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Modern Diets and the Health of Our Planet: An Investigation into the Environmental Impacts of Food Choices

Authors: Dixon, K.A., Michelsen, M.K. and Carpenter, C.L. (2023)


Popular modern diets are often seen as a panacea for improving health and promoting weight reduction. While there is a large body of literature reporting the health benefits of popular diets, few studies have described their planetary benefits. Our investigation aims to evaluate the simultaneous impacts of six popular diets within the United States on both human and planetary health. Using carbon footprint databases and representative meal plans, the environmental and health-related impacts of the Standard American, Mediterranean, vegan, paleo, keto, and climatarian diets are compared using the currently available literature. Results indicate that diets that exhibit lower carbon footprints also have positive effects on human health. The diets found to have the lowest environmental impacts were the vegan, climatarian, and Mediterranean diets. These low-carbon-footprint diets can likely be attributed to a reduced reliance on ruminant meat (cattle and sheep) and processed food consumption, while diets with high carbon footprints are more dependent on ruminant meat and saturated fat. Moderate consumption of meats such as chicken, pork, and fish in conjunction with an emphasis on locally grown fruits and vegetables can be maintained without adversely affecting the planetary carbon footprint and with the added benefit of promoting good health. Thus, making simple substitutions within each individual’s diet can be advertised as an effective approach to collectively lower the environmental impact in tandem with improving health and longevity.


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