What you choose to eat affects more than just your weight. Whether you indulge in a thick, juicy steak or dip your cookies in milk, dietary choices can impact the planet.
Not all diets affect the air, land, and sea equally, however. While some may produce more pollution and threaten natural habitats, others have very few environmental trade-offs. To understand which diet is best for the Earth, you must first take a closer look at some of the most popular diet trends in America and the world today.
A vegan diet consists of fruits, vegetables and grains, and omits all animal products. Naturally, this diet bodes well for the environment. A vegan’s carbon footprint is 40% smaller than an average person’s, weighing in at just 1.5 tons. This low emission amount makes veganism the most eco-friendly diet out there.
Unfortunately, meat-eaters and those who enjoy dairy, eggs and other animal products vastly outnumber vegans. Consequently, those who are vegan aren’t making a huge difference in their eating habits. However, plant-based and vegan diets are gaining popularity. Within the past 15 years, the number of Americans adopting these eco-friendly diets has increased to 9.7 million people. As brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods gain traction, more people will likely switch to plant-based diets in the future.
Like vegans, vegetarians enjoy plants, fruits and grains and refrain from eating meat and fish. However, their diet does include dairy and eggs. While these animal products may take less of a toll on the environment than meat, they still negatively impact habitats and the Earth in general.
Output of particulate matter and ammonia from dairy farm activities can reduce air quality and increase greenhouse gases. Moreover, these operations use large volumes of water and land to grow feed, water cows and process products. Likewise, intensive egg production can cause ozone depletion, climate change, acidification, land occupation and more. Typically, growing chicken feed causes the largest impact.
The keto diet is quite different from veganism and vegetarianism. Instead of cutting meat from their diets, people who adopt a ketogenic way of eating cut nearly all carbs from their daily nutritional intake. Generally, they restrict their calorie intake to 5% carbs and increase their protein and fat consumption to 20% and 75%, respectively. While this diet may be popular, it’s not doing the planet any favors.
Many of those who follow the keto diet live off red meat, cheese, butter, cream and other high-fat foods. Of course, this increased consumption of animal products results in more greenhouse gas emissions, air and land pollution, water use and livestock production. If you partake in the keto diet and would like to have less of an impact, consider eating more plant-based fats and proteins like olive oil, avocados and meatless burgers.
The Mediterranean diet calls for eating fish more frequently than red meat and prioritizes nuts, fruits, vegetables, herbs, beans and whole grains. Moderate amounts of poultry, eggs and dairy are also central to this eating plan. Subsequently, it’s one of the best if you want to boost heart health. Plus, it’s better for the environment than typical Western fare.
However, eating meat and dairy still negatively affects the environment, regardless of how much or how often you consume them. Likewise, consuming fish isn’t always beneficial to the planet, either. High demand for seafood has depleted populations faster than they can reproduce, and overfishing has disrupted the entire ocean’s food chain. Moreover, large-scale aquaculture can pollute waterways and transfer disease to wild populations. Thus, it may be best to avoid fish and seafood altogether.
Minimizing Your Impact
Your diet is a huge determining factor in whether you live a sustainable life. Therefore, if you want to support the planet’s health and minimize your impact, you must change your diet. Even vegans can choose more sustainable alternatives to products like almond milk and avocados, which require large amounts of water for growth and production.
Regardless of which diet you currently follow, consider making a few small changes to reduce your consumption of meat, seafood and animal products. Stock up on fruits and vegetables and continue to look for other ways to help out the planet. Even if you still eat bacon, you can recycle, avoid plastics and cultivate a more sustainable lifestyle.