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How Water-wise Is Your Diet?

Ms. Ayesha Nasir

2 min read

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Every food that we eat, has a big environmental impact. This impact—especially its water footprint—is amplified in cases of processed and refined food. A multitude of factors leave an environmental footprint, including production, maintenance and transport of goods. A recent research from Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, looked at how water-wise the diet of adults are, with over 5000 foods searched.   

Our foods account for about 70 percent of global freshwater use. This means that a concerted effort made to minimize the use of water will go a long way in replenishing the water table of an area. Water scarcity footprint is consistent with the amount of water used in liters times the weighting.

What are some of the foods with high water footprint?

Some of the foods with highest water-scarcity footprints include: almonds (3,448 liters per kg), puffed rice breakfast cereal (1,464 liters per kg), dried apricots (3,363 liters per kg); even a small chocolate bar takes about 21 liters of water to make.  On an average, the amount of water needed for most meals is 362 liters and the highest amount is needed for the production of luxury and refined items, for instance, biscuits, sugar-sweetened drinks and cakes.

On the other hand, water consumption of red meat was only 3.7 percent. This means that amongst most foods, less water is consumed in the production of meat. So how exactly does one go about making the diet more water-wise and yet eat healthily, read on to find: –

Cutting down on luxury food

Refined and luxury food items like cakes and biscuits have a high water-scarcity footprint. Moreover, these foods are also involved in having a high greenhouse gas emission in their production. Furthermore, the overconsumption of these discretionary foods can lead to weight gain and obesity.

The more refined a food item is, the higher the green-house gas emission and the water-scarcity footprint.  An example can be seen in a comparison between a medium-sized raw apple, which takes about 3 liters of water, compared to more than 100 liters for 250 ml of orange juice.

Intake of whole-grain foods also have better health impact and less water consumption. Consumers mostly lack the information needed to make this healthier and more environment-friendly choice. Amongst the food groups, red meat contributes very little to the water-scarcity. Beef and lamb contribute only about 3.7 percent to water scarcity.

Reduce processed food

The more a food group is processed, the higher the water-scarcity footprint it is likely to have. Infact, it is through targeting food production itself that we can also reduce the consumption of water. Food processing, even in the same farm commodity, can be vastly different—for example, tomatoes have a water-scarcity footprint ranging from 5 to 52.8 liters per kg. This is a relatively low water-scarcity footprint, compared to that of milk, which ranges between 0.7 to 262 liters. These differences are observed mainly due to differences in farming methods, and the various methods used for irrigation.

Through technological changes, procurement strategies and product reformulation in the food processing and farming techniques, water-scarcity footprint reductions can be achieved. Even though the water-scarcity footprint of different foods within the same farm commodity can be different, the incorporation of certain techniques are needed that limit the use of resources. 

The more refining and processing is added to a food group, the higher the water-scarcity footprint becomes. For example, two slices of wholegrain bread, in comparison to a cup of cooked rice had a much higher water-scarcity footprint. Thus, pre-processed and wholegrain foods are better not only for the environment, but also for the waistline.

Not all water scarcity footprint is same

The study on the water-scarcity footprint of different food items is one of its kind. Based on the variation in every individual’s diet, this research has managed to assemble a lot of information in one single study. This study has shown us the impact of food on only one natural resource—water. The idea is to bring about nutritional changes that benefit not only the body, but also the environment.

Researchers need to find out a way to use this information and discover strategies that can improve our water-scarcity footprints, without compromising on nutritional diversity and standards. The focus should be done to find a more sustainable form of food production that uses up less natural resources.

Moreover, more studies should be conducted to find the impact of food on other natural resources.

Opt for a varied and nutritious menu for yourself and your family to ensure your children grow up to be healthy; book an appointment with a top dietician through oladoc.com, or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT professional for your concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Ms. Ayesha Nasir - Author Ms. Ayesha Nasir is a Dietitian practicing in Lahore. Ms. Ayesha Nasir has the following degrees: M.Phil Food and Nutrition, B.S Home Economics and have 5 years of experience. You can book an appointment with Ms. Ayesha Nasir by calling us or using the 'book appointment' button. Dr. Ayesha believes that a healthy diet is more than half of what constitutes good physical health. She thus tries to make the public aware about some basic healthy diet principles. You can look at some of her advice through these links.
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