Food and sustainability

Sustainable diets, for people and for the environment: a topic of discussion at the Forum

The importance of choosing a nutritional model which is sustainable for people and for the planet, as explained by Gabriele Riccardi, professor of endocrinology at the University of Naples and member of the BCFN Advisory Board. The topic will be presented at the upcoming Forum, 1 December 2016 in Milan.

Good for our health and good for the planet: this is the definition of a truly sustainable diet. Made up of food which keeps us healthy, it should also have a minimal impact on the environment, biodiversity, social structures and the economy, as described by the FAO in 2010. This exact topic will also be the focus of a special session at the International Forum on Food and Nutrition, organised by the BCFN and set to take place in Milan on 1 December 2016.
From an environmental point of view, we cannot deny that the world’s most developed countries will need to moderate their demand for animal proteins, as livestock and poultry farming requires a great amount of water, land and energy. An understanding of the mechanisms which make a diet truly sustainable is thus indispensable in a time of economic growth, climate change and dietary transition. This is one of the BCFN’s missions, and one of the reasons top experts in the field will gather in Milan this year.

Not just Mediterranean
Talks at this year’s Forum in Milan will include the idea that there isn’t one single sustainable diet. Rather, there’s a plurality, each with a few characteristics in common: nutrition which comes mainly from plant sources, low fat content (that of animal origin in particular), ingredients rich in fibre and polyphenols, and antioxidants which prevent the effects of aging.
Such diets prevent the primary illnesses which impact our wellbeing, often associated with aging, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. They can help save the planet also, as raising animals to be eaten requires enormous quantities of plants and vegetables to be used as feed. Such a system is truly a waste, as the energetic value of proteins, at least as far as the human body is concerned, is identical no matter their origin, be it plant or animal.
The Mediterranean diet has been the focus of the greatest number of studies, certainly, but there are other nutritional traditions which have proven to be largely sustainable, as shown in the new edition of the Double Pyramid developed by the BCFN. This is true of the so-called Nordic diet, which features few vegetables, limited to cruciferous ones (known for their cancer-fighting properties), and in which antioxidant-rich fish is abundant. In addition, it includes an elevated consumption of forest fruits and berries, precious to human health and which grow spontaneously at northern latitudes, without needing to be farmed.
The traditional diet of the Far East (that which existed prior to urbanisation and industrialisation) also has sustainable elements. Today East Asian countries are beginning to suffer from the same illnesses which torment the West, due to agricultural industrialisation leading to a greater availability of animal protein at the expense of fruits and whole grains.
Traditional Middle Eastern and South American diets (those where the lion’s share is beans and corn, crops with a low level of environmental impact) are also wonderful.
In essence, to promote the concept of a sustainable diet, all we need to do is push each culture to return to its pre-industrialised roots. Industry’s role, on the other hand, will be to make these diets compatible with the needs of modern-day life by reproducing its best qualities and promoting, as BCFN does through the Forum, greater awareness about these topics among the general public.
Register or follow a live stream of the event on

Gabriele Riccardi
Director of the Diabetes Clinic and of the Metabolic Ward at the Azienda Ospedaliera Federico II (Federico II University Hospital) in Naples  and member of the BCFN Advisory Board


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