Paleo, Keto, and Vegan: Why Trendy Diets Are Far From Environmentally Sustainable

**Posts reflect the views of individual contributors and not necessarily those of ACC as a whole.

What is the best diet for sustainable environmentalism? Is it going vegan? Testing the waters with the Paleo or Keto diet? The answer is, not really any of them. Despite their individual health benefits, all of these diets pose environmental consequences.

First, let us define these different diets. The Paleo diet essentially centers around the idea that you should eat the way humans have since the time of cavemen. Basically this means eating anything grown from the Earth or meat and avoiding packaged or produced items and dairy products. The Keto diet centers around the idea of ketosis which is where you starve your body of carbohydrates in order to fuel your body on fats. A vegan diet is entirely plant based and also avoids all animal products like dairy, honey, or gelatine.

The main goal of the Paleo diet is to remove refined carbohydrates from your diet and makes you focus on fruits, vegetables, and meat. While this is a very nutrient dense diet, your environmental footprint can get rather large. Consuming a lot of fruits and vegetables is nutritionally very good, but depending on where the food comes from, there is a chance the impact of transporting the food can have more environmental cost than what it is worth. Certain stores buy fruits and vegetables internationally when they aren’t in season domestically.

Additionally, getting the majority of your protein from meat is a good method of nutrition, but when you don’t get any of those nutrients from any dairy products, you rely on meat for that protein and most meat is not sustainable. In order for the beef industry in the United States to become more sustainable and focus on grass-feeding, the industry would have to be cut in half. As pictured below, the amount of land it takes to yield 0.3 tons of beef could be used to grow enough wheat make almost 10 times as many loaves of bread.

The Keto diet aims to change your body’s fuel from carbohydrates, or glucose, to fat and fatty acids. This is a great way to lose a ton of weight if done properly, but it is not sustainable for the agriculture industry or the Earth as a whole. As everyone learned from the food pyramid in elementary school, grains are a huge part of a healthy diet for most people. The United States produces billions of bushels of wheat on millions of acres of land every year. Wheat makes up three-fourths of the commercial grains in the US.



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Grains also are incredibly important in producing other crops. The process of crop rotation is defined as “the system of varying successive crops in a definite order on the same ground, especially to avoid depleting the soil and to control weeds, diseases, and pests.” Wheat is an integral part of crop rotation for numerous reasons. For example; it helps yield other crops, it can can lower costs of corn-soybean rotations, and manages weeds. If many people eliminated wheat and grains from their diet, the agriculture economy would crash because it is a major product and it helps in producing other products.


There is a myth surrounding an entirely plant-based diet like veganism that they are the best sustainably environmental diets. A truly plant-based diet cuts back on all of the meats coming from massive cattle, chicken, and other meat farms that make a major impact on your carbon footprint. However, they don’t come without their own environmental ramifications. Most supermarkets, in order to offer affordable pricing year-long, import foods like the fruits, vegetables, and soy meat-replacements from around the world which has a significant environmental cost. Food imported from overseas is typically brought in by air freight which is the leader in greenhouse gas emissions among transport methods.

The other issue with veganism is its lack of widespread sustainability. Compared to other diets, veganism is substantially less sustainable than omnivorous diets and vegetarian diets. As it turns out, a dairy-friendly vegetarian diet is the most sustainable diet compared to its competitors.  

All in all, trendy diets like the Keto diet, Paleo diet, and going vegan all have major environmental impacts. The truly best way to eat sustainably for the economy and for the land is to buy local. That way, you know the product you are putting into your body and how it was grown or raised. It can eliminate the worries consumers have about pesticides and animal mistreatment while still supporting one of our most important industries. It is important, too, to recognize that diets that eliminate a certain type of food do have an impact on the Earth and the sustainability of the regions the food is grown.

Caleb Tolin