Low-Carbon Diets May Also Be More Nutritious

Diets with a lower carbon footprint may also be healthier and more nutritious in “several key dimensions,” according to Tulane University and University of Michigan researchers.1


In a study of 16,800 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey participants, Diego Rose, PhD, MPH, RD, and colleagues found that diets incorporating more plant-based foods, higher amounts of fiber and vitamin E, and lower amounts of sodium were associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

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“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 Dr Rose, who is a professor of nutrition and food security at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, in a press release.2


The benefits of diets with lower greenhouse gas emissions are multifold, the researchers explained. In addition to helping inform nutritional guidelines, the findings further elucidate how improving diet quality can benefit the environment amid the increasing global burden of climate change.


“We can have both. We can have healthier diets and reduce our food-related emissions,” said Dr Rose in a press release. “And it doesn't require the extreme of eliminating foods entirely. For example, if we reduce the amount of red meat in our diets, and replace it with other protein foods such as chicken, eggs, or beans, we could reduce our carbon footprint and improve our health at the same time.”2


The researchers noted that, although low-carbon diets were more nutritious in various ways, they were not necessarily healthier in all measures. Diets with lower greenhouse gas emissions also tended to include more refined grains and added sugars, as well as decreased quantities of vitamin A, vitamin D, choline, calcium, iron, and potassium.


—Christina Vogt




1. Rose D, Heller MC, Willits-Smith AM, Meyer RJ. Carbon footprint of self-selected US diets: nutritional, demographic, and behavioral correlates. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018;108:1-9.


2. Study: Lower-carbon diets aren’t just good for the planet, they’re also healthier [press release]. Tulane University and University of Michigan. January 24, 2019. Accessed on January 25, 2019.