The Mediterranean Wallet
Americans constantly correlate a healthy lifestyle to expensive foods. This is not always the case. Yes, fresh foods, like produce for example, are normally higher in price compared to canned foods, or foods with a longer shelf-life.
Studies have shown that adopting the Mediterranean Diet helps reduce risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and heart attacks, amongst other chronic health disparities. The lifestyle stresses the importance of plant-based meals. One major ingredient in the diet is olive oil. The introduction of olive oil into the diet has been determined, to aid in feeling fuller long or the feeling of satiety.
Studies have also shown that an increase in plant-based meals can lead to a decrease in food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined as a lack of access to nutritional foods for at least some days or some meals for members of a household.
Researchers conducted a study to emphasize the use of simple, plant-based recipes and olive oil, following a Mediterranean diet pattern. A number of participants commented on how inexpensive a Mediterranean-style diet was. So, the study approached a local food bank about designing their study using food pantry items for the program’s recipes.
Most people, who attempt at putting together a nutritionally balanced menu for their family or household, spend the bulk of their budget on meats, poultry, and seafood. These items, specifically lower-fat versions, tend to be the most expensive items someone will see on their grocery store receipt. Low socioeconomic status families will normally purchase these items first, leaving little left in the budget for healthier fruits and vegetables.
The researcher on the study explained that if the focus of the shopper could be changed to eliminate foods that are not needed to improve health from the shopping list, a healthy diet can be more economical. Certain foods that could be crossed off that grocery store list include meats, snacks, desserts, and carbonated beverages/sodas.
The first 6 weeks of the study consisted of cooking classes where instructors prepared quick and easy plant-based recipes that incorporated ingredients like olive oil, whole grain pasta, brown rice and fruits and vegetables. The participant’s progress was tracked for 6 months after the conclusion of the cooking program.
One particular benefit for those attending the 6 week cooking class was that they were provided with groceries that contained most of the ingredients discussed by the class facilitators. The chosen ingredients provided to the participants would allow them to make 3 of the discussed recipes for their family members.
Once the classes were over, the researchers collected grocery receipts throughout the remainder of the study. Analysis of these receipts showed a significant decrease in overall purchases of meats, carbonated beverages, desserts and snacks. This was particularly interesting to the research team as they never offered instruction to the participants to avoid buying these items.
The further review of the grocery receipts showed that each household enjoyed an increase in the total number of different fruits and vegetables consumed each month. Participants cut their food spending in more than half, saving nearly $40 per week. The study also found that the reliance on food pantries decreased as well, indicating a decrease in food insecurity.
The research team also found that the cooking program had unexpected health benefits as well. Almost one-half of the participants presented loss in weight. This was not an objective in the study but, raised a few eyebrows. The study also showed an overall decrease in BMI of the participants.
Overall, this study shows that a plant-based diet, similar to the Mediterranean Diet, not only contributes to an overall improvement in health and diet. The study also highlights how a plant-based diet can contribute to decreasing food insecurity in America.