What Diet is the Worst for the Environment?

A recent study found that the Dietary Guidelines in the US is linked with a higher carbon footprint compared to other guidelines. The reason why? Too much animal protein. Keep reading to find out what diet is the worst for the environment!

What does a “good” diet mean? Of course, it has to be rich in nutritious foods that maintain proper body functioning, promote good health, and lower risks of diseases, but in order for a diet to really be good for people, it’s important to look at the bigger picture to include the health of the planet. Ensuring that your diet is both good for you from a health standpoint, as well as the environment is key to achieving a healthy, sustainable, overall “good” diet. Yes, ust because you consider your diet healthy for you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best diet for the environment. According to a recent study published in Nutrition Journal in 2021, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—the diet recommendations handed down by the government for our good health—may provide some health benefits for humans, but they are also associated with having negative impacts for the environment.

Diet patterns lower in animal proteins have lower environmental impacts.

The study found that the recommended Dietary Guidelines for Americans—the food-based guidelines for the U.S.—has the highest carbon footprint compared with those of six other countries, whose guidelines are representative of a variety of dietary patterns. Researchers calculated the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) from the food-based guidelines of Germany, India, the Netherlands, Oman, Thailand, Uruguay, and the U.S. This is largely due to higher amounts of protein, especially animal-based protein, and dairy in its guidelines. Higher intake of animal-based proteins and dairy foods have been shown to significantly contribute to GHGe, which are linked to climate change, specifically, global warming. U.S. guidelines’ carbon footprint is four times higher than India’s, and is more than twice that of the U.S. vegetarian diet pattern guidelines.

So how can we make a difference in our dietary patterns so that we can reduce our carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions? Adopting a more plant-based diet and reducing dairy and animal protein consumption is not only a good place to start, but a critical step. Even seemingly small changes in reducing animal proteins and including more plant proteins can help you cut your impact on the planet on a personal level. Swap out animal proteins and dairy for plant proteins, like beans, lentils, tofu, and whole grains, and plant-based milk and dairy alternatives. This is one of many studies that shows how making simple changes to your diet can go a long way. Understanding and embracing how our diet is linked to the planet is critical in order to strive for a more sustainable future.

Read more about this study at Nutrition Journal.

Learn more about how the incorporation of plant-based diets can impact our planet and how you can improve your dietary habits here:

A Climate-Friendly Diet
Green Up Your Kitchen Practices for a Healthier Planet
Lessons in Sustainability: Pulses
4 Ways to Eat for the Environment

Written by Savanna Malki, Dietetic Intern, with Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

Photos by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

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