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Double Food and Environmental Pyramid: What it is, Meaning and Explanation



A graphic model explains the relationship between nutrition and the environment in an exhaustive and clear way. A correlation highlighted in the so-called Double Food Pyramidcreated by Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition e Food Tank with the patronage of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO.

The two food pyramids, one next to the other, that of the Mediterranean diet with the top facing upwards and the environmental one upside down, allow us to understand how a balanced diet can promote good health, longevity and well-being, while reducing the 'environmental impact. This results in a reduction of carbon emissionsrespecting local traditions and food systems.

The double food pyramid, therefore, underlines the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The food choices daily activities that everyone carries out must not only be oriented towards physical well-being, but also that of the planet.

At Food Pyramids

The food pyramid, the better known of the two, is based on the principles of Mediterranean dieti.e. the sustainable food model par excellence, with nutritional value recognized by science.

At the base of this pyramid is the largest area, which houses gfoods that should be eaten more frequently and have more health benefits: vegetables, fruit, dried fruit, unrefined cereals, legumes and extra virgin olive oil.

In the middle of the pyramid, however, there are foods for which a moderate frequency of intake is recommended, on a weekly basis: fish, dairy products, eggs and white meat.

Finally, at the apex of the pyramid are the foods whose intake must be reduced or limited to once a week: red meat and more generally foods rich in saturated fats.

The Environmental Pyramid

In the model of the Double Food Pyramid there is, in fact, a second pyramid alongside that of the Mediterranean regime. This is an inverted food pyramid, called environmental pyramid which classifies foods based on the environmental impact obtained from their production and cultivation.

In this case, at the top we find the largest area with all those foods found to be most harmful to the environment. The study highlights that there is an inverted correlation between the best foods for health and their impact on the environment: foods with a lower environmental impact are also those most recommended from a nutritional point of view and which must be consumed in abundance following a healthy and balanced diet.

The environmental impact of food: three indicators

To work out which foods and to what extent their production can impact the planet, researchers have used Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a proven technique, based on objective parameters, capable of evaluating the energy consumption and environmental load of a process, considering the entire production chain.

There are three different environmental indicators considered to obtain data on the environmental impact of each individual food.

  1. Carbon footprint: quantifies carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change;
  2. Water footprint:the total volume of fresh water used to produce a given type of food;
  3. Ecological footprint: an indicator capable of measuring the impact of man on the environment in the production process. To determine this figure, multiple factors are taken into consideration, such as, for example: sum of cultivated land, pastures, forests and fishing areas necessary to produce the food and energy essential for human activities; production and disposal of waste released; creation of infrastructures aimed at production.

Limit what harms the environment on your plate

The result obtained from the research speaks clearly: starting from a survey of the international scientific literature, the two pyramids can be clearly read side by side. At the top are the foods with the greatest environmental impact and, at the bottom, those that are least harmful to the planet. By relating the two scales of the Food-Environmental Double Pyramid, it is easily understandable how the foods for which greater consumption is recommended (fruit, vegetables, legumes, unrefined cereals), in general, are also those which determine an impact on lower environment. Conversely, the foods for which limited consumption is recommended (red meat, saturated fats) are the same ones that have the greatest environmental impact.

Food and environment: what are the correlations?

The study developed on the model of the Double food and environmental pyramid therefore evaluates the environmental impact of the foods that are part of the daily diet. This model can be replicated anywhere in the world and is able to evaluate local crops and production systems. The values โ€‹โ€‹of the corresponding Ecological Footprint have been associated with foods, i.e. the ecologically productive surface area necessary to obtain all the resources used for production (Ecological Footprint). A similar result was obtained by estimating the Carbon Footprint of foods, i.e. the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere (Carbon Footprint).

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