Many people are making the switch to plant-based diets. many reasons – including as a way of cutting their climate footprint or to be healthier.
Yet there’s long been the notion that plant-based diets are inherently more expensive than following a more traditional omnivore diet – which is why some people may be hesitant to make the switch. But it turns out that this isn’t entirely accurate. The truth is that the recent researchMy colleagues and I published in Lancet Planetary Health found that eating a healthier and more sustainable diet (such as vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or flexitarian) could actually slash up to a third off your food bill if you live in a high income country – like the UK, the US or Europe.
We used data from the World Bank to conduct our study. They regularly collect information on prices of various items to estimate the purchasing power and calculate their gross domestic product (GDP). They collected data from over 460 food products from all corners of the globe. These items ranged from global products – such as widely available rice brands – to regional products unique only to certain countries.
We used the price data on both global and regional items to calculate the average cost of different food groups – including rice, fruits and vegetables, legumes and fish – by country. We then combined the price data with current information to calculate the total cost of diets as well as cost changes. food demandand waste from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and recommendations for dietary patterns which can be healthier and more sustainable than current diets – such as flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan. This gave us an idea of how much it would cost to follow different diets.
Surprise! If you look solely at the costs of the ingredients, a vegan diet actually costs a third less than the current “western” diets with high amounts of meat and dairy that many people consume in high income countries like the UK. Vegetarian diets are comparable in value while those following flexitarian diets save on average 14%. Only pescatarian diets – which include a higher proportion of fish and seafood – can sometimes cost 2% more than current diets.
To put it into perspective, we estimate that the typical western diet costs about US$50 per week per person (£37). For comparison, flexitarian diets run at $42 per person per weekly, with vegetarian diets as low $34 and vegan diets as low $33. This means that you could save nearly $900 per person by switching over to a plant-based diet over the course of a single year.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that the data we used refers to the costs of basic ingredients – such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and so on. We didn’t include ready-made meals, take-aways, or highly processed foods such as plant-based burgers. If you want to make these savings, try new recipes and opt for minimally processed foods. That’s not only better for your wallet, but will in most cases also healthier and more sustainable than diets based on highly processed foods.
The situation was slightly more complicated when we looked at sub-Saharan Africa, which has low income countries. The typical diet consists primarily of starchy foods. We found that following a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diet was a quarter less expensive than following a western diet high on meat and dairy. However, these dietary patterns are still at least a third more costly than the high-starch high-income diets.
It is difficult to afford a healthy, sustainable diet in low-income countries. Our study also examined how we could reduce costs. It was possible to make low-income countries’ sustainable diets affordable by combining economic development with efforts to reduce food waste, improve food quality, and increase food prices.
To prevent future problems, it is imperative to shift towards healthier and sustainable diets. dangerous levels of climate changeTo tackle the health burden of poor diets. Our study shows that healthy, sustainable diets can be affordable, even in high-income nations.