Research recently presented at this year’s European Congress on Obesity in Vienna, found that vegetarian diets are more affordable than other diets if you buy the food online.
On average, it cost about $2.00 less per day to be a vegetarian, according to the research.
The study, led by scientists at the Nestlé Research Center in Switzerland, compared vegetarian, Mediterranean, and U.S. dietary guidelines-based diets.
While a vegetarian diet is entirely plant-based, the Mediterranean diet allows red meat sparingly, and the U.S. dietary guidelines recommend a well-rounded diet with lean meats and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
All products used in the research were purchased from Amazon Grocery and Gourmet Food.
The nutritional quality scores of all diets were similar even though meat and poultry weren’t included in the vegetarian plan. The vegetarian diet was significantly more affordable than the Mediterranean diet plan.
The average cost for each menu plan per day was $15.40 per person for those on a vegetarian diet, $17 per person per day for the U.S. dietary guidelines, and $17.30 a day for people on the Mediterranean diet.
“Online shopping makes it convenient to buy foods for a nutritious diet that meets government recommendations, but it may be expensive. Even though a vegetarian menu plan may be more affordable than other healthy menu plans, $15.40 per day per person is still expensive,” said Hilary Green, PhD, a researcher with Nestlé.
The United States Department of Agriculture has previously estimated that the daily cost of food for a healthy menu plan can be as little as $6.50 per day.
Cheap and healthy? Going vegetarian or eating a plant-based diet could help many Americans get more of the nutrients they need to be healthy. About 75 percent of Americans don’t get enough fruits, vegetables, or dairy, according to federal guidelines.
Instead, many people get their calories from sugar, saturated fat, and salty foods.
Save money, go vegetarian?
Plant-based eating, especially if you eat in-season produce and don’t purchase gourmet foods and supplements, can be quite cost-effective, according to research.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that a vegetarian diet could save Americans about $750 a year.
“Studies have found that plant-based diets can be cheaper, and this is related to the fact that animal proteins tend to be the most expensive item on the plate,” Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of “Plant-Powered for Life,” told Healthline.
“It’s much cheaper to eat beans than meat. If you plan well, a plant-based diet can cost less,” she added.
However, don’t expect to save money just because you go on a plant-based diet, added Stephanie McKercher, a Colorado-based registered dietitian and recipe developer at The Grateful Grazer.
“There’s a way to eat plant-based on a budget, but going vegetarian won’t automatically cut your grocery costs,” she said.
Pricy superfoods, protein powders, and exotic fruits and vegetables can add up fast, McKercher said.
“To get the most out of your grocery budget, opt for local, seasonal produce and affordable pantry staples like rice and beans,” she explained. “You can also start a garden to save even more.”
Food quality counts for optimal benefits
Eating a vegetarian or primarily plant-based diet has been linked to many health benefits, but the quality of the food matters to attain those health perks.
“If you eat a diet based on whole plant foods, you gain even more benefits than vegetarian diets filled with highly processed foods,” Palmer added.
According to research presented at the Nutrition 2018 meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, the evidence points to the high benefits of following plant-based diets.
In one of the studies presented, people who ate more plant-based proteins than animal proteins had lower risks of developing coronary heart disease.
In another study, participants who ate more plant proteins had less plaque in their arteries, too.
Further research found that vegetarian eaters had a lower body mass index, smaller waist circumference, lower amounts of abdominal fat, decreased cholesterol, and lower blood sugar compared to people in the same demographic group who consumed meat.
According to another study reported at the conference, healthy plant-based choices even reduced mortality by 27 percent and death from cancer by 37 percent, while those who ate high-quality animal foods didn’t have a reduced death risk.
Eating healthy — not just vegetarian
Most people know that eating a vegetarian diet requires careful attention to ensure that you’re not just eating anything without meat — for instance, french fries are vegetarian, but they shouldn’t be a regular part of a healthy diet.
Research looking at weight changes in 125,000 adults over a 4-year span found that people who ate high quality plant-based foods — think whole grains, nuts, fruits, and veggies — gained less than those who ate plant-based foods such as sweets and refined grains.
Foods such as crackers, sodas, baked goods, and cheese are technically vegetarian, but those foods are either highly processed or high in fat.
“It’s completely possible to fill a plant-based diet with low-quality foods — foods that are highly refined, and low in nutrients,” Palmer said. A well-rounded plant-based eating regimen includes beans, peas, nuts, soy, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
“The research pouring in on the health benefits of vegetarian diets is consistent with the body of science which points out that vegetarian diets are linked with lower heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity risk,” Palmer said. “Because of these benefits, people tend to live longer on vegetarian diets.”
McKercher is working with more and more clients who want to protect the environment and animals, and therefore become vegetarians.
“One common misconception is that plant-based food doesn’t taste good,” she said. “I also hear people complain that vegetarian foods aren’t filling enough.”
That’s why you have to cook with plenty of herbs and spices, and use protein-rich ingredients.
“Plant-based eating can be delicious and satisfying if you do it right,” McKercher added.