6 Jul 2017


According to the Food Sustainability Index developed by the Barilla Foundation and The Economist Intelligence Unit, Italy comes in third among the countries which eat “too much”. Italians are currently the healthiest people in the world, thanks in part to the Mediterranean diet*, but our country may fall from the top spot due to a gradual deviation from this dietary model, especially among young people (1 in every 4 under-18s is overweight). And poor food choices, as well as harming our health, can also take their toll on the planet. With the arrival of summer – as we all try to get “beach ready” – here is a guide to rediscovering a healthy lifestyle through sustainable eating: 10 top tips for staying in shape without harming the environment

It’s official: summer is here, 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 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”. 


According to the Bloomberg Global Health Index, Italians are the healthiest people in the world, thanks in part to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. And yet, especially among young people, different eating habits are emerging which are deviating from this type of diet. The Food Sustainability Index developed by the BCFN and the EIU also draws attention to this issue: Italy is currently in 3rd place out of the 25 countries analysed for the amount of people who eat “too much” (15.55 points out of 100). This figure takes two factors into account: the “percentage of overweight people aged between 2 and 18” (23.25% of the target group is overweight, better only than Israel, which scores 24%)2 , where Italy is in a rather precarious situation; and the “percentage of the population aged over 20 which is overweight or obese” (Italy comes in 13th place in the Index3 ), where 58.8% of Italians have a body mass index higher than or equal to 25, generally in line with other large countries. Combining these figures with our limited tendency to exercise regularly certainly gives us food for thought (according to the Index, only 36% of Italians ensure that they reach the recommended weekly amount of physical activity, a long way behind countries like Russia, the UK, Argentina or France which dominate this ranking). Indeed, the combination of a sedentary lifestyle and a change in eating habits, moving towards a diet rich in animal proteins and fat, could lead in the future to a rise in the incidences of certain illnesses (according to the latest OECD report, 13% of the Italian population aged over 15 will be obese by 2030). The consequences of this could be an increase in: diabetes (with one new case being diagnosed somewhere in the world every five seconds), cardiovascular illnesses (which remain the leading cause of death globally with 20 million deaths in 2015), and chronic illnesses (which lead to 60% of deaths worldwide)4


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 18,7995

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 years6.  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 World Obesity Org - 2008

 3 World Health Organisation, GHO database 

4  Eating Planet, Edizioni Ambiente

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

6  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: +39 335.10.97.279

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

Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation

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


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