6 Ways to Conserve Water with Your Diet

Cutting back on water is the (not so new) norm in this country—as well as many other drought-stricken areas around the world. How to save water? What you put on your plate is one of the most impactful ways to conserve water. Learn about all of the many ways to conserve water with this water-saving diet guide and six tips. 

Now, more than ever, water resources are dwindling and water sustainability is threatened. Challenges include increasing population, climate change, pollution, modern agriculture, and the resulting impact on the ecosystems that rely on these finite fresh water resources. It can feel overwhelming to even consider how we as individuals can impact such a huge global issue, but as much as we are part of the problem—the average water usage per person is about 80 to 100 gallons each day in America!—we are also a vital part of the solution. One of the most impactful ways to conserve water is with your fork. 

Turning off the tap, taking shorter showers, and replacing lush, water-hogging lawns and landscaping with dry scaping are important, but so are the food choices we make every day. Every bite of food has a “water footprint”—the amount of total water it takes to produce food, from farm to fork. We are literally drinking our food; nearly 70% of the world’s water supply goes to growing food.

This recipe for Farmers Market Pasta Salad has a lower water footprint because it focuses on grains and vegetables.

One of the main ways to reduce your water footprint is to eat a more plant-based diet. Consuming a diet that is high in animal protein causes your water footprint to skyrocket, while a plant-based diet will help lower your footprint and impact on the environment. For example, research shows it requires 13,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of beef, compared to 1,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of wheat. Shifting to a plant-based diet can help reduce the amount of stress that is put on the world’s water supply and lead to more sustainable water usage. And there is even more you can do!

Tackling the vast problem of preserving our precious water resources is easier to wrap your head around if you start right where you are. Start with eating more plants. Try my 6 tips for slashing your water footprint with your fork to preserve these precious resources today!

6 Ways to Conserve Water with Your Diet 

Rely on pulses more often for your protein source, such as in this recipe for Greek Butter Bean Salad.

1. Eat a Plant-based Diet. Eating plants instead of animals can really lower your water footprint. Forty percent of the water consumed in the U.S. goes for animal food production. That’s because in modern animal agriculture, you have to grow plants (with all of the water required to grow them), then you feed those plants to animals. Animals are thirsty, and they drink a lot of water over their lives before they become meat. That’s why one study showed that it takes about 1,600-2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, and only 257 gallons for the same amount of soybeans, 146 for corn, 290 for oats, and 34 for broccoli. Instead, you could eat those plants directly from the soil and skip feeding them to animals, thus cutting back on water usage. That’s why studies find that plant-based diets, such as vegan, vegetarian and Mediterranean diets, are linked with a much lower water footprint. Learn how to eat a more plant-based diet with my Free toolkit

My herb garden, which also attracts pollinators. 

2. Cultivate Edible Landscaping. If you have garden space, don’t use it all up on plants that provide no sustenance. You can use that same space (and water!) to grow plants that provide food. Start with a container vegetable garden or some pots with tomatoes or herbs. Plant a fruit tree instead of a non-bearing tree. Plant edible plants that suit your growing region. For example, in California we have a Mediterranean climate, so I’ve planted trees that thrive in our sunshine: figs, persimmon, pomegranates, olives, and citrus. Instead of watering trees that merely look pretty, I’m watering trees (that are just as pretty!) that can provide food for my family and friends. But don’t rip out all flowering plants from your garden; they attract pollinators that are important for food cultivation. Look for native wild flower species in your region, which grow without man made inputs. Check out my free toolkit on how to grow your own food too. 

Reduce food waste by properly storing leftovers.

3. Cut Down on Food Waste. You pour out precious water with every morsel of food you throw in the trash. In fact, we’re wasting about 40%, nearly 40 million tons, of the food produced in the U.S. every year. A whopping 24% of all water used in agriculture goes right down the drain due to food waste—that’s 45 trillion gallons a year to produce 1.3 billion tons of food that will never be eaten. So, go on a zero food waste policy! Plan meals, so you don’t purchase too much, store foods wisely so they last longer, pack up those leftovers, take home doggy bags, keep a careful eye on expiration dates, and use the entire food—from root to stem. For those times when zero waste doesn’t happen, compost at home or through your city-sponsored program.

Drinking water out of a reusable glass or stainless steel bottle versus a plastic one is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

4. Ditch the Water Bottle. The bottled water habit is one of the most unsustainable habits you can acquire over your lifetime. It’s not just fossil fuel intensive (from the creation of plastic bottles to hauling them all over the country); nor is it only an issue of heaping landfills resulting from discarded water bottles. It takes an estimated 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water because of the production process. Get a reusable water bottle and use it! If tap water isn’t for you, consider installing a filter on your tap or keeping a filtered water pitcher in the refrigerator.

My farmers market in Ojai, California

5. Eat Whole, Nutrient-Rich Foods. Every bite of food takes resources to produce, including water. Some farmers and food companies produce wholesome, healthful foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans, and others produce highly processed foods, such as sugary sodas, snack crackers, cookies. By focusing on high-nutrient foods, you eat sustainably because the resources (such as water) required to produce the foods are used to support human health. When you choose highly processed junk foods, those resources are used to produce foods that don’t support human health. It’s as simple as that.

Eat an energy balanced plate; try this recipe for Gado-Gado for inspiration. 

6. Eat in Balance with Your Body. Did you ever stop to think that when you overeat and overindulge—eating more food than your body requires to sustain itself—it’s an unsustainable action? The average adult requires about 2,000 calories per day to maintain a healthy body (more or less depending on your age, gender, and activity). When you exceed the level that your body needs to thrive, you are essentially wasting resources needed to produce that food. Living in balance with your own body is one of the most important things you can do to live more sustainably during your lifetime—it’s also good for your health.

Looking for more inspiration on living sustainably? Check out the following blogs to get you there! 

Mealtime Food Sustainability for Families
Growing More Diversity in Your Diet
Top 5 Tips for Greening Your Plate
Take a One-Week Zero Food Waste Challenge

Check out some of my favorite sustainable kitchen items here

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