16 Nov 2023 — Mediet4All is a recently developed EU project aiming to counter the rising consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPF) in the EU’s Mediterranean countries and partners in North Africa. The project’s goal is to re-introduce the traditional Mediterranean healthy and eco-friendly agri-food system and lifestyle. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet stem from its emphasis on whole ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish and limited dairy and meat.
“The Mediterranean diet, alongside the correct and equilibrated daily intake of food, is considered the easiest to follow among low-processed healthy eating patterns, as well as the world’s most evidence-based eating pattern for promoting health and longevity while saving water and energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conserving land,” Achraf Ammar, lead project coordinator and a sports science researcher at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, tells Nutrition Insight.
As part of the project, the researchers aim to understand the behaviors of consumers in EU Mediterranean (and some North African) countries through multilingual electronic surveys. Based on these, tailored programs will be designed and tested to support adherence to a healthy Mediterranean lifestyle, including dietary recommendations, physical activity and social engagement.
“Increasing adherence to the diet among Euro-Mediterranean consumers would support the dietary pattern shift toward less processed food and thereby help cope with the unhealthy and eco-unfriendly impact of ultra-processed foods in these countries,” Ammar elaborates.
Ammar highlights the importance of physical activity, proper nutrition and social inclusion for a healthy and active lifestyle. The Mediet4all project aims to integrate these elements, as outlined in the modern Mediterranean pyramid.
“Besides the various food components, the modern Mediterranean diet pyramid incorporates other elements related to an active lifestyle and psychosocial and cultural traditions, such as meals shared with family and daily physical activity,” he continues.
To foster these elements, the project will incorporate cooking classes, digital toolkits, collaborative games, awareness campaigns, nutritional recipe development with eco-friendly packaging and the creation of an integrative platform for consumer-producer contact.
“Increasing adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle would implicitly integrate daily physical activity into consumer behavior. This will be facilitated by the ‘to-be-developed’ Mediet4All innovative solutions, such as the smart coach delivering tailored multidomain interventions including physical activity.”
The smart coach will be incorporated into a Mediet4All mobile phone application. The project’s activities further encompass various scientific and promotional methods to enhance the appeal of the traditional diet and raise awareness about the adverse effects of UPFs.
No more UPF harm
The Mediet4Aall project is sponsored by the European Commission’s (EC) Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area and has been allocated funding of EUR€ 2.4 million (US$ 2.6 million). It will be carried out based on the principles of the EC’s 2023 flagship public financial management project, Do No Significant Harm (DNSH).
“The DNSH principle brings together healthy and eco-friendly perspectives, multi-disciplinary expert-domain knowledge and smart technologies to support the transition away from UPF culture, harmful for the climate and human health, to minimally processed food — Mediterranean food,” Ammar argues.
A study published this year revealed the results of an 18-month clinical trial showing that following a Mediterranean diet high in dietary polyphenols and lower in red and processed meats may lower brain age and improve overall cognitive health.
Another recently conducted study has further linked adherence to the Mediterranean diet with lower risks of dementia.
The European Union Food Information Council has also highlighted this diet as a feasible tool for lowering blood sugar and preventing diabetic symptoms.
“The research and innovative activities of Mediet4All are also contributing to implementing the DNSH principle — with respect to climate objectives — and the EU Green Deal.”
Farm to fork
Beyond its health benefits, the Mediet4All project aligns with the European Green Deal’s Farm to Fork Strategy, contributing to water and energy conservation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving soil.
Ammar points to a recent report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which indicates that more than one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions are globally attributed to the total food supply chains.
“Assuming that such environmental considerations capture the overall impact of UPFs from Farm to Fork — including the processing, packaging and distribution stages — Mediet4All will support the European Green Deal by shortening the food supply chain and shifting diet behaviors from UPFs to the Mediterranean diet, ultimately resulting in less greenhouse gas emissions.
“Furthermore, via the development of innovative digital solutions such as the integrative e-platform, including the MedProducts database, as well as the organization of Farm2Fork exhibitions, Mediet4All aims to create a resilient network between consumers and producers and thereby reduce distribution stages, support fair economic returns for farmers and fuel the local economy.”
Of the total EUR€ 2.4 million (US$ 2.6 million) funding, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
By Milana Nikolova
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