Foods (& Crops) That Take The Most Water To Produce & Make

We already put together a guide outlining the water it takes to make common everyday products and things.

But, the guide below is specifically about how much water it takes to produce different foods, beverages and crops.

We’ve categorized and organized the foods and crops according to different measurements and indicators.

 

Summary – Foods, Beverages & Crops That Take The Most Water To Make/Produce

A water footprint is a tool used to measure how much water it takes to produce or do something

There’s different units of measurement to express the water footprint of different foods, beverages and associated crops

Across the different units of measurement, beef appears near the top of the lists regularly, followed by other animal meats behind it

On a per unit of weight produced basis, animal meat, and in particular beef can be one of the most water intensive foods. 

According to one set of data, chicken/poultry appears to require the least water per kg to produce of the animal meats, followed by goat, pig, sheep, and finally beef requiring the most (and in that order from least to most)

There can be a big variation in how much water is required for meat though depending on the country the meat is produced in, the production system used, and the composition and origin of the animal feed used

Beef tends to be the most water intensive, with animal feed for factory farmed beef playing a big role in beef’s total water footprint in some countries (with water used for drinking and farm use making up a more minor % share) 

Something to note about livestock production is that once feed conversion efficiency is taken into consideration, beef from industrial systems generally has a lower total water footprint than beef from mixed or grazing systems.

Behind animal meat, other animal based products and by products, dairy based products (such as chocolate, butter and cheese) and processed foods can also be water intensive to produce 

Some sources in particular identify chocolate as being one of the most water intensive foods to produce per kg of weight. Although, per serving, chocolate can fall further down the list

In terms of non animal meat based foods, some rice paddy varieties, some olive varieties, and some almonds can be water hungry

Nuts like peanuts, almonds and ground nuts can fall somewhere between moderate to high water use

Tomatoes, cabbage and lettuce, and cucumber, might be amongst some of the least water intensive crops to grow per unit of weight produced

Generally though, animal meats and animal based food diets require more water than plant based foods and vegetarian food diets (although, everyone’s diet is different, and the average American diet might be far more water intensive than the diet of someone from another country)

On a per serving basis, beef by far requires the most water, followed by pork, chicken and then chocolate

When looking at food from a water usage per unit of nutritional value produced, the picture looks similar – with beef requiring a lot of water per gram of protein and fat produced, as well per kilocalorie produced.

But fruits for protein, and fruits and starchy roots for fat need far more water than beef, which is interesting

Something to note about nutritional value is that not all units of nutrition are the same. For example, not all proteins are whole proteins

Additionally, some estimates indicate that meat even uses less water compared to fruit, grains and vegetables (or plant based diets) when measuring per dollar of economic value produced

In terms of water used per economic value produced (per $1), sugar, pet food and milk might be some of the most water intensive foods

In terms of snacks, a banana or apple might be far less water intensive than having a chocolate bar

With food, it’s too simplistic to give one figure that summarises the amount of water required to produce it

There’s variables and different factors that make up a food water footprint (farming method used, irrigated vs rain fed crops, local climate, are just a few variables that can massively impact water footprints). For example, some sets of data show that beef mainly uses green water in it’s production in some countries

One of the factors is the number of ways that the water footprint of different food products can be measured – per unit of weight of food, per serving size, per gram of protein, per gram of fat, per amount of carbs, per micro and macro nutrients, per calorie, and even per economic value or dollar produced (amongst other measurements)

In addition, some foods have different variations and types – like sugar – which can be produced from sugar beet or sugar cane, and both these variations can have different water footprints.

Milk is another example – there’s many different types of milk available – cow milk, goat milk, almond milk, and so on

Water use can therefore be broken down into plant vs non plant based products, and then into the individual meat types, fruit types, vegetable types, grain types, and so on.

Water required to grow or produce food can also be geographic location specific i.e. it can depend on the methods or systems the farmer or producer uses, the soil type, the local climate, the amount of rain fed water used vs other types of water, and so on.

One example of this is that beef by far uses the most virtual water in the United States of all food products, and this water footprint for beef might be far higher than in some other countries

These variables can significantly change the final water volume required for production

Direct and indirect water used to produce a product should be considered – this provides a total water footprint for the product across the entire production process, right up to purchase and consumption.

For example, a product like water needs to be packaged, usually with a plastic bottle, and then also disposed of – both of which have a water footprint.

The type of water used to produce a product or grow food should be considered – for example, using highly renewable water or growing rainfed crops, is different to using non renewable fresh water, or excessive water use from sources such as aquifers that can take a long time to recharge

So, some water footprints can be misleading if you just look at total water use in this regard

When looking at the visible and invisible water footprint of individuals, we see that the food we eat makes up a large majority of the total footprint, with meat eaters having a larger water footprint than vegetarians.

But other data shows that electricity makes up a significant portion as well, at least of in regards to our at home footprint (when factoring in food and direct water use)

Food waste should also play a part in any food water footprint. When considering this factor, vegetables and fruits may have a higher water footprint due to their often higher wastage rates as a food group … resulting from their perishable nature

Vegetables and fruits may also have a higher rate of waste irrigated water

Something that people don’t consider with beverages like sodas, fruit juices, coffee and beer or wine is that it can be the crops/plants used in those beverages that uses most of the water, and not the bottling and manufacturing process.

Milk, according to some sets of data, has a higher water footprint than different alcoholic drinks

Water by itself usually has a lower water footprint than all those beverages (which require water to make)

In terms of overall food diets, the more someone eats, and the more water intensive the foods they eat, the higher their water footprint might be. This is evidenced by data that suggests that each calorie takes about 1 litre of water to produce, and, the average American diet which is higher in animal meats and water intensive foods, is higher in terms of water footprint than the global average

It’s worth noting that agriculture overall as a sector uses about 70% of freshwater withdrawals globally on average (but, that percentage can be more or less in different individual countries)

Breaking down total agricultural water use, beef can make up a major % of that total, with feed for cattle using a lot of water (but, this can depend on what and how cattle are fed)

One estimate from news.thomasnet.com is ’29 percent of the total water footprint of the agricultural sector in the world is related to the production of animal products. One-third of that water is used to raise beef cattle.’

[Many of the above trends can be used to see how it’s possible to decrease the water footprint in an individual’s diet]

 

Firstly, An Asterisk About Water Footprints & Water Use

Before getting into the data on water use for food, beverages and crops, it’s worth understanding the following:

– Water footprints are only one general tool that can be used to calculate water use. They are not a comprehensive ‘final answer’ to calculating water use.

– Most water use has both pros and cons to consider – there are tradeoffs. Water use is not all unsustainable, or bad

– Water use in geographic areas where water is abundant may not be as much of an issue as water use in water scarce places. Context matters.

– Different types of water can make up a water footprint. Some types of water may be more sustainable and renewable compared to others, like for example renewable rainwater over groundwater that is rapidly being depleted

Read more about the limitations of water footprints, and how they might ideally be used in this guide.

 

Now, onto the water footprint for different foods, beverages and crops …

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make, Per Unit Of Weight

Beef, chocolate, sheep meat, coffee, pork and dairy like milk powder and cheese can feature towards the top of water use, but if you consider serving size, chocolate and coffee for example might drop down the list because a typical serving weighs less.

 

From theguardian.com:

Chocolate – 17,196 litres per 1kg

Beef Meat- 15,415 litres per 1kg

Sheep Meat – 10,412 litres per 1kg

Pork Meat – 5988 litres per 1kg

Butter – 5553 litres per 1kg

Chicken Meat – 4325 litres per 1kg

Egg – 196 litres per one 60 gram egg [so, it takes 3256 litres to make 1kg of 60 gram eggs, on the basis that 16.6 eggs equal 1kg]

Cheese – 3178 litres per 1kg

Olives – 3025 litres per 1kg

Paddy Rice – 2497 litres per 1kg

Pasta (Dry) – 1849 litres per 1kg

Bread – 1608 litres per 1kg

Pizza – 1239 litres per 1kg

Apple – 822 litres per 1kg

Banana – 790 litres per 1kg

Potatoes – 287 litres per 1kg

Cabbage & Lettuce – 237 litres per 1kg

Tomato – 214 litres per 1kg

 

It takes this much water to produce a kilogram (litres per kilogram) of the following common goods:

Coffee (roasted beans) – 18,900 Litres (132L per 125ml cup)

Chocolate – 17,196 Litres (1700L per 3.5 oz bar)

Beef – 15,415 Litres

Tea – 8,860 Litres (27L per 250ml cup)

Pork – 5,988 Litres

Chicken – 4,325 Litres

Eggs – 3,267 Litres

Olives – 3,015 Litres

Rice – 2,497 Litres

Soybeans – 2,145 Litres

Wheat – 1,827 Litres

Sugar (cane) – 1,782 Litres

Barley – 1,423 Litres

Corn – 1,222 Litres

Milk – 1,020 Litres (225L per 250ml cup)

Apples – 822 Litres (125L per apple)

Bananas – 790 Litres (160L per banana)

Beer – 298 Litres (74L per 250ml cup)

Potatoes – 287 Litres (260L per large bag of chips)

– earthmagazine.org

 

According to the interactive product gallery on WaterFootPrint.org:

Milk Powder – 4745 litres per 1kg

Groundnuts/Peanuts – 2782 litres per 1kg

Dates – 2277 litres per 1kg

Mango/Guava – 1800 litres per 1kg

Sugar (from sugar cane) – 1782 litres per 1kg

Margherita Pizza – 1259 litres per 1kg

Maize/Corn – 1222 litres per 1kg

Sugar (from sugar beet) – 920 litres per 1kg

Peach Or Nectarine – 910 litres per 1kg

Orange – 560 litres per 1kg

Cucumber or Pumpkin – 353 litres per 1kg

 

The water footprints of different foods in gallons of water consumed per pound of food … are [in reverse order from least water to most water]:

Lettuce — 15 gallons;

Tomatoes — 22 gallons;

Cabbage — 24 gallons;

Cucumber — 28 gallons;

Potatoes — 30 gallons;

Oranges — 55 gallons;

Apples — 83 gallons;

Bananas — 102 gallons;

Corn — 107 gallons;

Peaches or Nectarines — 142 gallons;

Wheat Bread — 154 gallons;

Mango — 190 gallons;

Avocado — 220 gallons;

Tofu — 244 gallons;

Groundnuts — 368 gallons;

Rice — 403 gallons;

Olives — 522 gallons;

Chocolate — 2847 gallons; (One pound of chocolate being quite a serving of chocolate…)

Eggs — 573 gallons;

Chicken — 815 gallons;

Cheese — 896 gallons;

Pork — 1630 gallons;

Butter — 2044 gallons;

Beef — 2500-5000 gallons; (Global figures for the water intensity of beef vary so significantly that an average isn’t particularly informative, so a range of figures is given) – for example, how the cattle are raised and water intensity of feed are important to the final water footprint

– treehugger.com

 

In terms of plant based foods and fruits:

Plums require 261 gal./lb.

Apricots 154 gal./lb.

Peaches 109 gal./lb.

Avocados are also higher on the list at 141 gal./lb.,

Apples, bananas, grapes, and kiwis all take less than 100 gal./lb.

Strawberries, pineapple, and watermelon require less than 50 gallons of water per pound of fruit

– huffpost.com

 

1lb of Beef – 1857 gallons of water

1lb Of Cheese – 599 gallons of water

1lb of Chicken Meat – 467 gallons of water

– motherjones.com

 

According to get-green-now.com:

Cereal (25 grams) – 41 litres of water

 

A single 5 lb. bag of refined white sugar uses about 88 gallons of water, most of it from the farming of sugar cane and sugar beets.

– news.thomasnet.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make, Per Serving

Beef seems to come out on top here, followed by pork and then chicken and chocolate.

 

According to livestrong.com:

Other food items and their gallons of water needed per serving are:

Beef steak (6 oz serving) – 675 gallons

Pork (6 oz serving) – 288 gallons

Chicken (6 oz serving) – 234 gallons

Chocolate (1 oz) – 198 gallons

Rice (1 cup, cooked – 56 gallons

Cheese (1.5 oz) – 56 gallons

Milk (1 cup serving) – 55 gallons

Eggs (1 egg) – 53 gallons

Bread (1 slice) – 11 gallons

Wine (6 oz) – 47.6 gallons

Coffee (1 cup) – 37 gallons

Pistachio (49 pistachios) – 37 gallons

Walnut (12 to 14 walnut halves) – 34 gallons

Corn (1 ear) – 27 gallons

Potato (1 cup) – 30 gallons

Almond (23 almonds) – 25 gallons

Beer (8 oz glass) – 19.8 gallons

Apple (1 apple) – 18 gallons

Oranges (1 orange) – 14 gallons

Tea (1 cup) – 8 gallons

Grapes (15 grapes) – 4 gallons

Tomato (1 tomato) – 3 gallons

Strawberry (8 medium strawberries) – 3 gallons

Broccoli (1 cup) – 2.7 gallons

Lettuce (1 cup) – 0.7 gallons

Sugar (1 tsp) – 2.1 gallons

– livestrong.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make, By Nutritional Value

These stats come from waterfootprint.org …

By nutritional value, this is how the following common food groups compare in terms of water use:

 

– Litres per kilocalorie

Sugar crops – 0.69

Vegetables – 1.34

Starchy roots – 0.47

Fruits – 2.09

Cereals – 0.51

Oil crops – 0.81

Pulses – 1.19

Nuts – 3.63

Milk – 1.82

Eggs – 2.29

Chicken meat – 3

Butter – 0.72

Pig meat – 2.15

Sheep and goat meat – 4.25

Beef – 10.19

 

– Litres per gram of protein

Sugar crops – 0

Vegetables – 26

Starchy roots – 31

Fruits – 180

Cereals – 21

Oil crops – 16

Pulses – 19

Nuts – 139

Milk – 31

Eggs – 29

Chicken meat – 34

Butter – 0

Pig meat – 57

Sheep and goat meat – 63

Beef – 112

 

– Litres per gram of fat

Sugar crops – 0

Vegetables – 154

Starchy roots – 226

Fruits – 348

Cereals – 112

Oil crops – 11

Pulses – 180

Nuts – 47

Milk – 33

Eggs – 33

Chicken meat – 43

Butter – 6.4

Pig meat – 23

Sheep and goat meat – 54

Beef – 153

 

You can read more at:

Product Water Footprint Of Crops & Animal Products (waterfootprint.org) 

Water Footprint Of Animal Products (waterfootprint.org) 

What You Need To Know About Sustainable Diets (wri.org) 

 

There’s also this from huffingtonpost.com.au RE water use per gram of protein produced:

In terms of water per gram of protein (instead of water per pound of food) – some of the better foods are pulses (including beans, lentils, peas, etc.) at 5 gallons per gram of protein, followed by eggs at 7.7 gal./gram, milk at 8.2 gal./gram, and chicken at 9 gal./gram.

The numbers only go up from there, with beef topping the scale, requiring 29.6 gallons of water per gram of protein.

Eating fewer animal products and more plant products will reduce your water footprint, as will eating less-processed foods.

 

*Note with proteins and fats and different nutritional units, not all proteins for example are equal – there are whole and non whole proteins.

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make, Per Liquid Volume

Milk features near the top of the lists, even over alcoholic drinks.

 

From theguardian.com:

Milk – 255 litres per 250ml glass

Wine – 109 litres per 250ml glass

Beer – 74 litres per 250ml glass

Tea – 27 litres per 250ml cup

 

The water footprints of different … beverages, whose volumes are listed, are:

Tea (8oz) — 7 gallons;

Beer, barley (8oz) — 36 gallons;

Coffee (8oz) — 29 gallons;

Wine (8oz) — 58 gallons;

– treehugger.com

 

According to the interactive product gallery on WaterFootPrint.org:

Coffee – 132 litres per 125 ml

 

According to get-green-now.com:

Milk (250ml) – 255 litres of water

One Coke (335ml) – 124 litres of water

 

Coffee (roasted beans) – … 132L per 125ml cup

Milk – … 225L per 250ml cup

Beer – … 74L per 250ml cup

Tea – … 27L per 250ml cup

– earthmagazine.org

 

4 oz. Wine – 32 gallons of water

16 oz. diet coke – 33 gallons of water

4 oz. coffee – 37 gallons of water

7 oz. Orange Juice – 45 gallons of water

– motherjones.com

 

It takes between 180 and 328 gallons of water to produce a 2-liter bottle of soda

– news.thomasnet.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make One Unit Or A Single Product Of Something

A few points from these sets of data might be:

– If having a snack, a banana or apple might be far less water intensive than a chocolate bar

– The patty in a hamburger is usually the most water intensive ingredient

 

According to get-green-now.com:

Egg (one) – 200 litres of water

One Hamburger – 2808 litres of water.

Two hamburger buns are 85 litres …

… one leaf of lettuce is 1 litre

… one slice of tomato is 6 litres

… one slice of cheese is 90 litres

Corn (a half ear) – 277 litres

Baked Potato (one) – 108 litres of water

 

Chocolate – … 1700L per 3.5 oz bar

Apples – … 125L per apple

Bananas – … 160L per banana

Potatoes – … 260L per large bag of chips

– earthmagazine.org

 

According to get-green-now.com:

One Beef Steak (8oz) – 3496 litres of water

… One 6oz beef patty is 2626 litres

 

An apple – 18 gallons of water

Pint of beer – 20 gallons of water

Hamburger – 634 gallons of water

– motherjones.com

 

It takes 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer

It takes nearly 37 gallons of water to produce the ingredients to make a single cup of coffee

– news.thomasnet.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Produce $1 Of Economic Output Of Different Products & Foods

It takes about 270 gallons of water to produce $1 worth of sugar 

It takes 200 gallons of water to make $1 worth of pet food

It takes 140 gallons of water to make $1 worth of milk

– news.thomasnet.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Grow & Produce Food In Different Countries

Different countries might use a different amount of water to grow and produce different foods (wikipedia.org)

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make Different Foods & Products In The United States

Beed comes out on top here.

 

The average virtual water content of some selected foods in the USA in m3/ton is:

Beef – 13,193 m3/tons of virtual water

Sheep Meat –  5977 m3/tons of virtual water

Coffee (roasted) – 5790 m3/tons of virtual water

Coffee (green) – 4864 m3/tons of virtual water

Pork – 3946 m3/tons of virtual water

Cheese –  3457 m3/tons of virtual water

Milk Powder – 3234 m3/tons of virtual water

Goat Meat –  3082 m3/tons of virtual water

Chicken Meat –  2389 m3/tons of virtual water

Millet – 2143 m3/tons of virtual water

Rice (broken) – 1903 m3/tons of virtual water

Soybeans – 1869 m3/tons of virtual water

Rice (husked) – 1,656 m3/tons of virtual water

Eggs – 1510  m3/tons of virtual water

Rice (paddy) – 1275 m3/tons of virtual water

Wheat – 849 m3/tons of virtual water

Sorghum – 782 m3/tons of virtual water

Barley – 702 m3/tons of virtual water

Milk – 695 m3/tons of virtual water

Maize – 489 m3/tons of virtual water

Sugarcane – 103 m3/tons of virtual water

– wikipedia.org

 

Foods That Use The Most Water In California

According to livestrong.com:

The thirstiest foods grown in California are animal based foods like Beef, Pork, Chicken, Dairy milk and Eggs.

 

How Much Water Does It Take To Meet One Person’s Daily Dietary Needs?

It takes roughly a litre of water to produce 1 calorie, and 2000 to 3000 litres of water to meet one person’s daily dietary needs.

In America, that estimation shoots as high as 7000 litres.

Obviously though, it’s dependent on the foods people eat in their diet, and how much.

 

… it takes roughly 3,000 liters of water to meet one person’s daily dietary needs

… [and this works out to be] approximately 1 liter per calorie

– huffingtonpost.com

 

Roughly, a liter of water is required to produce every calorie

… so an adequate daily diet requires more than 2,000 liters of water to produce enough food for one person.

– water.jhu.edu

 

According to get-green-now.com:

The average American might have a water footprint of over 7000 litres a day based on the food they eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily

 

How Much Water Is Used To Make Chocolate

17,196 Litres (1700L per 3.5 oz bar)

– earthmagazine.org

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make A Burger

The patty might be the most water intensive part of a hamburger.

 

One Hamburger – 2808 litres of water

– get-green-now.com

 

[But, you can also break a hamburger down into the ingredients used in the burger, where we can see a patty uses up a significant part of the water footprint]:

Two hamburger buns are 85 litres

One 6oz beef patty is 2626 litres

… one leaf of lettuce is 1 litre

… one slice of tomato is 6 litres

… one slice of cheese is 90 litres

– get-green-now.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Produce Meat – Beef, Chicken, Pork and Sheep

Chicken appears to require the least water per kg to produce, followed by goat, pig, sheep, and finally beef requiring the most.

There can be a big variation in how much water is required for meat though depending on the country the meat is produced in, the production system used, and the composition and origin of the animal feed used

Some data shows that feed can take up a significant portion of the overall water footprint of beef, and beef as a meat can take up a significant portion of total agricultural water use in some countries.

 

The global average water footprint of chicken meat is about 4330 litre/kg

The water footprint of chicken meat is smaller than the footprints of meat from beef cattle (15400 litre/kg), sheep (10400 litre/kg), pig (6000 litre/kg) or goat (5500 litre/kg).

– waterfootprint.org

 

[a report found that] the amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of red meat can range from 13,000 to 43,000 liters of water

poultry requires about 3,500 liters of water

… pork needs about 6,000 liters

– huffingtonpost.com

 

The production of one kilogramme of beef requires approximately 15 thousand litres of water … [but] There is a huge variation around this global average … [depending] on the production system from which the beef is derived (grazing, mixed or industrial), the composition of the feed and the origin of the feed.

Due to the large feed conversion efficiency, beef from industrial systems generally has a lower total water footprint than beef from mixed or grazing systems.

– waterfootprint.org

 

29 percent of the total water footprint of the agricultural sector in the world is related to the production of animal products.

One-third of that water is used to raise beef cattle.

– news.thomasnet.com

 

According to the interactive product gallery on WaterFootPrint.org:

Goat Meat – 5521 litres per 1kg

 

How Much Water It Takes For Meat vs Vegetable Production

A vegetarian diet generally takes less water to produce food for compared to a meat based diet.

However, this data doesn’t take into consideration food waste, where fruits and vegetables, due to their perishability and other factors, can have a large indirect water footprint.

 

… meat production requires a much higher amount of water than vegetables. … to produce 1kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water, whereas to produce 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water.

– theguardian.com

 

The average water footprint per calorie for pork is five times larger than for cereals and starchy roots.

The average water footprint per gram of protein in the case of pork is three times larger than for pulses.

– waterfootprint.org

 

The water footprint of a 150-gramme soy burger produced in the Netherlands is about 160 litres.

A beef burger from the same country costs on average about 1000 litres.

– waterfootprint.org

 

watercalculator.org also has a resource comparing water use for Meat vs Fruit & Vegetables, and Sustainable Farming & Food Waste

 

How Much Water It Takes To Irrigate One Hectare Of Rice Crop

… the amount of water sufficient to irrigate one hectare of rice crop is the same that would cover the needs of 100 nomads with 450 heads of cattle over three years or 100 urban families over a two-year period.

– eniscuola.net

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make Almonds, & Almond Milk

… it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond, or about which would translate to about 460 gallons of water per pound of almonds.

In turn, it takes about two pounds of almonds to make one gallon of Almond Milk, or 920 gallons of water

– greenoptimistic.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make Cow Milk

Cow milk appears to be more water intensive than almond milk.

 

… it takes some 2,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of Cow Milk, roughly twice as much as that required to produce a gallon of Almond Milk

– greenoptimistic.com

 

How Much Water It Takes To Make Butter

Read more about the water footprint and sustainability footprint of butter and margarine in this guide.

 

What About Water Use For Cotton As A Crop?

As this guide is mostly about water use for foods and beverage based crops, we’ve included water use for cotton as a fibre crop in this guide.

 

Comparing Water Use For Production Of Common Foods & Drinks

Huffingtonpost.com.au has an article where they compare the water usage of common foods and drinks like coffee vs tea, wine vs beer, different animal meats vs each other, and so on.

All figures are based on gallons of water needed to produce a pound of each item or a gallon of each drink.

A few examples of popular foods and drinks are:

Tea vs Coffee – Tea wins. 

Wine vs Beer – Beer wins. 

Beef vs Chicken vs Lamb vs Pork vs Eggs – Chicken wins for meats, but eggs win overall. 

See the article for the full list.

 

Having A Snack – Which Is Better – A Chocolate Bar, Or A Banana?

Aside from health and nutrition considerations, when looking at a water footprint, a banana might be better:

 

It takes … 450 gallons (1700 liters) of water to make a typical 3.5-ounce (100-gram) chocolate bar.

Most of those gallons are consumed by the cocoa plants in the field.

– blog.nationalgeographic.org

 

The global average water footprint (per kg) is 860 litres for bananas, and 24,000 litres for chocolate

– waterfootprint.org

 

A Reminder – Food Water Footprints Are A General Measurement Tool Only

There are many variables with water footprints (e.g. water requirements differ between farmers, states/provinces, countries and so on.), and there are limitations to using a water footprint as a water usage measuring tool too.

For these reasons, water footprints are a general guide only.

To get the most accurate view on how much water it takes to produce a food item – you have to break it down by the farming method of an individual farmer in a specific location.

In addition, with food, you can’t just look at litres of water per amount of weight.

You have to look at litres of water per calorie, amount of protein, amount of fat, amount of carbohydrates etc. – to get an even idea of the nutrition the food brings.

There’s many other considerations and variables too.

 

A Reminder – Food Waste & Loss Is A Consideration In Food Water Footprints

In addition to the direct and indirect water usage of food and drink products, food waste (and the associated waste of agricultural inputs) also plays a part in a water footprint.

 

Reducing The Water Footprint In The Foods You Eat

Obviously an individual should see a qualified health professional before making changes to their diet.

This is not professional advice, or a substitute for professional advice.

Individuals should make sure they are eating a safe, healthy and nutritionally adequate diet.

 

Notes on reducing the water footprint in a food diet are [*Any combination of these foods might be eliminated, reduced, substituted or increased to change a water footprint.]:

Reduce, or eliminate food waste

Generally, plant based diets might use less water to produce than animal product based diets (meat and dairy in particular) across different measures

Beef might be the most water intensive meat to cut down on

Chicken/poultry might be one of the more water friendly meats

Eating animal meat from an animal caught non commercially in the wild as opposed to one that is factory farmed (and relies on feed from irrigated crops) may lower a water footprint

Also, eating meat that is fed from grass that is mainly rainfed, may also lead to a more beneficial water footprint for example

After meat, dairy products like chocolate, butter and cheese might be food products might be the next most water intensive

Some rice paddy varieties, olive varieties and almonds can be water hungry depending on where they are grown

Tomatoes, cabbage and lettuce and cucumber might be less water intensive than other foods

A banana or apple might be less water intensive as a snack compared to a chocolate bar

In terms of beverages, regular water may be a less water intensive drink to produce compared to beverages like milk, coffee, soda, beer and wine, and fruit juices (as these beverages often require the growing of plants or crops as part of the ingredients).

 

However, when talking about per unit of calories, protein, and fat for example (and not per unit of food weight):

Plant based foods like vegetables and fruits can move much further up the list, either just behind beef, or in line with other meats and dairy in terms of how much water they need

Fruits and starchy roots are examples of this for per gram of fat and protein measurements

Beef generally though is high on the list 

For a quick comparison table, see the waterfootprint.org resource

 

This is a very simplistic way of looking water footprints and food groups though.

There’s many other variables to consider such as other ways to measure water use (per serving, or per dollar of economic output as two examples), the local climate and agricultural conditions that can change water requirements, the different variations of food products (different types of milk or cheese for example), and so on.

There are many other things to consider in food products other than just the water footprint.

Solely plant based diets are not perfect, do have their own drawbacks, and may not be healthy for some groups of people with certain nutritional requirements and health conditions.

 

Food Groups With Higher Water Footprints

Animal meat (beef, pork and lamb more than chicken) – one of the reasons why is that growing animal feed takes up a lot of water, and then there’s also water required for farming animals (water the animals drink, and for washing down and servicing farms), water for slaughterhouses, and water that goes into refining fuel for transport – just as  a few examples

Dairy (Milk, Cheese, Butter etc.)

Chocolate

Some Beverages – coffee, fruit juice, wine and beer, soda

Some Nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnuts, groundnuts, etc)

Some plant based foods that are water hungry like some varieties of olives, dates, rice paddies, and so on

Generally anything related to meat, and animal by products

 

There are exceptions to this list though – take for example a naturally hunted animal that doesn’t use up any irrigated water, and relies only on what is available in nature.

 

Food Groups With Lower Water Footprints

Vegetables & Pulses

Fruits (except for some measures such as per gram of protein or fat – where fruits and starchy roots can exceed meat)

Oils

Generally plant based foods

 

*Some individual types of plant based foods though can be much higher in water use than others (such as different types of tomatoes, or different types of nuts), and this may be even more so the case in hot or dry climates. 

 

Notes On Food Water Footprint Variables

The water footprint given for any particular food will vary depending on where/how the food has been produced, what data has been used (and how easily information can be obtained by those putting together the results), and the final unit of measurement used (total weight vs gram of protein vs gram of fat vs per calorie, and so on).

It does depend on the farming method used (for example grain and grass fed beef can have different water requirements), where the food is produced (country, state/province and specific farm) and whether mostly irrigated (more of a threat to water resources as it depletes freshwater sources) or rain fed water has been used (rain fed means it’s less of an issue for water scarcity).

It also depends on which indicator you are measuring the food water footprint by:

Per serving

Per unit of weight (pounds, kilograms etc.)

Per calorie or kilocalorie

Per gram of protein

Per gram of fat

Per gram of carbohydrates

And, more

 

Different foods have different nutritional profiles, which is a different consideration altogether from food weight or serving amount.

 

Sources

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