Contributing author: Sabrina Endicott
The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fresh produce, nuts, whole grains, and healthy fats, often receives praise for its benefits to the health of consumers and the planet.
Now more than ever, it is important to maintain a healthy diet, as studies find that people with diet-related illnesses exhibit more severe symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Evidence suggests that access to healthy foods can lower obesity rates. In response to the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises adults to adhere to a Mediterranean diet to help them stay well.
Despite this recommendation, systemic barriers often restrict access to fresh fruits and vegetables. For those with limited access to affordable fresh food, grocery stores, or transportation, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet.
To combat these disparities, governments and nonprofits have implemented programs to promote the intake of nutritious food and reduce the rate of non-communicable diseases and diet-related illnesses. To celebrate Mediterranean Diet Month in May, Food Tank is highlighting 14 government programs and nonprofit organizations around the world that promote a diet centered on plant-based foods.
1. Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN), Italy
The Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN), an independent think tank, performs extensive research and hosts events that encourage a Mediterranean diet. Between 2016-2018, BCFN hosted three stakeholder workshops highlighting sustainable nutrition in relation to a Mediterranean diet. Along with research, BCFN also creates educational programming like sCOOL Food, to help students understand the importance of eating a diet that is healthy for them and the planet.
2. Eat Smart, Live Strong, United States
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-ED) offers the Eat Smart, Live Strong program, which helps low-income seniors integrate more fruits and vegetables into their daily eating habits. The program also emphasizes the need for physical activity to help participants reach the Dietary Guidelines for Americans outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA). Participating adults must also be in or eligible for the Food and Nutrition Services assistance programs.
3. Food and Nutrition Policy and Action Plan, European Union
Adopted in 2014, the WHO’s Food and Nutrition Policy and Action Plan aims to reduce diet-related illnesses, obesity, and non-communicable diseases in participating European Union (EU) Member States. Through government policies in health and nutrition, Member States implement diets high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and assess ways to make these products more affordable.
4. Food Literacy Center, United States
Based in Sacramento, California, the Food Literacy Center offers programs that encourage students to eat vegetables to improve their diet and protect the environment. In low-income neighborhoods, the Center holds weekly Food Literacy Classes as an after school program. In 2015, 81 percent of students participating in the program knew how to choose healthy foods for themselves.
5. Foods to Encourage, United States
As part of its strategy to increase nutrition in food pantries, Feeding America highlights Foods to Encourage (F2E). These foods are all under the Mediterranean diet and include legumes, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean meats. Through the implementation of nudge interventions, Feeding America is finding ways to emphasize healthy choices in food banks across America to increase consumption of nutritious foods.
6. Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program, United States
The USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Program (FFVP) provides free produce to children in eligible elementary schools. The FFVP aims to introduce children to fruits and vegetables they may be unfamiliar with, increase consumption of fresh produce, and encourage healthier school nutrition. On average, students participating in the FFVP program consumed one-third cup more fruits and vegetables per day than students in non-participating schools.
7. Israel’s Ministry of Health, Israel
The Israeli government implemented national strategies to help citizens consume a healthy diet. In 2016 the Ministry of Education banned sugary foods and beverages as well as high-fat meat and dairy products in schools. Following a Mediterranean diet, they have replaced these items with tuna, fresh produce, and low-fat dairy products. To support citizens outside of schools, Israel’s Ministry of Health also plans to introduce a labeling system in 2020 so consumers can easily recognize foods that are in line with national nutrition recommendations.
8. MedSNAIL, Mediterranean Basin
The Slow Food International Program, MedSNAIL- Sustainable Networks for Agro-food Innovation Leading in the Mediterranean -aims to develop small scale agro-food chains. The project addresses rural poverty, loss of local food varieties, and limited investment in rural entrepreneurs by fostering socio-environmental sustainability and marketing strategies. Running from 2014-2020, MedSNAIL promotes foods from a Mediterranean diet that are deeply rooted in food culture and biodiversity.
9. People Eating and Cooking Healthy (PEACH), United States
The Food Trust’s People Eating and Cooking Healthy program partners with SNAP-ED to provide healthy food and nutrition education to low-income families in Pennsylvania. Their educational programs target all ages, supporting communities and schools to promote healthy eating habits. After two years, schools participating in Food Trust’s nutrition education programs saw a 10.3 percent drop in obesity among students.
10. Project GROWS, United States
Project GROWS uses education and gardening to help improve the health of children. Operating out of a farm in Virginia, Project GROWS increases food access in the community by selling produce at farmers markets within a 60 mile radius. These markets partner with USDA programs like SNAP, and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. In 2018, after visiting Project Grows, 79 percent of students reported a greater willingness to try new fruits and vegetables.
11. Rhode Island Food Bank, United States
Rhode Island Food Bank offers workshops and recipes as part of their Healthy Habits Nutrition Education Program. Clients have access to classes where they can create healthier meals at their member agency’s location. The Food Bank also equips staff and volunteers with nutrition education materials in hopes of spreading information to the broader Rhode Island community.
12. School Fruit, Vegetables and Milk Scheme, European Union
Implemented by all EU Member States, the School Fruit, Vegetables and Milk Scheme aims to provide fruits, vegetables, and milk products to students and also increase nutrition education. As of 2019, the scheme served nearly 20 million students. Due to the success of the scheme, the EU is investing US$70,000 more into the program than previous years, setting aside nearly US$275 million for fruits, vegetables, and dairy products for the 2020/21 school year.
13. Spanish strategy for nutrition, physical activity, and prevention of obesity (NAOS), Spain
In 2005, Spain’s Ministry of Health and Consumer Affairs implemented NAOS, which aims to reduce obesity through a Mediterranean diet. In 2019, the Spanish government updated their dietary guidelines to adhere to the NAOS program to promote a varied diet, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy, nuts and olive oil.
14. Wholesome Rx, United States
Wholesome Wave’s Wholesome Rx, allows doctors to prescribe fruits and vegetables to low-income patients at an affordable price. Currently operating in more than 10 rural communities, Wholesome Rx aims to tackle the cost disparity between fresh produce and unhealthy foods. As of 2018, the program has benefited over 13 thousand people and 69 percent of participants have reported an increase in their fruit and vegetable intake.