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Sustainable Eating Is Cheaper And Healthier, A New Study Reveals

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According to a global study conducted by Oxford University, vegan and vegetarian diets are the cheapest diets in high-income countries. Miguel Barclay concurs with this, citing his experience costing hundreds of recipes.

Choosing to be vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian is still thought to be a privilege of the privileged middle class or ‘woke’ Hollywood actors. However, according to new Oxford University research, adopting one of these diets in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Western Europe could cut your food bill by up to one-third!

Published on November 10th, 2021, in the Lancet Planetary Health, the study, which used food prices from the World Bank’s International Comparison Program to compare the cost of seven sustainable diets to the current typical diet in 150 countries. It revealed that;

  • Vegan diets were the most affordable in high-income countries, saving up to one-third on food costs (21%-34% reductions depending on the composition).
  • Flexitarian diets with low meat and dairy consumption reduced costs by 14%.
  •  Vegetarian diets came in second place, with similar reductions (27%-31%).
  • Pescatarian diets, on the other hand, increased costs by up to 2%.

It is worthy of note that these more plant-based diets are very much recognized for heart health, cancer risk, and other diet-related health effects and have significantly lower carbon footprints than typical western diets.

“We think the fact that vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian diets can save you a lot of money is going to surprise people,” stated Dr. Marco Springmann, a researcher on the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food stated. “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.”   

In agreement, Miguel Barclay, the bestselling author of the ‘One Pound Meals’ cookbook series, stated, “I completely agree that cutting back on meat, or eliminating it entirely, will save you money. I’ve written seven budget cookbooks and cost hundreds of recipes, and without a doubt, vegan and vegetarian meals are significantly less expensive than meat-based recipes.”

The study focused on whole foods and excluded highly processed meat substitutes and eating at restaurants or takeaways. It employed a flexitarian diet based on the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet, which was designed to be healthy enough to prevent up to 11 million preventable deaths per year while also being sustainable enough to allow us to produce enough food for 10 billion people while remaining within environmental limits. It includes less than one serving of red meat per week, two servings of poultry per week, two fish per week, and one serving of dairy per day. Animal products were replaced in vegetarian and vegan diets by a combination of legumes and fruits, and vegetables or legumes and whole grains.

This research also unveiled that eating a healthy and sustainable diet in lower-income countries such as the Indian subcontinent and Sub-Saharan Africa would be up to a quarter cheaper than a typical Western diet but at least a third more expensive than current diets. Looking at various policy options to see which one could improve affordability and lower diet costs, the study discovered that making healthy and sustainable diets affordable everywhere within the next ten years is possible when economic development, particularly in low-income countries, is combined with reductions in food waste and climate and health-friendly food pricing.

“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 unhealthy, 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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