HEALTH CARE

Australian study finds Mediterranean diet meets nutrient requirements and cheaper than traditional Western diets

A recent study by researchers at the University of South Australia has indicated that the majority of Australians are not eating a balanced healthy diet as recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG) and Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE). A proper diet is essential because it can alleviate the risks of developing chronic diseases like type two diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and obesity.

Study: Developing a Mediterranean Healthy Food Basket and an Updated Australian Healthy Food Basket Modelled on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Image Credit: DiViArt / Shutterstock

Background

The National Health Survey, conducted between 2017 and 2018, revealed that only 8% of Australians consumed the advised 375 g of vegetables per day. The majority of the Australian population obtained up to 35% of their energy from food that is high in salt, sugars, and unhealthy fats content. This later diet is reflective of a Western diet.

Due to the increase in unhealthy diet intake with low nutritional value, the obesity rates in Australia have risen considerably. Recently, the Mediterranean Diet has gained much attention due to its high health benefits. The American Dietary Guidelines have also endorsed this diet. Therefore, long-term adherence to the Mediterranean diet could be highly beneficial to an individual’s health. However, a nutritional professional must modify the Mediterranean Diet (MedDiet) to meet the preferences in an Australian context, which would aid in long-term adherence to this new dietary pattern.

Many factors have been identified that impact dietary choices, one of them being the misconception that healthy foods and beverages are too expensive and unaffordable. However, it must be noted that many nutrient-dense foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables) are easily affordable. 

The recent impacts of the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and natural disasters have substantially enhanced the living cost. It has also impacted access to healthy food. Based on new data, around 21% of Australians are currently experiencing food insecurities.

In 2001, the concept of Australian food baskets was developed, which aimed to monitor food affordability and food pricing. These food baskets are built following the recommendation of ADG and AGHE and are designed by researchers and nutrition experts associated with various Australian states. However, some food baskets need an update per the current requirements and conditions.

The current study’s authors claimed that a Mediterranean-styled food basket had not been developed in Australia owing to the perceived misconception of affordability issues. However, Mediterranean Diet food modeling has been used to understand greenhouse gas emissions to improve our environment.

About the Study

A recent Nutrients journal study has formulated two nutritionally adequate and affordable food baskets based on the Mediterranean Diet for the Australian population. Based on current housing and population data, four reference families were developed to reflect the nutritional needs of average Australian households. The nutritional needs of the Australians per age and gender were formed. 

Two food baskets were developed that fulfill all nutritional and energy requirements of the reference families. A shorter length of dietary modeling was conducted to evaluate whether the food baskets satisfied the nutritional level over 14 days. One basket was modeled based on AGHE, and the other on the Mediterranean Dietary pattern. The baskets were created as per meal plans with the standard grocery-style list.

The cost of the baskets was estimated for affordability using a previously established methodology. A Western diet meal plan was created per Australian consumption, which served as a nutritional quality and cost comparator.

Study Findings

The food baskets modeled on the AGHE and MedDiet contained a higher nutritional content than a typical Australian’s dietary intake. The Western Diet contained low nutritional levels and offered up to six servings of energy-dense discretionary foods daily. 

Despite the high number of servings of the Western Diet, the MedDiet supplied the highest energy ranging from 7634 kJ to 9859 kJ per day. This is due to increased quantities of energy and nutrient-dense seeds, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil compared to the AGHE.

The AGHE basket fulfilled food group recommendations, particularly the macronutrients; however, the carbohydrate level was not within the recommended range. The MedDiet also met all nutrient reference values (NRV) except zinc. However, household members under the Western Diet received inadequate intakes of three or more essential micronutrients, such as vitamin A, fiber, calcium, potassium, zinc, and iron.

Cost estimations revealed that the MedDiet baskets were the most affordable, whose cost ranged between $78 and $285 across households, compared to the AGHE ($75 to $315) and the Western Diet ($80 to $313). The cost varied as per the number of household members, i.e., the minimum cost corresponded to a single member, while the maximum cost corresponded to a four-member household. The income of all four households was relatively similar, except for households with elderly pensioners. 

Conclusions

Both the AGHE and MedDiet baskets exhibited high nutritional value and were found to be cheaper compared to the Western Diet. Importantly, the current study rectified the previous misconception that a MedDiet is expensive. A healthy diet pattern could be easily adhered to for an extended period without any hindrances over the high-cost issues.

Originally Posted Here

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