Kalie J. Rider '05

The Effect of Animal Protein Consumption on Fossil Fuel Costs: A High-Protein/Low-Carbohydrate Diet Versus a Typical Meat-Based Diet


With declining resources and an increasing global population, diets should not only be scrutinized for health value but also for environmental sustainability. Research by Pimentel shows that the average meat-based diet costs more fossil fuel energy to sustain than a plant-based diet due to higher amounts of animal protein versus plant protein in the diet.

High-protein/low-carbohydrate diets, such as the popular Atkins diet, recommend even greater intake of protein, specifically animal protein. This research assesses the impact of a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet on animal protein consumption and the subsequent effect on fossil fuel use. Thirty menus from the Atkins Diet Plan were analyzed for animal protein content using the Computrition nutrient analysis program.

Results show that while following a 2000 kcalorie diet, the Lifetime Maintenance Stage of the Atkins diet recommends consuming 2.8 times more animal protein per day than the average meat-based diet, 118 grams versus 41 grams. Using data from Pimentel, kcalorie of fossil fuel per kcalorie of protein on this diet was compared to the average American meat-based diet.

These results show that it costs 12,256 kcalories of fossil fuel daily due to protein consumption alone on the Atkins diet, compared to 4,235 kcalories of fossil fuel on the average meat-based diet. This research highlights the importance of educating consumers about the implications of choosing high-protein/low-carbohydrate diets for weight-loss or -maintenance beyond human health; implications that take into account our environment and global sustainability.

Faculty Mentor: Bernadette Elhard, MBA, RD, Department of Nutrition