Change your diet to save both water and your health

September 10, 2018, European Commission Joint Research Centre
The potential impact on water resources of shifting to healthy vegetarian diets, visualised for 35 000 municipalities in France. The map has been adjusted to reflect population size of each geographical entity. Credit: European Union, 2018

Shifting to a healthy diet is not only good for us, but it also saves a lot of precious fresh water, according to a new study by the JRC published in Nature Sustainability.

Compared to existing diets, the required to produce our could be reduced by between 11% and 35% for healthy diets containing meat, 33% and 55% for healthy pescetarian diets and 35% and 55% for healthy vegetarian diets.

Researchers compared these three diet patterns, defined by respective , to the current actual food consumption, using available data from more than 43 thousand areas in France, the UK and Germany.

They found that eating more healthily could substantially reduce the of people's diets, consistent across all the geographical entities analysed in the study.

The study is the most detailed nationwide food consumption-related water footprint ever made, taking into account socio-economic factors of food consumption, for existing and recommended diets.

Influences on the food we eat

The scientists also show how individual food consumption behaviour—and their related water footprints—depend strongly on the socio-economic factors like age, gender and education level.

They found interesting correlations between such factors and both the water footprint of specific foods and their resulting impact on overall water footprints.

For example, the study shows how in France, the water footprint of milk consumption decreases with age across the municipalities analysed.

Across London, they show a strong correlation between the water footprint of wine consumption and the percentage of the population of each area with a high education level.

Background

The water footprint is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce goods consumed, food in this particular case.

The scientists used national dietary surveys to assess differences in food product group between regions and socio- economic factors within regions.

The diet scenarios analysed in the study take into account total daily energy and protein requirements as well as maximum daily fat amounts.

They are based upon national dietary guidelines, in which for every food product group specific recommendations are given according to age and gender.

By downscaling national water footprints to the lowest possible administrative boundaries within a country, the scientists provide a useful tool for policy makers at various levels.

The methodology could also be applied to other footprints assessments—like the carbon, land or energy footprints related to .

Animal products—and especially meat—have a high water footprint.

The average European diet is characterised by overconsumption in general, particularly of animal products.

A healthy diet would contain less sugar, crop oils, meat and animal fats, and more vegetables and fruit.

Due to the numerous negative impacts of an intensive livestock production system on the planet's resources and ecosystems, as well as the growing demands of non-western countries for animal products, moving to a more resource-efficient (and healthier) vegetable-rich in the EU is a necessity.

Explore further: How cutting down on junk food could help save the environment

More information: Davy Vanham et al, The water footprint of different diets within European sub-national geographical entities, Nature Sustainability (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-018-0133-x

Related Stories

Want to eat healthy? Try an eco-friendly diet

January 19, 2018

Following our annual Christmas overindulgence, many of us have set ambitious goals for the year ahead. But eating healthy shouldn't just mean cutting down on snacks; given the environmental impact of food production, a more ...

Recommended for you

Evidence of earliest life on Earth disputed

October 17, 2018

When Australian scientists presented evidence in 2016 of life on Earth 3.7 billon years ago—pushing the record back 220 million years—it was a big deal, influencing even the search for life on Mars.

Arctic greening thaws permafrost, boosts runoff

October 17, 2018

A new collaborative study has investigated Arctic shrub-snow interactions to obtain a better understanding of the far north's tundra and vast permafrost system. Incorporating extensive in situ observations, Los Alamos National ...

Arctic ice sets speed limit for major ocean current

October 17, 2018

The Beaufort Gyre is an enormous, 600-mile-wide pool of swirling cold, fresh water in the Arctic Ocean, just north of Alaska and Canada. In the winter, this current is covered by a thick cap of ice. Each summer, as the ice ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Anonym518498
1 / 5 (1) Oct 10, 2018
PETA must have funded this BS

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.