Sustainable eating is cheaper as well as healthier, reveals new study

·3-min read
Plant-based diets have been proven to be better for your heart health,  cancer risk, and other diet-related health impacts  (Getty Images)
Plant-based diets have been proven to be better for your heart health, cancer risk, and other diet-related health impacts (Getty Images)

Adopting a vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian diet in countries like the US, UK, Australia and across Western Europe could slash your food bill by one third, research conducted by the University of Oxford has revealed.

The study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, compared the cost of seven sustainable diets to the current typical diet in 150 countries, using food prices from the World Bank’s International Comparison Program. It focused on whole foods and did not include highly-processed meat replacements or eating at restaurants or takeaways.

The results showed that, in high-income countries, vegan diets were most affordable and reduced food costs by up to one third. Vegetarian diets showed similar reductions, between 27 to 31 per cent, while flexitarian diets with low amounts of meat and dairy reduced costs by 14 per cent. In contrast, pescatarian diets increased costs by up to two per cent.

Plant-based diets are generally recognised as much better for heart health, cancer risk, and other diet-related health impacts. They also have a significantly lower carbon footprint than typical western diets.

Dr Marco Springmann, researcher on the Oxford Martin Program on the Future of Food said: “When scientists like me advocate for healthy and environmentally-friendly eating it’s often said that we’re sitting in our ivory towers promoting something that is financially out of reach for most people.

“This study shows that it’s quite the opposite. These diets could be better for your bank balance as well as your health and the health of the planet.”

Miguel Barclay, author of the bestselling One Pound Meals cookbooks, agreed that cutting down your meat, or cutting it out completely, will save you money.

He added: “I’ve written seven budget cookbooks and have costed up hundreds of recipes, and without doubt vegan and vegetarian meals consistently come in at a much lower price than recipes with meat.”

The flexitarian diet that researchers looked at was based on the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet - which has been developed to help avoid preventable deaths and to produce a sustainable diet for up to 10 billion people within environmental limits.

The diet consists of less than one portion of red meat per week, less than two servings of fish per week, and less than one serving of dairy per day.

In the vegetarian and vegan diets, animal products were replaced with a mix of either legumes and fruits and vegetables, or a mix of legumes and whole grains.

The study also revealed that in lower income countries such as on the Indian subcontinent and in sub-Saharan Africa, eating a healthy and sustainable diet would be up to a quarter cheaper than a typical Western diet, but at least a third more expensive than current diets.

To fully comprehend what options could improve affordability and reduce diet costs, the study also looked at several policy options. drawing on the conclusion that making healthy and sustainable diets affordable everywhere is possible within the next ten years. This can happen when economic development, especially in lower income countries, is paired with reductions in food waste and a climate and health-friendly pricing of foods.

“Affording to eat a healthy and sustainable diet is possible everywhere, but requires political will,” said Dr Springmann. “Current low-income diets tend to contain large amounts of starchy foods and not enough of the foods we know are healthy.

“And the western-style diets, often seen as aspirational, are not only unhealthy, but also vastly unsustainable and unaffordable in low-income countries.

“Any of the healthy and sustainable dietary patterns we looked at are a better option for health, the environment, and financially, but development support and progressive food policies are needed to make them both affordable and desirable everywhere.”

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