Plant-based diets, especially vegan diets, are sometimes viewed as a privileged, and expensive, way to eat compared to the standard American diet.
But unless you’re living off six dollar pints of vegan Ben & Jerry’s, pre-packaged foods and expensive meat-alternatives, this is far from the case. After eating plant-based for years I know just how affordable it can be.
And you don’t just need to take my word for it…
New research from the University of Oxford in the UK, has revealed that following a plant-based diet, be that vegan, vegetarian or even flexitarian, in countries like the US and UK could slash your food bill by up to a third.
Researchers from the University of Oxford wanting to study the costs of different sustainable diets compared 7 different dietary patterns using prices from the World Bank’s International Comparison Program.
They found that vegan diets, excluding all animal products, came out top as the cheapest dietary pattern. They were up to 34% cheaper than the current dietary patterns consumed in countries such as the US, UK, Australia, and across Western Europe 1.
Vegetarian diets, that exclude meat and fish but not dairy or eggs, were the second cheapest. This was followed by flexitarian diets, that reduce meat and dairy consumption, which could save you 14% compared to your current spendings.
Dr Marco Springmann, lead researcher of the study and part of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, said “We think the fact that vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets can save you a lot of money is going to surprise people.”
‘When scientists like me advocate for healthy and environmentally-friendly eating, it’s often said we’re sitting in our ivory towers promoting something financially out of reach for most people. This study shows it’s quite the opposite. These diets could be better for your bank balance as well as for your health and...the planet.’
The study focused on whole-foods, and not processed meals or eating out. These are the same foods we focus on at Mora, as these are shown to be best for your health and for cutting disease risk.
The study found that the “relative affordability was largest for vegetarian and vegan diets that focused on legumes and whole grains in place of animal products”. Legumes are a much cheaper protein source than meat, and have more health benefits. They also have no saturated fats, or harmful components like TMAO, which are two of the reasons meat contributes to heart disease 2.
Another study published in the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition compared an omnivorous diet based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with a standard plant-based diet, and found that the plant-based diet saved people $750 a year, compared to the meat eating alternative 3
These results are no surprise to people who have been eating plant-based for years.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, the central components of a plant-based diet, are some of the cheapest foods you can buy. Nuts and seeds tend to be more expensive but the advice is to only eat them in small quantities, a bag of walnuts lasts me weeks!
The advantages are endless: the diet that can slash your risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and certain cancers, can also slash the price of your food bill, all whilst helping you do your bit to save the planet 1.
And there’s more to the cost of your diet than just the grocery bill. By choosing the right foods for your health now, the savings on health care bills down the line can be immense. A plant-based diet that can protect you from Americans' biggest chronic diseases will save you money, as well as your health, in the years to come.
Tips for keeping your food shop cheap
Plant-based diets can, of course, vary greatly in price depending on what each person eats and where you shop. Fruits, vegetables, snacks, extras, and meat-alternatives can be cheap or expensive depending on the varieties picked. The culprit of expensive vegan diets is usually processed and pre-packaged foods, including healthy pre-made stuff and fake-meat products. We pay a premium for things that are convenient.
With this in mind, we have some tips for keeping the cost of your grocery shopping low.
Firstly, planning is key. Plan your meals for the week (with family if appropriate) and go to the grocery store with a list in hand. Try to plan meals that will last two nights, such as stews and soups, that are easy to prepare and cost efficient. An extra tip - don't go grocery shopping hungry, this will help to avoid impulse shopping!
Planning will also help to avoid food waste, which is an all-too-easy way to waste money. If things aren’t going to get eaten, freeze them for later. Foods like lemons, chillies, and vegetables can be used frozen at a later date. Leftover vegetables can also be used to make your own vegetable stock. Those last bits of fruit are great for smoothies or fruit salads with whatever else is left over. You can also substitute items in recipes for things you have in your fridge that need using, for me the recipe is just the starting point!
Shopping locally and in season will also save you money. Shop local farmer’s markets and consider joining a community supported agriculture group (www.localharvest.org/csa). Not everything you eat needs to be organic either, it may be worth it for the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen, but otherwise save money by going non-organic.
What about growing your own vegetables? That’s like having money growing on trees, and it can be done with whatever space you have. It could be anything from growing some herbs on your balcony to having a vegetable patch in your garden.
And finally, show off your culinary skills and get cooking! Buying whole-foods and making your own meals is the best way to save money, like making your own bean burgers rather than buying pre-made patties.
Plant-based diets are substantially less costly than western diets, especially when they focus on whole foods and home cooking. This is what we want to be doing to support our health too, so it’s a win-win (plus a couple more wins) situation.
This important research dispels the myth that plant-based, mostly vegan, eating is expensive and out-of-reach for most people.
It’s much harder to care about the environmental cost, and even health costs, of your diet if the cost to your wallet is too high. This research shows us there is no trade-off, the same diet that’s good for your health, and the environment, is also good for your bank account.
If you want help with making a change, that’s where we can be of use. Sign up with us today and make a change towards a happier, healthier, and cheaper life!
1. Springmann, M., Clark, M. A., Rayner, M., Scarborough, P. & Webb, P. The global and regional costs of healthy and sustainable dietary patterns: a modelling study. Lancet Planet. Health 5, e797–e807 (2021).