Nutritional guidelines are a tool for sustainability education

Nutritional guidelines are a tool for sustainability education

December 13, 2019

Nutritional guidelines are a tool for sustainability education

In a world that is genuinely concerned with people’s well-being and respecting the environment, nutritional guidelines also include recommendations on the social, economic and environmental aspects of food

Nutritional guidelines are meant to serve as a basis for people’s nutrition and diet, for agricultural and healthcare policies, and for nutrition education programs that promote healthy and balanced lifestyles.” This is what experts from the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, claim in a site dedicated to these documents, drawn up by each country based on the latest scientific evidence and on each country’s traditions and resources. While nutritional guidelines normally provide recommendations on the consumption of a food product or group of foods to promote health and prevent chronic diseases, an increasing number of countries is taking a more holistic approach to these documents. “In this perspective, combinations of food products, consumption patterns, food security information, and lifestyle and sustainability aspects are assessed,” the FAO experts explain. 

Understanding the role of sustainable diets was also one of the central goals of the 10th edition of the International Forum on Food and Nutrition, held in Milan in December 2019 and organized by the Barilla Foundation. Specifically, this topic was discussed during a thematic workshop on the Su-Eatable Life project, promoted and funded by the European Commission, which is precisely aimed at raising awareness about proper nutrition for human health and the health of the planet.


Virtuous dishes

According to the 2016 FAO report “Plates, pyramids, planet”, current food production is destroying the environment on which it now depends and on which it will depend in the future. Twenty to thirty percent of man-made greenhouse gases come from current food production systems, which are also among the main causes of deforestation, land-use change and biodiversity loss. On top of that, they are also responsible for using 70% of all water used by humans and are a major source of water pollution. 

Given this scenario, this is hardly reassuring, but we should also highlight the fact that there are now more and more studies on the subject, since the scientific community is becoming more concerned with issues such as food sustainability. The issue of sustainable diets had already made headlines in the 1980s, but it was not until 2010, the year of the FAO symposium on “Biodiversity and Sustainable Diets: United Against Hunger”, which led to the document “Sustainable Diet and Biodiversity” being drawn up, that a shared and more modern definition was provided. Since then, several examples of virtuous diets and dishes have been provided, which take into consideration not only human health but also the health of the planet. A prime example is the so-called “planetary diet”, the result of the work of the experts at the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, which was already described in an article in the BCFN magazine. The consumption boundaries established in this diet are the thresholds above which the health of people and/or of the planet is at risk. 


From theory to practice 

As demonstrated by the Double Food and Environmental Pyramid model developed by the Barilla Foundation, the rules for a healthy diet are the same as those for an environmentally sustainable diet. Eating a variety of foods, choosing seasonal products, eating few processed foods or foods high in salt and sugar, and preferring water (better if tap water) over other drinks are just some of the recommendations that should be included in nutritional guidelines that promote human health and the health of the planet. 

However, up to now, only a few countries have included a focus on sustainability in their nutritional guidelines: when the latest FAO report was published, they were only four (Brazil, Sweden, Qatar and Germany). 

In any case, the authors of the report acknowledge the fact that in many countries, although not directly mentioned, a focus on sustainability is found in official recommendations. All sustainable nutritional guidelines recommend diets mainly based on plant-based foods, with countries such as Sweden also providing more accurate information on which plant-based foods should be preferred. The high environmental impact of meat is central to all these guidelines, except those of Qatar. Finally, Brazil pays a great deal of attention to the economic and social aspects of sustainability: it is no coincidence that the Brazilian document includes the recommendation to avoid overly processed foods that not only are harmful to health but also go against traditional food cultures. 


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