Adopting and Protecting the Mediterranean Diet

Posted November 9th, 2016

With its cool winters and hot summers, California’s Central Valley offers unique and ideal growing conditions for many diverse crops that are eaten in a “Mediterranean diet,” including our favorite -- almonds.

The Mediterranean diet reflects a traditional eating pattern found in the countries of the Mediterranean region of Europe. This style of eating is plant-forward, emphasizing fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and whole grains, with small amounts of meat and low-fat dairy products. There are health benefits to this type of diet; the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that strong evidence shows that healthy eating patterns, like the Mediterranean-style eating pattern, are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Is the Mediterranean Diet Endangered?

There are just five regions in the world with a Mediterranean-type climate, and they all face food production challenges in light of increasing drought cycles and the effects of climate change.

The benefits of protecting the production of Mediterranean foods in Mediterranean climates are highlighted in a recent research report, “Shifting towards a Mediterranean Diet in the US: How Far Do We Have to Go, What Are the Potential Health Benefits and Can We Get There?” by Arlin Wasserman, Chair of the Menus of Change Sustainable Business Leadership Council.

California almond farmers are committed to growing a food that’s good for you, in a way that’s responsible. For one thing, they make the most of each part of the almond fruit that is produced: the shells and hulls go to various alternative farming uses like livestock bedding and feed -- reducing the need to grow other feed crops, and the kernel is the nutrient-rich almond that we eat.

For another, almond trees absorb and store significant amounts of carbon -- a potent greenhouse gas -- over their lifetimes.1 With further improvements in production practices and policy changes, the California almond community could become carbon neutral or even carbon negative.2

And finally, almond farmers are efficient with water. They’re lead adapters of efficient micro-irrigation, and among crops in California, almonds’ water use is disproportionate to their acreage. All of this helps to sustain the growing of a crop that’s important, and delicious, in the Mediterranean Diet.

How Do I Adopt a Mediterranean Diet?

Compared to a traditional American diet, the greatest shift is to an increase in plant-based foods. A Mediterranean way of eating uses plant foods – seasonal vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, whole grains and olive oil -- as the bulk of what you eat, with smaller amounts of dairy foods, seafood and meat.

It’s easy to adopt a Mediterranean style of eating (and of life) by making a few simple changes:

  • Focus on good fats. Replace saturated fats with olive oil and other mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Try avocado as a sandwich spread, and snack on a handful of almonds.
  • Increase plant-based foods, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
  • Get your protein the Mediterranean way and opt for nuts, beans, eggs, poultry and fish, with small amounts of meat for delicious flavor.
  • Use a little less salt and season your foods with herbs and spices like garlic, oregano and cinnamon.
  • Enjoy moderate amounts of dairy products: Try those with a lot of flavor, like plain or Greek yogurt and cheeses such as feta and Parmesan.
  • Be active and social. Make sure you don’t ignore other aspects of the Mediterranean way of life: being physically active, drinking wine in moderation, and sharing meals with family and friends.

There are many delicious recipes that you can follow to begin incorporating Mediterranean-inspired meals into your life, including Basil Pesto Almonds and Almond-Crusted Salmon With Chickpea, Cherry And Almond Quinoa. Check out additional recipes here.

Download our Mediterranean Diet cheat sheet: Eat Your Way to Good Health with the Mediterranean Diet for more fun facts, helpful tips, and delicious recipes.

1Elias Marvinney, Alissa Kendall, Sonja Brodt, Weiyuan Zhu. Life Cycle-based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part II: Uncertainty Analysis Through Sensitivity Analysis and Scenario Testing. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2015, 10.1111/jiec.12333.
2Kendall, A., Marvinney, E., Brodt, S. and Zhu, W. (2015), Life Cycle–based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part I: Analytical Framework and Baseline Results. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 19: 1008–1018. doi: 10.1111/jiec.12332