Rome, November 27, 2019 – Promoting traditional healthy diets is important for advancing our efforts towards a food system that respects the environment, culture and well-being of people, which is a fundamental element of sustainable development.  

That was the main message at an event today organized by the Government of Italy with support from FAO aimed at deepening understanding of the Mediterranean and other traditional diets from around the world and their nutritional benefits, as well as raising awareness on how they can help achieve progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Promoting and protecting healthy diets and making them available, accessible and affordable is critical for having a fulfilled and happy life,” FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said in his opening remarks.

He cited some good examples of traditional healthy diets that “contain the wisdom of our ancestors and the cultural essence of generations”.  These include the Mediterranean diet which implies high intakes of diverse vegetables, fruits, legumes, herbs and olive oil, the New Nordic Diet, traditional Japanese Diet, and the South of China’s Regional Cuisine. All of them can boast a number of benefits, for example, they can lower cholesterol, prevent heart diseases and diabetes, Qu added.

However, the FAO Director-General warned that despite the numerous benefits of these diets they are often neglected due to a combination of factors such as population growth, globalization, urbanization, economic pressures and the fast pace of life which are driving change in our diets and consumption patterns.

Qu called on all the stakeholders “to join our efforts in ensuring that traditional diets regain their importance and well-deserved position in the people’s mind”, and encouraged particularly the young generation to re-discover enjoyment of cooking healthy meals at home as opposed to opting for fast-food meals.

The event, which took place at FAO headquarters, in Rome, also saw the participation of Italy’s Secretary-General, Ministry of Health, Giuseppe Ruocco, and Deputy Secretary-General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Michele Baiano, as well as nutritionists and other diet-related experts from around the world, UN agencies and academia. 

Need to transform food systems to ensure healthy diets

Malnutrition in all its forms is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st Century. While the causes of the current state of malnutrition around the world are complex, unhealthy diets remain one of the major contributors to malnutrition as recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Noting that traditional and indigenous healthy diets play an important role in eliminating hunger and malnutrition, Qu highlighted the need to transform our food systems to become more nutritious and inclusive, to produce “food that not only feeds the people but also nourishes them”. 

He reassured that FAO will continue to support its member countries to develop Food-based Dietary Guidelines, so governments can advise their citizens on healthy eating that is suitable to their local context.

Qu also referred to the recently released Guiding Principles on Sustainable Healthy Diets developed jointly by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) to support countries in their efforts of promoting healthy diets.

“Transforming our food systems is essential in ensuring healthy eating patterns,” he said, stressing the need to make sustainable healthy diets affordable to all, especially to the most vulnerable.

Celebrating Mediterranean Diet

The Year 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the Mediterranean Diet as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO, and FAO and Italy are organizing a series of seminars focusing on different aspects of the Mediterranean Diet in preparation for this celebration next year.

Today’s event “Being and well-being: Traditional healthy diets from the Mediterranean and beyond” – the second of a series of Mediterranean diet-related events – focuses on the nutritional aspects of the Mediterranean diet and other traditional diets from around the world.

This initiative will continue throughout the 2020 with further events designed to explore the different aspects of the Mediterranean and other traditional healthy diets, such as environmental sustainability, biodiversity conservation, women empowerment, urban-rural relation, as well as the management of food loss and waste.