Most of us spend a considerable amount of time ensuring that the products we are using in our homes stack up to sustainability and water efficiency goals, so it makes sense that we should also ensure that the foods we eat regularly are up to those same standards. In the coming weeks we will be highlighting a number of different diets in an attempt to determine the most water efficient way to eat.

So, what is a water footprint and how can I calculate mine?

A water footprint is a theoretical measure of the amount of water used to produce the goods and services we all use. Water footprints can be measured to determine the amount of water used in growing a naturally occurring food source, such as veggies or grains, or for the creation of a product.

Water footprints take into account both the direct and indirect water use that goes into making food products supermarket-ready. Naturally, products that require multiple steps of processing – such as meat products, which require water to produce food for the animals as well as in the production of the food product – have larger water footprints than many other products.

For more information about water footprints and to calculate your personal water footprint check out 'The Water Footprint Network'.

What are most Australians eating?

The typical Australian diet is pretty similar to the typical Western diet common in the United States and much of Europe. The average adult man and woman typically consume 9,655 and 7,402 kilojoules of food a day respectively. Nationally, our diet is characterized by a high intake of animal products, like beef, poultry, dairy, cheese, and eggs, and refined grains in the form of bread and pasta, as well as a proportionately lower intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Processed foods like fast food, chips, sugary drinks, and sweet treats are also overrepresented the majority of Western diets!

While many Australians, especially those committed to saving water, work actively to incorporate a healthy diet into their daily routine, we will begin by looking at a typical diet. If you are eating meat at nearly every meal, seven days a week, your personal water footprint can really start to add up quickly! Add to that large quantities of processed grains like pasta and rice and your daily glass of milk, and it is easy to see how we are using far more water than we think.

So what are the major offenders?

Which aspects of our diets are responsible for eating up the most water? Not all food products are created equally in terms of their impact on our global water supply. Some of the major offenders might come as a surprise!

  • Chocolate, one of our favourite sweet treats, is a deceptively large water consumer, using 24,000 litres of water per kilogram.
  • Unsurprisingly meat products have some of the largest water footprints of all. However, beef products (approximately 15,500 litres/kg) are substantially more water intensive than pork and chicken (4,800 l/kg and 3,900 l/kg respectively).
  • Other water intensive foods include cheese (5,000 l/kg), olives (4,400 l/kg), and rice (3,400 l/kg).

Contrarily, vegetables, starchy roots, and fruits all have considerably smaller water footprints (322 l/kg, 387 l/kg, and 962 l/kg, respectively) making them great alternatives to incorporate into daily eating.

Additionally, importing food products from abroad also adds to their water footprint, as well as their carbon footprint! Stocking up on fruits and vegetables at the store that aren’t in season in Australia can mean a significant increase in the water footprint of a typically sustainable food.

So what?

Australia’s total water footprint is 45,000 million m3 per year and the per capita water footprint is nearly 6,300 litres per day. All of the food choices we make daily add to this growing figure. These statistics put Australia at the high end of the water footprint spectrum, among similar industrialized nations. The impact of our diets on global water consumption is clear but now the question becomes, what can we do to help?

What are my other options?

If all of this information sparked your interest, you are probably wondering what changes you can make to your daily diet in order to decrease your water footprint. In the coming features we will explore “healthy” Western diets, vegetarian and vegan diets, local eating, and Mediterranean inspired diets to determine the most water efficient eating lifestyle. Because we know that drastic changes to your personal diet might be difficult or unrealistic, we will be providing additional tips to help you continue to decrease your personal water footprint in a realistic and attainable way!

More news stories from Smart WaterMark