The food you choose is good for you and the planet

The food you choose is good for you and the planet

June 03, 2016

The food you choose is good for you and the planet

Scientific studies have shown that health targets and obligations to safeguard the ecosystem converge. The double food and environmental pyramid is a simple way of explaining to everyone how each meal can be transformed into a concrete way to improve their health and the health of the planet.

“Eating in moderation, reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products and increasing that of fruit and vegetables bring benefits to both people and the environment in which we live,” states Timothy Lang, expert in food policy at City University London's Centre for Food Policy. The double pyramid – comprising a “food” part and an “environment” part – shows in a clear and scientific way that foods that are good for the health of individuals are also good for the health of our planet.

The rungs to health

In the 1970s, Angel Keys’ “Seven Countries Study” brought to light the importance of what is known as the “Mediterranean diet” for health. Since then the number of studies on the topic have multiplied, showing strong links between this diet and the reduction of the onset of countless diseases.

The first food pyramid was invented later, in 1992, by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), as a tool to provide information and education about food, explaining in an immediate way the right ways to feed yourself. The bottom of the pyramid shows the foods that should be eaten most frequently: fruit and vegetables rich in fibre, water and vitamins, followed by pasta, rice, potatoes and bread (better if wholemeal). Higher up the pyramid shows the foods that should be eaten in smaller quantities with desserts and red meats at the top. Over the years the model has evolved, adapting scientific information to each sector of the public and promoting one principle: healthy eating.  

The footprint of food on the environment

Everyday food choices have a strong impact on the environment, even though we often don’t realise it. The environmental pyramid was introduced in 2009 to communicate this concept in a simple and effective way: food (or categories of food) is represented in the pyramid based on their “footprint” on the planet. Each food we put on the table leaves behind it a trail of marks (production of carbon dioxide, consumption of water and ecological impact) emabling us to keep tabs on it from production through to disposal. What emerges from experts’ calculations is that foods at the bottom of the food pyramid – those that must be eaten in higher quantities to live longer and healthier – are the same that leave fewer marks on the environment and therefore occupy the top rungs of the environmental pyramid: seasonal fruit and vegetables, rice and other cereals (bread and pasta).

Healthy choices make the difference

Modifying your diet according to the advice shown in the double pyramid can make a difference both from the perspective of health and the environment. On the one hand, a diet primarily based on foodstuffs of plant origin is a powerful weapon against countless illnesses, from cardiovascular diseases to tumours and illnesses common in old age. On the other hand, if you compare a vegetarian meal with a meal containing animal proteins that provides approximately the same calories and the same quantities of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats), the “green” menu has an environmental impact about half that of the non-vegetarian menu.

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