Fresh fruit and veggies, nuts, fish and a healthy dollop of olive oil: There's nothing quite like sitting down at the dinner table to a nice Mediterranean-style meal.
According to a new study from the University of Minnesota, however, this isn't just a great idea for your taste buds — it's also a healthier and more sustainable way to eat. Mediterranean, vegetarian and pescatarian (fish-based diets) could reduce incidence of cancer by around 10 percent, as well as death by heart disease by around 20 percent.
"We showed that the same dietary changes that can add about a decade to our lives can also prevent massive environmental damage," said David Tilman, professor at the University of Minnesota's College of Biological Sciences.
Despite these benefits, human nature tells us that people won't simply flock to something because of its health advantages — particularly if it affects the hip pocket.
Higher incomes mean higher cholesterol
Interestingly, the results of the study show that consumption of a less healthy diet — that is, the regular modern diet defined by high calorie intake and lots of meat protein — intensified as living standards increased. As incomes rose in the period from 1961 to 2009, so did the prominence of such a diet.
These trends led researchers to project that, by 2050, diets would contain fewer fruits and vegetables, and more pork, beef, poultry, eggs and empty calories. This will not only raise the risk of the aforementioned diseases, it would also increase greenhouse gas emissions by around 80 percent.
Mediterranean diets hit harder on wallets than health
Unfortunately, for those wanting to curb their reliance on such foods, they may have to make some adjustments on their savings account calculator.
A diet study conducted by PREDIMED in 2013 found that expenditure tended to increase the more one adhered to a Mediterranean diet, as reported by Medscape. While this was in a European context, there is evidence this fact translates in Australia, too.
According to the Australian Government Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, seafood tends to be priced higher than chicken, beef and lamb, although canned fish such as tuna and salmon tends to be quite cost-effective — hence the popularity of such products. This is significant, as according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures from 2007/08, 30 percent of Australian houses had less than $500 a week to spend on goods and services.
Even though a vegetarian diet is typically less expensive, consumers may not find much respite there either. Just recently, the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia reported that the price of fruit had risen by 14.7 percent over the September 2104 quarter.
Save money on health costs
Consumers may want to look at it another way, however. According to the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines report from the National Health and Medical Research Council, health expenditure for type 2 diabetes (one of the diseases that can be avoided through alternative diets) is predicted to jump by $1.4 billion to to $7 billion a year by 2023.
A study from the Sapienza University of Rome titled Cost and Cost-Effectiveness of the Mediterranean Diet: Results of a Systematic Review similarly found that the Mediterranean diet was a much better long-term investment, due to health costs.
Looked at this way, consumers may be spending more now for long-term savings with these alternative diets — not to mention saving their health.