Lower-carbon Diets are Healthy and Good For the Planet Too!

Lower-carbon Diets are Healthy and Good For the Planet Too!

by Dr. Lakshmi Venkataraman on Jan 24 2019 4:44 PM
Listen to this article

  • An unhealthy diet rich in red meat (beef, pork, veal and game), dairy products and solid fats contribute significantly to carbon footprint and is bad for our planet too
  • The unhealthy diets contain more of animal protein and account for five times as much carbon emissions in comparison to plant-based diets
  • Consumers, as well as policy makers in the government, must recognize the importance of a healthy diet in protecting the environment and need to make the right choices
Diet rich in meat, dairy and solid trans fats is not only bad for the individual but also harms the environment and planet by significantly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent study at the Tulane University.


What is a Low-carbon Diet?

Lower-carbon diet is a healthy diet consisting of less dairy and red meat and more of plant-based diet, which results in lower carbon emissions and is good for the environment and our planet.
"People whose diets had a lower carbon footprint were eating less red meat and dairy -- which contribute to a larger share of greenhouse gas emissions and are high in saturated fat -- and consuming more healthful foods like poultry, whole grains and plant-based proteins," said lead author Diego Rose, a professor of nutrition and food security at Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

The findings of the study appear in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and this is the first study to look at the impact of the average American diet quality on the environment.


Nutritional Value of Diet and Impact on Environment

The study team hoped to find more about the dietary habits of the average American and how it impacted on the environment since it is known that food production influences climate change in a big way.
  • The team compiled an extensive database of carbon emissions associated with food production and conducted a survey on what 16,000 average Americans ate over a 24 hour period
  • The team rated the average American diet into five groups according to the amount of carbon emission per 1000 calories
  • Using the U.S. Healthy Eating Index, which is a federal measure of diet quality, the team rated the nutritional value of the diet as being healthy or unhealthy
  • Overall, healthier diets low in meat and dairy had the lowest impact on carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions and were good for the environment
  • However, the healthy diets were found to be deficient in certain nutrients such as iron, calcium and vitamin D due to reduced consumption of meat and dairy
  • Unhealthy high impact diets rich in meat, dairy and solid fats contributed five times as much carbon emissions and harmed the environment significantly compared to low impact diets. In general, high impact diets had a higher proportion of total protein especially animal protein
Thus, the findings of the study suggest that an unhealthy diet rich in red meat, dairy and saturated fats is bad for both the individual as well as the environment in comparison to a healthy low meat plant-based diet.

Interestingly, another study conducted by the same team earlier showed that 20 percent of Americans contributed to nearly half of U.S. diet-related carbon emissions.

Impact of Carbon Emissions and How to Reduce It

Carbon emissions (release of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere) significantly contribute to climate change and global warming and can harm the human population as well as the environment. Some ways to reduce carbon emissions and save the planet include the following:
  • Eat less meat and more plant-based foods
  • Use public transport or carpool or walk when possible
  • Do not leave your devices plugged in when not using or unless they are charging
  • Eat local and eat organic foods
  • Plant more trees
  • Use natural fiber clothes and avoid synthetic fibers
  • Avoid plastic material
  • Dry your clothes on a clothesline rather than a dryer



Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and get your protein from legumes, poultry and eggs for your personal good health as well as the health of the planet. It is possible to have both. We as consumers as well as the official policymakers must recognize this fact and make the right food choices.

  1. Lower-carbon diets aren’t just good for the planet, they’re also healthier - (