26 Oct 2016


“A Tour Around the Mediterranean Diet: Carbohydrates”

In terms of quantity, carbohydrates are our largest and most important source of energy, providing the necessary fuel to all parts of the body, especially the brain and red blood cells, for their cellular activity. Carbohydrates have always been the basis of the Mediterranean diet, officially considered as a healthy and sustainable nutritional model, but are currently the subject of unfair accusations which are harming their image. Indeed, far from providing the body with crucial energy, they are being linked to unhealthy diets which are in part responsible for the obesity epidemic gripping the world. For instance, according to a recent survey, 29%1  of people in the USA try not to eat them and Italians appear to be following their lead.

Carbohydrates are an extremely complex category, including elements which have a different role in our diet. Indeed, not all of them have the same nutritional value or need to be eaten in the same quantity. However, recently, there has been an increasing trend for foods rich in refined and sugary carbohydrates (such as products from highly refined cereals, desserts, juices and sugary drinks in general), which should be consumed in moderation, and are partially to blame for the global obesity epidemic. This is compounded by a gradual departure from the Mediterranean model, where foods rich in complex carbohydrates, such as bread and cereals – especially wholegrain – pulses, fruit and dried fruit should be eaten on a daily basis.

Since its creation, the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) has always striven to facilitate the exchange of ideas, experiences and information on sustainable diets between the research sector, politicians and the general public. In order to make the most important aspects of the Mediterranean diet easier to understand, three Stakeholder Workshops have been organised for the period 2016-2018, on the topic of: carbohydrates, fats and protein.

The first of these took place in Parma on 30 September and focused on the role of carbohydrates. The event featured a round table with world-renowned experts in the fields of medicine and nutrition, such as Professors John Sievenpiper, from the University of Toronto and Joanne Slavin, from the University of Minnesota, as well as communication experts including Eretia O’Kennedy from the Jamie Oliver Foundation, in order to tackle and clarify the new scientific frontiers on the issue and analyse the main communication challenges in the near future. The goal was not to define new guidelines, but to draft a call to action – a document for civil society, the academic community and policy makers, to provide a clear and scientific summary of the key issues regarding carbohydrates, and identify a new collaborative approach to establish the measures which need to be taken to re-establish a diet once again based on the correct use of carbohydrates.
The main points which emerged during the workshop for addressing our relationship with carbohydrates in the near future

From a scientific point of view, the experts focused above all on the following requirements:

Continue research into the properties of so-called good carbohydrates (e.g. those mainly rich in fibre), their effects on glycemic load, the role of hormones and intestinal bacteria. Indeed, correct consumption of these carbohydrates enables the body to manage these aspects correctly, thus guaranteeing better health.
Integrate data on the impact of carbohydrate production. Indeed, we now know that the production of food also has an impact on the quality of our environment and data suggests that the carbohydrates which are good for our health – at the base of the food pyramid – are also those which use the fewest resources in their production.
Guarantee the objectivity of data in food research, dispelling myths which may emerge as a result of agreements between sponsors and researchers. Indeed, these are created to protect and ensure the impartiality and transparency of researchers, as well as the access to the most cutting-edge technology and methods.

From a communication point of view, the experts focused above all on the need to:

• Find new and more effective ways of broadcasting the results of research to institutions, industry and civil society;
• Do more to address approaches to food education, working on attitudes and culture, in order to produce overarching models which also include environmental protection.
To overcome these challenges and bring about a paradigm shift, organisational and technological changes are needed to enable solutions to be implemented, which in the future can be applied on a grand scale. Some of these were already discussed by the professors and experts invited to the workshop and are featured in the call to action – the document which will be presented at the 7th International Forum on Food & Nutrition on 1 December at Bocconi University in Milan and will be available for consultation thereafter.

1Quote from double pyramid 2016 pag. 123, Carbophobia box


Luca Di Leo, Head of Media Relations, luca.dileo@barilla.com, +39 0521 2621

Caterina Grossi, Media Relations Manager, caterina.grossi@barillacfn.com, +39 0521 2621



Simone Silvi, Senior Account Media Relations, s.silvi@inc-comunicazione.it, +39 335.10.97.279

Francesca Riccardi, Media Relations Consultant, f.riccardi@inc-comunicazione.it, +39 335.72.51.741


The Barilla Foundation Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN Foundation) serves as a think-tank and was founded in 2009 with the aim of analysing the important themes linked to food and nutrition across the world. With its multidisciplinary approach, it analyses the cause and effect relationship that economic, scientific, social and environmental factors have with food. The President and Vice President of the BCFN Foundation are Guido and Paolo Barilla, while the Board of Directors is composed of, among others, Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food and Paolo De Castro, coordinator of the European Parliament’s agricultural and rural development commission. The guarantor for the work of the BCFN Foundation is the Advisory Board. For more information: www.barillacfn.com; www.protocollodimilano.it