Healthy eaters tend to drop a lot of edible stuff in the trash.
Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

The healthier you eat, the better off your body—and the planet, too—right? Maybe not.

A new study illustrates that out of all the food waste in the United States (which is a lot) those who are on the healthy-eating bandwagon are the worst offenders. The research published in Public Library of Science found that the average American wastes nearly one pound of food every day—and most of the waste comes from those of us who eat healthier.

The research called upon government-collected data and the Healthy Eating Index to examine the relationship between food waste, diet quality, nutrient waste, and sustainability. Higher quality diets are associated with larger amounts of wasted food, irrigation water, and pesticides, the study concludes.

The connection between food waste and healthy eating is largely due to the amount of produce used in higher-quality diets, and how often we throw out leftovers. Fruits and vegetables make up 39 percent of the total daily food waste in the United States, followed by 17 percent from dairy as well as 14 percent from meat.

But it’s more than just the food we toss in the trash that’s wasteful. An estimated 780 million pounds of pesticides, 1.8 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer, and 4.2 trillion gallons of irrigation water goes into harvesting the wasted crops, Live Science reported.

"Higher quality diets have greater amounts of fruits and vegetables, which are being wasted in greater quantities than other food," said Meredith Niles, co-author of the study and a University of Vermont professor, in a statement. "Eating healthy is important, and brings many benefits, but as we pursue these diets, we must think much more consciously about food waste."

The side effects of sticking to a healthy diet aren’t all negative, of course. Other than the obvious personal health benefits, the study found higher quality diets resulted in less cropland waste. In addition, previous research has linked healthier diets to fewer greenhouse gas emissions overall.

Researchers suggest more effort is needed not only to improve the average American’s diet, but to reduce overall food waste. And, in the meantime, you can turn to other experts and trailblazers to implement a system of your own to reduce waste at home—it's certainly possible.