The 5 Most Popular Diets & Their Carbon Footprint: An Unbiased View…

The 5 Most Popular Diets & Their Carbon Footprint: An Unbiased View

We’re all always looking for ways to make our home a little greener. We recycle, buy electric cars and telecommute to work instead of driving, but most of us aren’t looking in our kitchen when it comes to going green. Did you know the foods that you eat can be influencing your carbon footprint? Let’s look at five of the most popular diets right now, as well as the kind of impact that they are having on the environment.

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1. Paleo

The paleo diet is one that has fallen in and out of favor in recent years. In essence, it involves eating like our hunter-gatherer ancestors would eat — a diet high in lean protein, fruits, and vegetables, with little to no grain and no dairy, sugars or processed foods. This caveman diet is popular for people who are trying to lose weight, as well as those who want to eat healthier but don’t want to sacrifice their weekly steak or burger.

Because the paleo diet is so high in lean proteins, it has one of the worst carbon footprints on our list. Lean proteins require a lot of resources to raise and harvest. Beef and lamb are the worst, but even eating a chicken can be harmful to the environment. Raising one chicken from factory farm to table produces roughly 6.9 kilos of CO2, which is equivalent to driving a car about 16 miles.

Paleo can be a healthier alternative — the scientific jury is still out on whether it’s the healthiest option for you, but there are plenty of people who swear by it. However, it isn’t the best diet if you’re also trying to reduce your carbon footprint.

2. Keto

Most people either love or hate the keto diet. This diet is an extremely low-carb diet that was initially designed to help prevent seizures in children but has evolved over the years into a fat loss diet.

The idea is that your diet should be made up of roughly 70 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and less than 10 percent carbs. This allegedly forces your body into a state of ketosis — since it has no carbs to burn for fuel, it starts to burn fat instead.

While many of the fats come from plant sources — for example, coconut oil is a popular fat in keto recipes — the reliance on animal fat and protein puts this diet in the same boat as the paleo option. If you can manage a vegan keto diet, you can use it to reduce your carbon footprint, but a standard keto diet uses animal products that produce greenhouse gasses.

3. Mediterranean

If you love Mediterranean food, this is the diet for you. Studies have found that people who live around the Mediterranean Sea are less likely to suffer from heart disease, which is mainly due to their diet focusing on fruits, vegetables, and healthy legumes and nuts. Everything is cooked in olive oil, and healthy lean proteins like fish and poultry are added on as an afterthought.


This is a great middle-of-the-road diet if you’re trying to eat healthily but are still concerned about your household’s carbon footprint. Focus on locally grown produce locally raised poultry and sustainably harvested or farmed fish.

4. Flexitarian

This type of diet is also known as becoming a casual vegetarian — your diet consists primarily of plant matter with the occasional addition of animal protein. This option takes the Mediterranean diet one step further by reducing reliance on animal protein, and it’s a lot more flexible than many of other diets — there are no limitations as to what you can eat. Plus, since the raising and harvesting of livestock are what produces the most CO2 in the agricultural industry, it can be a fantastic way to reduce your carbon footprint.

It also makes eating out a lot easier — you don’t have to make a ton of substitutions to your meal to stick to your diet. Just order what you want to eat, and enjoy!

5. Vegan

The vegan diet isn’t new, but it’s growing in popularity as both a way to eat healthily and reduce your carbon footprint. This diet relies wholly on fruits and vegetables, with no animal protein or dairy involved at all. Some individuals even go so far as to refuse honey — since it is technically an animal product. Strict vegans also avoid figs because they’re the result of a wasp getting trapped in a fig flower.

If you’re concerned about your household’s carbon footprint, the vegan diet is the best way to go, especially if you source many of your fruits and vegetables locally. The only significant sources of CO2 with a vegan diet come from the fuel burned to ship food from the fields and the energy used to process it in the factories.

You can avoid much of this by working with your local farmer’s co-op or shopping at local markets or farms. No matter which diet you choose, you will have some impact on the world around you. How significant that impact is will depend on the kinds of foods you eat and how much animal protein you consume on a daily or weekly basis.

If you’re concerned about your carbon footprint, start by reducing the amount of meat you enjoy. Even limiting yourself to one meal with red meat a week can have a significant, positive impact on the environment.

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