When it comes to what we do and don’t put in our mouths, people’s tastes are as varied as the cultures of the world. Some people eliminate certain foods from their diets in an attempt to lose weight and treat certain health conditions. Others choose to eliminate certain food for religious reasons, and still, others refrain from eating certain foods out of concern for the planet and animal welfare.
When it comes to the popular diet plans in existence today, some definitely rank higher in eco-friendliness than others. In general, diets lower in animal products rank as more eco-friendly due to the high ecological cost of meat production. Here are 10 popular diet plans ranked in order from worst to best for those considering changing their eating habits to protect the planet we all share.
1. The Carnivorous Diet
This diet is the worst of the worst when it comes to its ecological impact. Also called the zero-carb diet, this eating plan requires the complete elimination of all carbohydrates. Basically, those following this eating plan eliminate all plants from their diet and eat only meat and other animal products such as dairy and eggs.
Despite claims that this diet helps correct health conditions such as arthritis and other inflammatory pain conditions, most licensed nutritionists do not recommend this eating plan. Eating red meat has been linked to increased risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke, in addition to contributing to the destruction of the rainforest for cattle raising.
2. The Atkins Diet
Honestly, in terms of ranking, both Atkins and keto have the same ecological footprint. The difference between the two plans is, while keto emphasizes eating fats, Atkins focuses more on protein — making it edge out the keto plan on the less than eco-friendliness scale. As far as overall health, both diets can help people lose weight quickly, but at a hefty cost to our environment.
3. The Keto Diet
Keto, another diet on the low-carb end of the food chain, also allows for copious consumption of red meats, which isn’t eco-friendly. While it is possible to eat vegetarian, even vegan, on a keto diet, the majority of followers enjoy noshing away on burgers and steak. If you’re considering giving the keto diet a try, make it more kind to the planet by choosing to dine on fish instead of burgers as often as possible.
4. The Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet does allow for meat consumption. However, unlike keto, it doesn’t focus on it, and like keto, it can be modified to support vegetarian and even vegan eating. This diet basically asks followers to return to the Stone Age and eat as our caveman forebears did, focusing primarily on lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs and, yes, meat.
The health benefit of this diet is that it does reduce or eliminate consumption of artificial sweeteners, flavorings and colors. Basically, all processed foods are out, which makes this diet beneficial for those concerned about the health-damaging effects of certain foods.
5. The Dash Diet
This diet is designed to reduce hypertension by decreasing sodium consumption and increasing the consumption of foods high in magnesium, calcium and potassium. The diet’s name stands for dietary approach to stop hypertension. Because it strives to be heart healthy, this diet suggests staying away from red meat. It does allow for the consumption of poultry, fish and dairy products, but it can also be modified to be more vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.
6. The Swank Diet
This diet, similar to the Mediterranean diet, was designed by Dr. Roy Swank to treat patients with multiple sclerosis.
When it comes to health, this diet is tough to top. It requires limiting consumption of processed foods, red meat and most fats and oils. It emphasizes eating fresh veggies and fruits, and it does allow for the consumption of whole grains and rice in moderation.
7. The Mediterranean Diet
This diet is another healthy powerhouse and also reasonably kind to the planet as an added bonus. The diet is high in whole, not processed, grains, healthy oils such as olive oil, and eggs, fish, poultry and dairy. It can also be easily modified to support little-to-no consumption of animal products. A recent study of people in 195 countries revealed the leading risk factors for premature death are poor diet and nutrition, and the study’s authors recommend the Mediterranean diet to preserve health.
8. Flexitarian Diet
This diet, as the name suggests, is flexible in what you can eat, but aims to strive toward a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle as much as possible. While flexitarians do allow themselves to eat meat, they reserve it as an occasional indulgence, not a regular part of their daily diet. For the most part, flexitarians stick to eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, and for some, dairy and eggs.
9. Vegetarian Diet
When it comes to being eco-friendly, any diet that eliminates meat tends to win the prize. Yes, dairy and egg production do have their problems — however, they’re not quite as destructive as raising livestock for slaughter. Plus, many people who care about environmentally-conscious eating like to try to produce their own milk and eggs from humanely-raised backyard goats and chickens, or research the farms they’re buying from more thoroughly than the average consumer.
Nor is being a vegetarian incompatible with some other diets on this list (though obviously, the carnivorous diet is out!). It’s possible, for example, to follow the paleo diet even if you decline to eat meat.
10. Vegan Diet
The eco-friendliest diet humans can follow is the vegan diet plan. These individuals do not eat or even use any products derived from animals. Not only is this diet healthiest for the planet, it’s the kindest on our furry, feathered and finned friends.
The biggest challenge many vegans face is consuming adequate calories and protein to meet their nutritional needs. But by noshing throughout the day on higher calorie snacks like avocado toast and mixed nuts, vegans can get all they need for optimal health entirely from plant-based sources.
Eating for a Healthy Body and Planet
Woke folks everywhere have begun recognizing that certain diets prove superior to others when it comes to eco-friendliness and good health. If you hope to do your part to reduce your carbon footprint, select a diet from this list which limits your meat, especially your red meat, consumption to keep the world a healthier place for generations to come.