How to eat well – and save the planet

Woman at protest in Nepal

Switching to a healthier diet can reduce an individual’s water footprint by as much as 55%.

According to new research, turning vegetarian has the biggest impact, but even cutting down on meat gives a saving of at least 10%.

Shifting to a healthy diet is a “win-win situation”, say researchers.

Citizens will be healthier and their food can be produced using less of one of our most precious natural resources – water.

“The main message is that if you shift to a healthy diet, be it with meat or without (vegetarian or pescetarian), according to your own preference, it’s not only good for your health, but it’s also very good for the environment in the sense that you reduce your water footprint substantially,” said Dr Davy Vanham of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, in Ispra, Italy.

Facts from the study

  • The water footprint from food consumption (domestic and imported food) per person per day is 2,757 litres in the UK, compared with 2,929 for Germany and 3,861 for France
  • Switching to a healthy diet with meat (all food groups; based on national guidelines) would reduce water consumption by 11-35%
  • A healthy pescetarian diet (meat is replaced with fish and pulses, animal fat is replaced with oils from crops) reduces water consumption by 33-35%
  • A healthy vegetarian diet (no fish or meat, oils from crops in place of animal fat) reduces water consumption by 35-55%.
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Vegetarian food

Freshwater resources are already scarce, but the problem is set to get worse, due to population growth, changing lifestyles and climate change.

Public messages on saving water by taking shorter showers or turning off the tap when brushing teeth are well known.

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