New study shows vegan and vegetarian diets are cheaper and healthier

New study shows that vegan and vegetarian diets are cheaper and healthier
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New research from Oxford University reveals that in high-income countries like the US and the UK, vegan and vegetarian diets could reduce your food bill costs by one-third. It also found that flexitarian diets could have an impact on costs.

The study compares the cost of seven sustainable diets like vegan and vegetarian to the current typical diet in 150 countries, using food prices from the World Bank’s International Comparison programme. The findings of the study are published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

What are sustainable diets?

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (NAO) defines sustainable diets such as vegan and vegetarian as categorised by having low environmental impacts that contribute to food and nutrition security and healthy lives for present and future generations. Furthermore, they state that sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems whilst being accessible and affordable.

Dr Marco Springmann, a researcher on the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, commented: “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.”

Vegan and Vegetarian diets cut costs by up to one-third

The study focuses on whole foods and does not include highly processed meat replacements or eating at restaurants or takeaways. The researchers found that for high-income countries:

  • Vegan diets were the most affordable and reduced food costs by up to one-third.
  • Vegetarian diets were a close second.
  • Flexitarian diets with low amounts of meat and dairy reduced costs by 14%.
  • However, Pescatarian diets increased costs by up to 2%.

Analysing lower-income countries such as sub-Saharan Africa highlights that 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 understand how to improve affordability and reduce diet costs, the researchers looked at several policy options. They found that making healthy and sustainable diets affordable everywhere is possible within the next ten years 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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