A study came out in 2016 that outlined the land required to produce different types of food diets (taking into account the land footprint of each food group in the diet).
These diets ranged from the average American diet which is heavier in animal meat, dairy fats, and sweeteners, through to varying degrees of omnivore meat/plant diets, and lastly, vegetarian and vegan diets.
The diets did differ slightly in their macronutrient profiles, but all apart from the baseline diet had essentially the same caloric values (kcal per day provided)
What we’ve done below is outline and paraphrase the findings of the study (you can read the full study on carry capacity of US agricultural land for different diets at elementascience.org)
The guide we’ve provided here about diets is a complementary guide to this guide about individual foods – Individual Foods That Take The Most & Least Food To Produce
*Note – this page contains general information only. It is not professional advice. Always see a suitably qualified food or health professional before making decisions involving your health or diet.
Summary – Which Types Of Diets Use The Most/Least Land?
As diets become predominantly plant food based, the required number of hectares to provide food for one person per year, decrease.
Diets with more animal meat, dairy and animal based products, increase the required number of hectares of land required per person per year, to provide food for that person (partly because of the land required to both grow animal feed, and raise the livestock themselves)
For example, 1.08 hectares per capita annually might be required for the average American diet, whilst 0.13-0.14 hectares per capita annually might be required for vegan and vegetarian type diets
However, per unit of protein produced – some animal based foods can be more land efficient than plant based ones (so, when measuring the different units of macronutrients produced – some animal food products can be more land efficient than on a per person fed measurement basis)
Another important consideration though is the type of land used.
Most diets use a similar amount amount of cultivated land, but the animal product based diets use more perennial and grazing land (the vegetarian and vegan diets don’t use any grazing land for example).
This is a big difference between livestock and crops – livestock can make use of grazing and pasture land that would otherwise be unusable for some purely crop based food production (some crops need more fertile land to grow too)
The type of land required by different food diets, and different individual foods, is therefore an important consideration (especially as each country and region might only have a certain amount of each type of land)
Food waste, land waste, crop and agricultural yield (land efficiency), farming method used, and substituting individual foods into custom diets could all change land footprint for food numbers
Types Of Food Diets That Use The Most & Least Amount Of Land, & How Much Land They Use
The figures below are in hectares of land required, per person, per year:
Baseline/Contemporary American Consumption Pattern Diet – 1.08 (hectares per capita annually)
Positive Control Diet (as per baseline except intake of fats and sweeteners is reduced to make diet energy-balanced) – 1.03
OMNI 100 Diet (100% of person-meals follow an omnivorous healthy diet pattern) – 0.93
OMNI 80 Diet (80% of person-meals follow an omnivorous healthy diet pattern, and 20% follow a ovo-lacto vegetarian healthy diet pattern.) – 0.79
OMNI 60 Diet (60% of person-meals follow an omnivorous healthy diet pattern, and 40% follow a ovo-lacto vegetarian healthy diet pattern.) – 0.65
OMNI 40 Diet (40% of person-meals follow an omnivorous healthy diet pattern, and 600% follow a ovo-lacto vegetarian healthy diet pattern.) – 0.46
OMNI 20 (20% of person-meals follow an omnivorous healthy diet pattern, and 80% follow a ovo-lacto vegetarian healthy diet pattern.) – 0.25
OVO Diet (Ovolacto vegetarian – Includes both eggs and dairy products.) – 0.14
LAC (Lacto vegetarian – Includes dairy products. Excludes eggs.) – 0.14
VEG (Vegan – Excludes all livestock products.) – 0.13
Read the full study if you want to see the full food sub group breakdown of each type of diet.
To feed just one omnivorous human requires more than three acres of land while it takes one-sixth of an acre for a vegan.
A Few Notes On Land Footprints For Foods & Different Diets
The different diets use grazing land, perennial cropland and cultivated cropland in different proportions i.e. use different types of land for food production
Some diets don’t use cropland or grazing land at all
Food waste, and crop yields are not taken into account in the above study, and both could change the results
Diet composition (exactly what foods are included in each type of diet and in what %’s) is a big variable that could also change results
Farming types and farming methods could change results (and newer food production technology like lab grown meat has different factors to consider)
Since meat consumption is expected to increase in the future, it would be interesting to see what a diet with more animal meat protein consumption looks like from a hectares per person annually perspective
Different diets are going to have different nutritional profiles – which may suit some, and not suit others
Another study actually finds that higher quality diets that include a lot of plant based food (fruits and vegetables) actually waste less cropland compared to lower quality processed food, sweeteners and animal feed (essentially – the “Western diet”, characterized by high intake of refined carbohydrates, added sugar, sodium, and animal products, and low intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains)
1. Peters, C.J., Picardy, J., Darrouzet-Nardi, A.F., Wilkins, J.L., Griffin, T.S. and Fick, G.W., 2016. Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios. Elem Sci Anth, 4, p.000116. DOI: http://doi.org/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116 (https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116/#)