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Plant-Based Diets Win the Carbon Footprint Battle: New Study Reveals Surprising Results on Popular Diets

If a third of the omnivores in the United States consumed a 2000 kcal vegetarian diet, the annual carbon footprint savings would be equivalent to eliminating 340 million passenger vehicle miles, 4.9% of the reductions needed to meet the original US targets in the Paris accord.

vegetarian carbon footprint

Reducing our carbon footprint is becoming increasingly important as we face the consequences of climate change. One way to do this is by adopting a plant-based diet, but what about popular diets like the keto and paleo diets? A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan aimed to answer this question by estimating the carbon footprint and diet quality of popular diets as selected by a nationally representative sample of US consumers.

The study used data from the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to categorize individual adult diets into six types: vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, paleo, keto, and omnivore. The researchers then calculated the average daily greenhouse gas emissions in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per 1000 kcal (kg CO2-eq/1000 kcal) for each diet using their previously developed database. Diet quality was determined using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) and the Alternate Healthy Eating Index.

The results of the study showed that plant-based diets had lower carbon footprints than other popular diets, including the keto and paleo diets. The average carbon footprints of vegan and vegetarian diets were lower than those of the pescatarian, omnivore, paleo, or keto diets. On average, pescatarian diets were found to be the healthiest, with higher HEI scores than vegetarian, omnivore, or keto diets. However, it’s worth noting that plant-based diets still had relatively high HEI scores, suggesting that a plant-based diet can be healthy while also reducing one’s carbon footprint.

These results highlight the trade-offs between diet quality and carbon footprint. While the pescatarian diet may be the healthiest, it has a higher carbon footprint than plant-based diets. This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to switch to a completely plant-based diet, but it does suggest that incorporating more plant-based meals into one’s diet can have a positive impact on both health and the environment.

It’s also worth noting that this study used data from 2005-2010, therefore it’s possible that more recent trends in popular diets may have different carbon footprints and diet quality scores. Nevertheless, this study provides valuable insight into the potential trade-offs of different popular diets and highlights the need for individuals to consider the environmental impact of their food choices.

Overall, this study emphasizes the importance of considering both diet quality and carbon footprint when making dietary choices. While a plant-based diet may not be feasible or desirable for everyone, incorporating more plant-based meals into one’s diet can have a positive impact on both personal health and the health of the planet.

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