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Eat a Vegetarian Diet, Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by a Ton

Eating a vegetarian diet has always been a great way to be healthy, eat lower on the food chain, and, like Mom always said, eat your veggies. As more and more research has been done, it turns out that vegetarian diets are also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, too.

Exactly how much you can cut your carbon footprint depends on a number of factors -- mostly how much meat (and other animal products) you cut out of your diet, and how strictly you're willing to stick to the plant-based diet. Let's crunch the numbers.

First of all, here are a few assumptions, based on a study out of the University of Chicago in 2006, called "Diet, Energy, and Global Warming" (pdf): The average U.S. diet gets 47 percent of its calories from animal sources, resulting a carbon footprint of 2.52 tons per year. Eating a diet heavier in read meat -- about 50 percent of a diet's calories -- results in a carbon footprint of 3.57 tons. Eating a diet where 25 percent of the calories come from fish, but no other meat, results in a carbon footprint of about 1 ton. So, both the type of foods -- red meat, fish, poultry, etc. -- and the amount of those foods have a bearing on your diet's carbon footprint.

Full Vegetarian Diet: 1 Ton

Going from an average meat-eating U.S. diet, where 47 percent of your calories come from animal products, at 2.52 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, to a lacto-ovo (dairy and eggs allowed) vegetarian diet where 25 percent of your calories come from animal sources, will drop you down to about 1.5 ton of emissions per year, saving about 1 ton per year.

Of course, these numbers are going to be a little different for everyone, depending on where you live, what your current meat/animal product consumption is, where you food comes from, and so forth, but there's no mistaking it: Going vegetarian represents a significant step in the green direction.

Weekday Vegetarian Diet: 0.7 Tons

Not ready to cut meat out completely? A "weekday vegetarian" diet -- where you go veg from Monday to Friday each week -- can be a nice starting point, a good middle ground in usually very binary subject matter, for those who aren't prepared to cut out meat completely. Not surprisingly, its impact is less than the full-on version, but it allows for more flexibility when dining out, enjoying a dinner party, or other fun weekend dining options.

And, for those scoring at home, 0.7 tons, or about 1400 pounds, is about the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions generated by one round-trip flight from Boston to Wichita, Kansas. Yep, one year of vegetarian eating equals one flight. Makes you think twice about flying, eh?

Vegan Diet: 2 tons

Ready to really go for it? Cutting out all animal products -- even eggs, milk, and other dairy products -- will really cut back on your personal carbon footprint. And, while no diet can have zero carbon footprint, the more animal products you replace with plants, the smaller your footprint will be.