usual were to become the norm worldwide, he claims.

Fish consumed from the ocean isn’t the only problem, though.

“More than half of all fish now globally comes from fish farms, some of which have higher footprints than wild caught fish, especially when popular carnivorous fish like salmon are involved that require more fish to be killed than the fish one gets out of farming them,” says Carter.

Which Diet—Plant-Based or Mediterranean—is More Moral?

There is no denying that a plant-based diet is a more moral substitute for the Mediterranean diet if you have concerns about animals.

The ethical decision to exclude fewer, not all, animals from your diet ignores the fact that every animal is a unique individual. A fish’s life has been taken from it against its will even if someone were to consume it only once a year. Even cutting back on the intake of animal products, as many followers of the Mediterranean diet do, directly adds to the suffering of animals.

To ensure that they are ready to be killed at six weeks of age, chickens are deliberately bred to develop as quickly as possible in several nations throughout the world, including the USA and the UK. Their extreme lack of naturalness has earned them the moniker “Frankenchickens.” Nine weeks would be the size of an adult tiger for a human baby if they grew at the same rate as they did. Owing to their size, hens frequently experience excruciating injuries, broken bones, and immobility. They will frequently be housed in enormous sheds with thousands of other animals, each given an area that is little larger than an A4 sheet of paper.

Can you follow a Mediterranean Diet High in Plants?

Both the plant-based and Mediterranean diets encourage an abundance of fruits and vegetables along with legumes and grains, so there is a lot of overlap between them. You will be more compassionate toward animals and the environment if you switch from a meat-heavy diet to a nutritious plant-based diet than if you follow a traditional Mediterranean diet that includes animal products.

Plant-based foods also make it simple to mimic a more genuine Mediterranean diet. You can substitute plant-based seafood for meat in your souvlaki, add plant-based feta to your Greek salad, and even pick from the many plant-based seafood options that are currently available.

Sanchita Patil

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