7 Jul 2017


Israel, the US and, rather surprisingly, Italy - which the Bloomberg Global Health Index named as the “healthiest” nation in the world thanks to its Mediterranean diet - are the countries where people eat “too much”, according to the Food Sustainability Index developed by the Barilla Foundation and the Economist Intelligence Unit. It is here where most effort will need to be put in to getting “beach ready” and getting back to a healthy lifestyle. The goal is to choose diets which are not harmful to our health, which help us get back in to shape and which do not harm the planet.  

Here are the Ten Commandments for a sustainable diet: 10 useful tips to help you keep in shape without weighing down the planet

Summer has officially arrived and, with it, the dreaded pressure to get “beach ready”. The past few weeks have seen an endless succession of tips on how to back in to shape quickly, on super intense gym sessions, diets of every kind and last minute advice on how to lose weight, all with the risk, however, of making food choices which are harmful to both ourselves and the environment. Many countries face big challenges when it comes to getting in to better shape. According to the Food Sustainability Index1  - developed by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) in collaboration with The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) - Israel, the US and - rather surprisingly - Italy (named by the Bloomberg Global Health Index as the “healthiest” nation in the world thanks to its Mediterranean diet) are the countries where people will be making the greatest effort to lose weight because they have the highest percentage of people who 'consume too much food'  (9.53/100, 14.90/100 and 15.55/100 respectively). It’s not surprising, therefore, that the quest for the ideal diet should start in these countries. But which is best? The Zone or the Fast Metabolism diet? The Blood Type diet or Paleo? Or should we count on the traditional Mediterranean diet or a high-protein one? The best approach would be to have a discussion about which dietary models to follow throughout the year because, aesthetics aside, we must not forget that following the wrong dietary regime can not only lead to weight gain, obesity and serious health risks, but it can also cause serious damage to our planet. An example? The BCFN has estimated that in just one week, diets low in red meat can reduce CO2 emissions by 9kg and water consumption by 6,900 litres per capita (data refers to diets such as the Mediterranean where protein sources are fish, eggs, white meat and especially legumes eaten at least twice a week, rather than diets where meat is consumed every day). Therefore what we put on our plate is one the major factors contributing to global pollution. The challenge, therefore, is to lose weight without “weighing” down the planet.

Katarzyna Dembska, a researcher at the BCFN Foundation, reaffirms the importance of making the right food choices throughout the year. “The pace of daily life, the lack of food education and the easy availability of processed foods which are often high in sugar, salt and fat, are slowly leading us further away from the Mediterranean diet which guaranteed health and longevity as well as environmental sustainability. We must not forget that we live in a global system where the population and our consumption of resources such as water, soil and energy are growing at an exponential rate, therefore it would be best to identify a dietary model which would help us to stay in shape without causing pollution. The arrival of summer is a great opportunity to get back in to shape, get healthy, rediscover our healthy and sustainable food culture and try to maintain the right lifestyle all year round. At the BCFN, we have put together 10 simple tips for getting back in to shape while looking after ourselves and the environment”. 


1. Increase your intake of whole grains: spelt, barley and rice, but also quinoa, millet and amaranth provide energy, have a low glycaemic index and are versatile and can be used in many recipes and cold dishes. 

2. Remember that fruit and vegetables must be included either as part of the main meal or as snacks: the wide variety available in summer provides the ideal opportunity to add colour, vitamins, fibre and minerals to your diet. Remember to support your local producers. 

3. Reduce your intake of meat and cheese and replace them with beans, lentils and chickpeas: these are excellent substitutes for animal protein and can be eaten as hummus, in salads or with pasta and rice. Choosing legumes over meat and cheese means reducing the associated greenhouse gas emissions (0.63kg CO2 for legumes versus 25kg CO2 for red meat); and this is before taking in to account that legume production and processing requires approximately 2,711 litres of water per kg compared to red meat which requires around 18,7992

4. Eat more fish, particularly local fish from sustainable Italian waters, such as anchovies and sardines.   

5. Reduce your salt intake and instead season your meals with herbs: parsley, oregano, basil, sage and rosemary are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. 

6. Use extra virgin olive oil, both as a condiment and for cooking: the ancient 'green gold' has a high proportion of monounsaturated fatty acids and is rich in tocopherols and phytosterols.

7. Increase your consumption of nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, and choose the unsalted variety. A handful a day will not cause weight gain and protects from cardiovascular disease. 

8. Drink water when you are thirsty as fruit juice and soft drinks are very high in sugar, increase thirst and significantly increase calorie intake. 

9. Make time during the day to exercise as diet alone is not enough. Walking and cycling encourage healthy weight loss and reduce transport emissions. 

10. Rediscover the pleasure of slowing down and enjoying good company: choose foods which are grown locally and make traditional dishes to share with others. 


Many studies seem to confirm that the Mediterranean diet is the best dietary model for taking care of our health and the environment. It is a genuine 'elixir for long life': closely adhering to this diet, rather than other dietary models, can increase life expectancy by approximately 4.5 years3.  The link between health and sustainability is summed up in the Double Food and Environmental Pyramid developed by the BCFN Foundation. The graphic shows the classic food pyramid (which follows the principles of the Mediterranean diet) alongside a new (inverted) environmental pyramid showing foods ranked by their ecological footprint, i.e. the impact that their production makes on the environment.  By now, more than 1,300 scientific sources have been analysed in developing the Double Pyramid and they reinforce the hypotheses put forward in the first edition. The Double Pyramid makes it easy to see that the foods with a low environmental impact are those which dietitians advise us to consume more of, while those with a bigger environmental footprint should be consumed in moderation. 

1  Index calculated by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) Foundation and The Economist Intelligence Unit, analysing 25 countries representing over two-thirds of the world’s population and 87% of global GDP.

2 Double Food and Environment Pyramid (2016). https://www.barillacfn.com/m/publications/doppiapiramide2016-futuro-piu-sostenibile-dipende-da-noi.pdf 

3  Cros-Bou, M., Fung, T.M., Prescott, J., Julin, B., Du, Mengmeng, Sun, Q., Rexrode, K.M., Hu, F.B., De Vivo, I. Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study, BMJ 349: g6674, 2014.


Simone Silvi - Senior Account Media Relations, BCFN Foundation - s.silvi@inc-comunicazione.it - Direct: +39 335.10.97.27

Mariagrazia Martorana - Media Relations Consultant, BCFN Foundation - m.martorana@inc-comunicazione.it - Direct: +39 333.57.61.268

Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation 

The BCFN Foundation is a multidisciplinary research centre which analyses the causes and effects of economic, scientific, social and environmental factors on food. It provides scientific content  to inform and guide people in making responsible choices with regard to food, nutrition, health and sustainability.