Did You Know That These 10 “Good” Foods Aren’t So Good After All?

Updated On

We may collect a share of sales from items linked to on this page. Learn more.

[sam_ad id=”80″ codes=”true”]Recently it’s come to my attention that many of my healthy food choices aren’t so healthy for the planet.

In particular, avocados and almonds.

Avocados have become almost a food staple for me over the past few months. They were easy to prepare, easy to add into different dinners, they’re full of healthy fats (which I sometimes find hard to add to my diet) and they came at a reasonable price!

However, Mother Jones went and called me out.

Well, not me personally but all avocado lovers.

Turns out that avocados take a ton of water to produce (74.1 gallons per pound, to be precise). And what makes thing worse is that out of season (when California can’t grow them) they’re grown mainly in counties such as Chili that really need that water to, well… live.

Almonds have become somewhat of a staple for me too. I’ve been lactose intolerant since I was born and have struggled with finding replacements for dairy that are just as delicious and nutritious. And I can’t stand soy milk.

Yay, almond milk to the rescue!

Except, apparently almonds take a ton of water to grow too.

(Thanks Mother Jones. I’ll have no food left in my refrigerator if you keep this up.)

All the foods we purchase represent a certain amount of energy and water that are hidden from the consumers. The process of creating a chocolate bar isn’t evident to a consumer standing at a till, we don’t see the cocoa plant, the men and women tolling away to harvest it, the factories that ground it, and wrap it and transport it.

Obviously, I’m not going to stop buying all supermarket groceries, and I don’t expect you to either. But if we look at the worst offenders and limit the amount of times that we purchase these, then perhaps we can start to feel a little less guilty about the huge environmental footprint our eating habits are leaving on the world.


1. Lamb

spring lamb
Photo: Tim Pokorny

Meat is always going to be high up on this list, of course. But if you thought beef was the big meat offender, you’d be wrong.

Lamb has a 50% higher carbon footprint than beef, according to the Environmental Working Group. Every 4 oz. of lamb consumed is equivalent to driving seven miles in your car – That’s an average of about 20 kilograms of CO2 put into the atmosphere for every pound of lamb. On the water side of things, every 1 pound of lamb requires 1,157 gallons of water to produce it.

That makes me feel a little bit better about that avocado salad I ate last night.


2. Beef

cows in field
Photo: Leszek Leszczynski


Of course, beef comes in as a close second to lamb.

Beef production releases the equivalent of driving about 6 ½ miles in your car for every four oz. consumed and it  requires over 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef.

So while it uses more water than lamb, it leaves less of a carbon footprint.


3. Corn

Photo: Micolo J

In the U.S., corn uses more land than any other crop – in the U.S. alone cornfields span some 97 million acres (that’s about the size of California, or twice the size of New York state) – and consumes a large amount of our freshwater resources – over 6 billion gallons each year – including an estimated 5.6 cubic miles per year of irrigation water withdrawn from America’s rivers and aquifers.

And fertilizer use for corn is massive: over 5.6 million tons of nitrogen is applied to corn each year through chemical fertilizers, along with nearly a million tons of nitrogen from manure. Much of this fertilizer, along with large amounts of soil, washes into the nation’s lakes, rivers and coastal oceans, polluting waters and damaging ecosystems along the way. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest, and most iconic, example of this.


4. Soybeans

Photo: Ross Griff

[sam_ad id=”80″ codes=”true”]Soybean’s impact comes from a different type of source: Forest clearing.

Forests act like carbon sinks as they trap carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. However, the area that’s cleared for soybean platations in Brazil alone is responsible for over 473 million tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.

Every 1 pound of soybeans produced requires about 265 gallons of water. One bushel of soybeans weighs about 60 pounds meaning that each bushel of soybeans takes 15,900 gallons of water to produce.


5. Palm Oil

palm oil mill
Photo: flickr

Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil that can be found in about 50% percent of all consumer goods.

The deforestation that is related to palm oil creation is so bad that estimated to contribute more than 558 million metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere by 2020, not to mention killing animals.


6. Chocolate

cacao and chocolate
Photo: flickr

[sam_ad id=”85″ codes=”true”]

I know, I know – not the chocolate!

But you knew it was bad.

And while chocolate is a $50 billion industry, the cacao plantations are responsible for huge amounts of deforestation (not to mention huge fair trade issues).

A two-ounce bar of chocolate has a carbon footprint of 169grams (with packaging only constituting 2% of this estimate).

The water footprint of chocolate is about 24,000 liters per kilogram of chocolate.



7. Sugar

Photo: Cícero R. C. Omena

The production of cane sugar has resulted in a greater loss of biodiversity than any other crop on the planet. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “A dozen countries around the world devote 25% or more of all their agricultural land to the production of sugarcane”.

In Florida, the run-off of phosphorus from sugar cane fields is largely responsible for the decline of the Everglades. It can take up to 5,000 gallons of water to grow one acre of sugar cane.


8. Cheese

Photo: Chris Buecheler

The entire process of creating cheese, such as raising and maintaining the cow itself, comes at an extremely high energy price. There is 16.5 kilograms of CO2 emissions for every kilogram of consumed cheese. For imported cheese, this number can double.


9. Salmon

industrial salmon farm
Photo: Sam Beebe

[sam_ad id=”83″ codes=”true”]Industrial salmon farming is considered an extremely hazardous and destructive practice in modern aquaculture production system due to industry practices of using open net-cages that are directly linked with the ocean, allowing farm waste, chemicals, disease and parasites to be released directly into the water, thus causing harm to marine life. And we haven’t even started to talk about the antibiotics, vaccines and pesticides that are used to keep the salmon healthy, but you can read about that here.

Raising carnivorous fish such as salmon means that the fish need to be fed high-protein food, meaning that they eat more fish than they produce.

Moreover, most salmon is air shipped, which brings its total carbon footprint equivalent to driving your car three miles for every four ounce consumed.


10. Eggs

eggs in a basket
Photo: flickr

In the U.S., egg farmers produce around 79 billion eggs per year, with the average 24 ounce carton of eggs having a carbon footprint of 5 pounds.

However, the average egg weighs two ounces but has a huge water footprint of 200 liters.

  • Sarah Burke

    Sarah is a graduate of the University of College Dublin. After receiving her MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture, she taught High-school English and History for three years before moving to Vancouver to pursue a career in writing. In her spare time, Sarah likes to write poetry, go to music festivals and drink wine. Her favorite food is the burrito. She is an avid reader of fantasy novels, an active participant in feminist circles, and will always have an adventure planned in the foreseeable future. Interesting fact: Sarah is fluent in Irish (Gaeilge).

What do you think? Leave a comment!