A model for people’s wellbeing and protecting the environment

What is the environmental impact resulting from production, distribution, and consumption of food? To answer these questions, the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition created the Double Food – Environmental Pyramid model, a tool that compares the nutritional aspect of foods with their environmental impact.

A unique food model created to protect the wellbeing of people and the environment

The environmental pyramid was created by studying and measuring the impact of foods already present in traditional food pyramids on the environment, and placing them along an upside down pyramid, where foods placed at the lowest level (at the peak of the triangle) have the lowest environmental impact. Placing the two pyramids next to each other, the “Double Food-Environmental Pyramid” allows people to see seen that the foods that area advised to be eaten more, are also, generally, those that have the lowest environmental impacts. On the other hand, foods that are advised to be eaten less are also those that have a greater environmental impact.

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Opening remarks 

  • Paolo Barilla, Vicepresident, Barilla Group

Food and health in childhood

  • Ferruccio Fazio, Minister of Health
  • GuidoViceconte, Undersecretary, Ministry of Education

Children and environment: towards a sustainable nutrition

  • Claudio Maffeisn - Verona University
  • Riccardo Valentini - Tuscia University

Round table

  • Antonio Affinita, MOIGE (Italian Parents' Association)
  • Daniela Galeone, Ministry of Health
  • Riccardo Garosci, Ministry of Education
  • Alberto Ugazio, SIP (Italian Association of Pediatrics)
  • Claudio Maffeis , Verona University
  • Riccardo Valentini, Tuscia University
  • Carlo Alberto Pratesi, Roma Tre University

Closing remarks

  • Paolo Barilla, Vicepresident, Barilla Group


The food model traditionally adopted in the Mediterranean countries (particularly in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and southern France) is characterized by its nutritional balance and is in fact recognized by many food scientists as one of the absolute best for what concerns the physical well-being and prevention of chronic diseases, especially cardiovascular diseases.
This is the food model that has been considered for the construction of the nutritional part of the Double Pyramid, introduced in 2010.
Maintaining the nutritional part of the Double Pyramid and replacing the environmental one with the revision that resulted from the elaborations of this new edition, the following is the updated BCFN Double Pyramid.

For the construction of the Double Pyramid "for those who are growing", the same approach was employed as the one used to achieve the "adult" version by placing alongside the usual environmental pyramids, the food ones that had been made by taking into account the nutritional needs of children and adolescents. When considering children, or more generally, people who are still growing (up to 20 years of age), certain foods take on a different importance. The guidelines of the USDA - United States Department of Agriculture (one of the references considered), suggest a different distribution of sources of protein - especially meat - than that of adults, without affecting the mode of reading the double pyramid: foods with the lowest environmental impact are the ones most recommended for consumption.

Summary of macro-guidelines for healthy growth
  • Adopt a healthy and balanced diet that daily alternates all the main foods that supply all the nutrients and micro-nutrients (calcium, iron, vitamins, etc.) that children and adolescents need.
  • Avoid excessive intake of calories by consuming high-calorie or high-fat foods.
  • Divide up the intake of nutrients during the day in a balanced way, ensuring that there is a balance between animal and vegetable proteins, simple and complex sugars (by eating less sweets and more bread, potatoes, pasta or rice), vegetable and animal fats (using less lard and butter and more olive oil).
  • Reduce the intake of salt to a minimum in order to reduce additional risk factors for developing hypertension, especially in adulthood.
  • Distribute food intake over five times in the day: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, snack and dinner.
  • Avoid eating food outside the five times previously identified.
  • Engage in physical activity for at least an hour a day, including that of both sports and just playing.
  • Minimize a sedentary lifestyle as much as possible, particularly the time spent in front of a video screen (television and computers).

To achieve a rigorous calculation of the environmental impacts of food throughout its life cycle, both the stage of agricultural and/or industrial production and the part downstream that includes the cold chain, transport and cooking, must be taken into account.

Cooking - Cooking techniques used in the preparation of food can be very different, so it's not easy to quantify the environmental impact of cooking for one kilogram of food. For the construction of the environmental pyramids, it was decided to take the point of reference as that of home-prepared food for four people utilizing medium-sized gas burners.

The cold chain - The impact of the cold chain is only relevant for products at the base of the pyramid (such as vegetables and produce) if they are frozen.

Transport - It is apparent that transport is relevant only for foods at the base of the pyramid that exceed a certain distance.

By analyzing the data published by the Global Footprint Network, you find that food consumption is at the forefront of the environmental impacts generated by an individual living in the high-income countries with an overall significance on the ecological footprint of about 30-40%, which corresponds to about 1.8/2.4 global hectares per year, i.e. 60 m2 per day.
In order to estimate the extent to which the food choices impact on the ecological footprint of individuals, two different daily menus were tested: both are balanced from a nutritional point of view, both in terms of calories and nutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates), but in the first one, the protein is of plant origin ("vegetarian menu"), while in the second, the protein is mainly of animal origin ("meat menu"). Using the example of one week's supply of food, three different diets can be hypothesized on the basis of how many times a vegetarian menu is eaten and how many times it's a meat-based menu:
by limiting meat to only twice a week, in line with the recommendations of nutritionists, you can "save" up to 20 global m2 per day.
In recent years, food waste has become a subject of great interest for its many implications which are not only ethical but also economic and environmental. The wasting of food has traditionally been condemned according to a logic of values, especially in relation to the uneven distribution of the global resources.