Do You Eat for Health or Environmental Sustainability? The Double Pyramid Says You Can Do Both

©. Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition

The Double Pyramid is an innovative way of portraying how the ecological footprints of our food compare to their nutritional value.

The “Double Food-Environmental Pyramid” was designed and launched by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition in 2010. Researchers from Italy wanted to combine nutritional guidelines with environmental issues, such as greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and ecological footprints. The result is the Double Pyramid, which reveals an interesting fact: the most environmentally friendly foods are often the healthiest ones for human consumption, and many foods that are damaging to our bodies are also damaging to the environment.

The inverted environmental pyramid shows ecologically-intensive foods at the very top, such as meat and cheese. As you look down the pyramid, you’ll find fish, olive oil, other dairy products, and legumes. At the bottom are the least ecologically-damaging fruits and vegetables.

The food pyramid, which sits like a regular pyramid, features fruits and vegetables across the bottom, as the healthiest things for us to be eating, followed by grains, dairy, fish, eggs, and meat.

There are two exceptions to the rule: olive oil, despite having a fairly large ecological footprint, is considered very healthy and an integral part of a good diet; and sugary baked goods, despite being grain-based, are best avoided.

Not everyone will agree with the Double Pyramid’s take on nutrition. Its guidelines follow a fairly traditional pattern that encourages grain and dairy consumption while minimizing meat. (It’s likely no coincidence that Barilla is a huge Italian pasta company, so there’s some obvious grain-loving support behind this research.)

I am not going to wade into the Paleo vs. Vegan debate in this post (and whatever countless versions of those diets exist in between), but it’s important to note that there has been serious pushback against grain consumption in recent years, particularly in North America, and a widespread embrace of saturated fats and meat. The traditional nutritional pyramid model has been strongly challenged.

While I’m sure many readers have heard or read conflicting reports about the healthiest way to nourish the human body, the Double Pyramid raises a very important point that isn’t considered often enough by North American eaters and dieters – that everything we eat, for whatever reasons those may be, has an impact on the environment. That impact should be taken into consideration when selecting a diet to follow. Health is a priority, but so is making food choices that will minimize damage to our planet.