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Vegan, Mediterranean diets have lower carbon footprints than standard U.S. diet

Fruit at farm market

A new UCLA study published in the journal Nutrients finds that diets centered on plants and unprocessed foods benefit the health of both people and the planet. The study analyzed six diets: standard American, Mediterranean, vegan, paleo and keto, as well as “climatarian” — a diet that minimizes the consumption of red meats and other foods, such as out-of-season produce, that have large carbon footprints.

Carbon dioxide emissions associated with food come mainly from production, transportation and disposal in landfills, rather than from the food itself. Not only do Mediterranean, vegan and climatarian diets support human health, but they also create smaller carbon footprints because they rely less on red meat and processed foods, said Catherine Carpenter, a UCLA adjunct professor of nutrition and the study’s senior author.

“You can decrease your individual carbon footprint quite significantly and still consume meat, but it is highly dependent on the type of meat that you're consuming,” added Malia Michelson, a third-year undergraduate student at UCLA and co-author of the paper.

While people can reduce their climate footprint through the diets they choose, Michelson said, those choices are often limited by financial considerations — climate-friendly food is usually more expensive — and by the availability of certain foods in certain neighborhoods and regions of the country. Michelson said governments could help address the problem by subsidizing healthy food; corporations and other organizations that serve large numbers of constituents could make healthier food more accessible and less expensive; and producers could improve labeling to better inform consumers about their food’s climate impact.


Read more at UCLA Newsroom.


Image Source: Sean Brenner