The Climatarian Diet: What Does it Involve?

Are you concerned about climate change? The climatarian diet focuses on minimizing the impact of your diet on the planet. Here's how you can apply it.
The Climatarian Diet: What Does it Involve?
Maria Patricia Pinero Corredor

Written and verified by the nutritionist Maria Patricia Pinero Corredor.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

When we talk about certain types of diets, the first thing to think about is their objective. For example, the climatarian diet is one of those few diets that prioritizes “the whole,” and not just a single person. In other words, it not only protects health, but also the health of the planet. How does this work?

Well, those who adopt this dietary model make a conscious effort that the food they eat doesn’t increase global warming. Its production, processing, and transportation doesn’t require large amounts of land or water, doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, and doesn’t acidify the oceans, among other effects.

What is the climatarian diet?

The climatarian diet, also called “planetary diet”, consists of including those foods that minimize or avoid the harmful effects of climate change within an eating plan. These effects are becoming increasingly evident and include the following:

  • Global warming
  • The spread of diseases
  • The melting of glaciers
  • An increase in pests
  • The intensification of storms
  • Increased heat waves
  • Ecosystem changes

Since the proposal doesn’t involve adhering to strict recommendations, it’s easy to comply with when compared to restrictive diets. Its purpose is to eat foods that don’t contribute to environmental damage.

Cultivation, processing, and marketing are all aspects that are considered. The idea is to avoid those products that, in one way or another, cause a strong impact on the environment. In this sense, it also avoids the use of non-biodegradable containers or those that produce greenhouse gases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), environmental deterioration increases public health risks.

Some diseases such as respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, mental health risks, heat stroke, among others, can originate from extreme meteorological phenomena and climate changes.

An expert study evaluated 15 food groups and concluded that foods with the lowest environmental impact reduce the risk of death and certain chronic diseases.

In addition, foods associated with better health, such as fruits, whole grains, vegetables, olive oil and nuts, have low environmental impacts. In the case of animal protein source, fish is suggested over red meat and processed meats.

¿En qué consiste la dieta climatarian?

Healthy foods with low environmental impact

It should be clarified that the climatarian diet does not follow the same principles as a vegan diet. This is especially true because it makes a selection of those vegetables with less environmental impact and, in addition, makes room for foods of animal origin.

Those that leave a larger footprint to the detriment of the environment are discarded. Foods that require the use of air transport or those packaged in plastic are not part of this list, either.

Legumes

One particularity of beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, among others, is that they’re capable of enriching soils with nutrients and improving their structure. In addition, this is a type of crop that requires little water for its growth.

For this reason, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) highlights these crops as multipliers of others. They’re also recommended because they reduce the risk of water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions since they don’t require synthetic fertilizers.

As for their effects on health, they’re a part of healthy diets. In 2021, a controlled trial concluded that eating 150 grams of cooked legumes a day improves blood pressure and body composition. Even blood lipid levels and markers of inflammation also decrease.

Whole grains

Whole grains or whole grains are grains that are abundant in insoluble dietary fiber, as they retain the bran. Like legumes, brown rice, barley, oats, corn, among others, they’re not very demanding of water in order to grow.

When compared to other foods, we find that 1 calorie of whole grain requires only 0.13 gallons of water for its growth. Meanwhile, meat requires 2.7 gallons per calorie, vegetables 0.35 gallons and fruits 0.55 gallons.

Also, consumption of these foods decreases the risk of chronic diseases. A recent publication reported a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, various types of cancer and type 2 diabetes when eating more of these grains.

We think you may also enjoy reading this article: Plogging: Exercising while Caring for the Environment

Nuts

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major factor in climate change. Nut crops produce the least amount of carbon dioxide when compared to other protein foods.

To generate 100 grams of protein from nuts, a total of 0.26 kilograms of CO2 is emitted. As a point of reference, 100 grams of protein from beef generates 49.89 kilograms of CO2, poultry produces 5.7 kilograms of CO2 and eggs 4.21 kilograms.

However, these fruits need a lot of water to grow. It has been found that one almond requires 3.2 gallons of water to grow. For this reason, while you’re working on reducing their water consumption, it’s recommended to limit your consumption of nuts.

The following daily servings are suggested:

  • 1/4 cup chopped or whole walnuts
  • 1 cup nut milk
  • 2 tablespoons of nut butter

Another plus for nuts is their nutritional value and health benefits. A 2020 study reported that people who eat at least 1/2 ounce of nuts a day have a lower risk of getting heart disease or suffering a cardiovascular accident.

Local and seasonal foods

The climatarian diet promotes local and seasonal crops to reduce processing, packaging, transportation and food contamination.

In this regard, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that between 30 and 40% of the food produced in the North American country is discarded and rots in a landfill. Methane, one of the greenhouse gases, is produced in the rotting process.

When local vegetables are harvested in season, their vitamins and minerals are also better preserved, since they’re harvested at optimum maturity for consumption and their transportation time is reduced.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are characterized because they grow among the waste of other crops, such as on the ears of corn or in the shells of nuts. This reduces food waste in landfills.

Mushrooms also require minimal amounts of soil and water to support their growth. In the process they release very small amounts of CO2.

A study showed that the part of mushrooms that grows underground is an alternative to synthetic plastic. This gives it more versatility and additional benefits.

It has also been determined that 3 ounces of mushrooms provide 8 to 12% of potassium, 67 to 90% of vitamin D and 12 to 18% of vitamin B2. Plus, it contributes only 1% of total calories.

We think you may be interested in reading this, too: 10 Tips to Take Care of the Environment at Home

Foods to limit

Foods with the greatest environmental impact should not be part of the climatarian diet. Below, we’ll talk about them in detail.

Red meat

The main disadvantage of red meat for the environment is that livestock farming produces 7.2 megatonnes of CO2 per year, which contributes 41% of greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, the World Health Organization (WHO) has studied the possible carcinogenic effect of these meats and recommends reducing their consumption.

Palm oil

Reducing palm oil consumption can prevent deforestation and the disintegration of habitats for endangered species. It requires a lot of land for its cultivation.

It’s also very common in processed foods. Therefore, by reducing its cultivation, our consumption of industrialized products would also decrease.

Ultra-processed food products

Ultra-processed foods are characterized by containing a lot of added sugar and palm oil. In addition, a good part is marketed in non-biodegradable plastic packaging.

A study from this same year made an interesting finding: for every 10% of calories from ultra-processed foods, there is a 15% higher risk of death.

Sugar

It’s clear that the cultivation of sugar cane affects the ecosystem. It requires the use of large amounts of water, contributes to air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces biodiversity.

All this is added to the fact that excessive sugar consumption can lead to obesity, heart disease, and type II diabetes.

Productos con azúcar

We already know which foods to include and which not to include in the climatarian diet. But what do we do with them? The best way is to eat them raw in the case of vegetables. This saves energy and does not emit carbon.

In some cases, such as legumes and whole grains, you have to cook them to soften them. For this, it’s best to use a pressure cooker and reduce baking, since the oven is the most energy-consuming cooking equipment.

When you are following the climatarian diet, remember not to throw away food and make the most of leftovers. This type of waste produce 10% of all greenhouse gases.

In any case, make sure to seek advice from a nutrition professional. Since it’s necessary to avoid certain foods, it’s best to get a plan designed by an expert to prevent possible nutritional deficiencies.



  • Centro para el Control y Prevención de Enfermedades (CDC). Climate Effects on Health. Clima y salud. Disponible en: https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/default.htm
  • Clark, M. A., Springmann, M., Hill, J., & Tilman, D. (2019). Multiple health and environmental impacts of foods. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America116(46), 23357–23362. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1906908116
  • Pan, A., Sun, Q., Bernstein, A. M., Schulze, M. B., Manson, J. E., Stampfer, M. J., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2012). Red meat consumption and mortality: results from 2 prospective cohort studies. Archives of internal medicine172(7), 555–563. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  2016. International year of pulses. Disponible en: https://www.fao.org/pulses-2016/news/news-detail/en/c/462420/
  • Helena Ferreira , Marta Vasconcelos, Ana M Gil, Elisabete Pinto . Benefits of pulse consumption on metabolism and health: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2021;61(1):85-96. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2020.1716680.
  • Chris J. Seal,Christophe M. Courtin,Koen Venema,Jan de Vries. Health benefits of whole grain: effects on dietary carbohydrate quality, the gut microbiome, and consequences of processing. COMPREHENSIVE REVIEWS IN FOOD SCIENCE AND FOOD SAFETY. Volume20, Issue3,May 2021, Pages 2742-2768. Disponible en: https://ift.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1541-4337.12728
  • POORE and T. NEMECEK . Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. SCIENCE, 1 Jun 2018, Vol 360, Issue 6392, pp. 987-992, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0216.
  • JulianFulton, MichaelNorton, FraserShilling.Water-indexed benefits and impacts of California almonds. Ecological Indicators, Volume 96, Part 1, January 2019, Pages 711-717. Disponible en: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.12.063
  • Liu, X., Guasch-Ferré, M., Drouin-Chartier, J. P., Tobias, D. K., Bhupathiraju, S. N., Rexrode, K. M., Willett, W. C., Sun, Q., & Li, Y. (2020). Changes in Nut Consumption and Subsequent Cardiovascular Disease Risk Among US Men and Women: 3 Large Prospective Cohort Studies. Journal of the American Heart Association9(7), e013877. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.119.013877
  • U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE. USDA. Why should we care about food waste? Disponible en: https://www.usda.gov/foodlossandwaste/why
  • Haneef, M., Ceseracciu, L., Canale, C., Bayer, I. S., Heredia-Guerrero, J. A., & Athanassiou, A. (2017). Advanced Materials From Fungal Mycelium: Fabrication and Tuning of Physical Properties. Scientific reports7, 41292. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep41292
  • Agarwal, S., & Fulgoni Iii, V. L. (2021). Nutritional impact of adding a serving of mushrooms to USDA Food Patterns – a dietary modeling analysis. Food & nutrition research65, 10.29219/fnr.v65.5618. https://doi.org/10.29219/fnr.v65.5618
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. FAO. Hechos y hallazgos clave. Disponible en: https://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/
  • World Health Organization. WHO. Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. 2015. Disponible en: https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/cancer-carcinogenicity-of-the-consumption-of-red-meat-and-processed-meat
  • Suksatan W, Moradi S, Naeini F, Bagheri R, Mohammadi H, Talebi S, Mehrabani S, Hojjati Kermani Ma, Suzuki K. Ultra-Processed Food Consumption and Adult Mortality Risk: A Systematic Review and Dose–Response Meta-Analysis of 207,291 Participants. Nutrients. 2022; 14(1):174. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14010174
  • DanielEl Chami, AndréDaccache, MarounEl Moujabber. What are the impacts of sugarcane production on ecosystem services and human well-being? A review. Annals of Agricultural Sciences, Volume 65, Issue 2, December 2020, Pages 188-199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aoas.2020.10.001