How to eat healthily and reduce your water footprint

How to eat healthily and reduce your water footprint

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) has published a new study on how changing your diet can benefit your health and reduce your water footprint.

New research by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), published in the journal Nature Sustainability, identifies how you can reduce your water footprint and benefit your health by reducing the amount of water used to produce the food you eat.

Reducing water footprints by changing the way food is produced and consumed is an important step towards balancing our essential water usage with a sustainable outlook to minimise the damage to ecosystems and the influence on climate change.

What is a water footprint?

The concept of a water footprint is used to make people aware of the large quantity of water resources which are being used to produce food. Your water footprint is defined by the JRC as the total volume of freshwater used to produce the food you consume.

The study found that the UK’s water footprint for food consumption alone (for both imported and food from the UK) is 2,757 litres per person per day, and some other European countries including Germany and France have even higher rates.

How to consume more sustainably and reduce your water footprint

The study found that the water footprints of most diet types can be reduced by maintaining a healthy diet containing less sugar, crop oils, meat and animal fats, and more vegetables and fruit.

The JRC has found that compared to existing diets, the water required to produce our food could be reduced by between:

• 35% and 55% using a healthy vegetarian diet
• 33% and 55% using a healthy pescatarian diet
• 11% and 35% using a healthy diet containing meat

Is a vegetarian diet the way forward?

The JRC says “Animal products – and especially meat – have a high water footprint. The average European diet is characterised by overconsumption in general, particularly of animal products.”

The JRC research has found that eating a meat-free diet (no fish or meat, and healthy oils from crops rather than animal fat) is the most effective way of reducing your water footprint. This has many health benefits, but it will also massively reduce the amount of water that is used to produce food. Even eating a healthier pescatarian diet or eating less meat will help to lower your water footprint. Greenpeace has recently reported that the world needs to cut its meat production and consumption in half by 2050 to meet the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement, which international governments are currently failing to meet.

The JRC has identified that to make a positive change, government interventions such as better food labelling need to be implemented to help individuals adopt healthier, more water-efficient diets.

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