In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is a vegetarian diet cheaper?” and will discuss how you can save money by going vegetarian?
Is a vegetarian diet cheaper?
Yes, a vegetarian diet is cheaper. Research presented at the annual European Congress on Obesity in Vienna indicated that vegetarian diets are more economical than other diets if you purchase the food online. It costs around $2.00 less a day to be a vegetarian (1).
A study based on a self-reported food expenditures questionnaire revealed that food expenditures are generally higher for omnivorous consumers, compared to the other consumers. On average, omnivorous consumers reported a food expenditure at-home of 75.96 €/ week. This is the highest expenditure level compared with the other diets, particularly in comparison with 62.35 €/ week for pescatarians, 68.6 €/ week for flexitarians and 59.39 €/ week for ovo-lacto-vegetarians (5).
However, studies show that this is not the reality of all countries. According to a research study, compared with the cost of current diets, the healthy and sustainable dietary patterns were, depending on the pattern, up to 22–34% lower in cost in upper-middle-income to high-income countries on average (when considering statistical means), but at least 18–29% more expensive in lower-middle-income to low-income countries (2).
How is a vegetarian diet cheaper?
Nestle Research Center scientists in Switzerland evaluated vegetarian, Mediterranean, and US dietary guidelines-based diets in research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In contrast to a vegetarian diet that is exclusively plant-based, the Mediterranean diet permits red meat to be consumed in moderation, and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines advocate a well-balanced diet that includes lean meat and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
Amazon Grocery and Gourmet Food provided all of the goods utilized in the study. Even though meat and poultry were not included in the vegetarian diet, the nutritional content of all diets was comparable. In comparison to the Mediterranean diet, the vegetarian diet was much more cost-effective (1).
People on a vegetarian diet spent $15.40 a day, $17 a day, and $17.30 a day on their daily meal plans; those following the U.S. dietary recommendations spent $17 per day (1).
“Online shopping makes it easier to purchase items that fulfill government standards for a healthful diet, but it may be pricey. According to Hilary Green, Ph.D., a researcher at Nestlé, $15.40 per day per person for a vegetarian food plan is still a lot of money (1).
A nutritious meal plan may cost as low as $6.50 per day, according to estimates from the US Department of Agriculture in the past. Low-cost and healthful? Many Americans might benefit from following a plant-based diet, such as a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet. According to official standards, almost 75% of Americans do not consume enough fruits, vegetables, or dairy products.
People instead consume calories from sugar, saturated fat, and salty meals, which are all high in calories.
However, in a study in New Zealand, the costs related to maintaining a vegetarian diet were compared to the costs of maintaining an omnivorous and a vegan diet. Results show that larger servings of high protein plant foods, for example, legumes, nuts and seeds, compared with the current and healthy diets were needed to meet protein requirements in vegan and flexitarian diet scenarios and were thus more expensive. A comparison of the plant and animal-based protein sources used in the diet scenarios showed that on average, plant-based sources had nearly half the protein content per 100 g. Roughly twice the volume of food is therefore required from plant-based compared with animal-based protein sources. This was also similar for the vegetables food group where the contribution was highest in the vegan (NZ$151) and flexitarian (NZ$169) scenarios, and more than double the healthy scenario (NZ$64) (3).
What if you were to become vegetarian?
According to a study, following a plant-based diet, particularly if you consume seasonal fruit and don’t spend a lot of money on gourmet foods and supplements, may save money. It has been estimated that a vegetarian diet might save the average American around $750 per year, according to research published in 2015 (4).
Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of “Plant-Powered for Life,” told Healthline that “studies have indicated that plant-based diets may be cheaper, and this is connected to the fact that animal proteins tend to be the costliest item on the plate.”
“Beans are a lot more affordable than beef.” “A plant-based diet may save money if you plan,” she said. Stephanie McKercher, a Colorado-based registered dietitian and recipe creator at The Grateful Grazer, cautioned that a plant-based diet would not save you money.
This scenario is true for high-income countries, according to studies. The costs related to different diets (regular, vegetarian, vegan) were analyzed in 150 countries. The average cost of diets in 2017, including food wasted by households, was $5.7 per person per day, ranging from $3.7 in low-income countries to $7.5 in upper-middle-income countries. In low-income and lower-middle-income countries, staple crops accounted for the greatest proportion of costs (33–35% across the two regions), followed by legumes and nuts (11–27%), meat (11% in each region), vegetables (9–14%), and fruits (9–12%). In comparison, in high-income and upper-middle-income countries, meat accounted for the greatest proportion of costs (32–34%), followed by staples (18% in both regions), vegetables (11–24%), and fruits (8–9%). In high-income and upper-middle-income countries, all dietary patterns, were less expensive, with greatest cost reductions for the high-grain vegetarian and vegan diets (cost reductions of 22–34% across the two regions), followed by the high-veg vegetarian and vegan diets (17–27%) and the flexitarian diets (12–14%). In lower-middle-income and low-income countries, all dietary patterns were more expensive (18–45%) in a similar order (2).
However, turning vegetarian would not immediately lower your shopping bill, she said. McKercher warns that the cost of expensive superfoods, protein powders, and exotic fruits and vegetables may quickly mount. Local, seasonal vegetables and pantry staples like rice and beans are the most cost-effective ways to maximize your food budget, she said. “You can save even more money by starting a garden.”
The best health advantages come from high-quality food
Many health advantages have been associated with a vegetarian or predominantly plant-based diet, but the quality of the food is essential to reap those benefits. Palmer went on to say that a vegetarian diet rich in highly processed foods had fewer health advantages than one centered on entire plant foods.
A 2019 review showed that while healthy plant-based diets reduced cardiovascular disease risk, unhealthy plant-based diets were comparable to animal-based ones which increased risks. The healthy diet consisted mainly of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. In contrast, the unhealthy version was inclusive of refined grains, fried potatoes, and high sugar foods and beverages (4).
Following a plant-based diet has been linked to several health advantages in studies presented at this year’s Nutrition 2018 conference in Boston, Massachusetts. People who ate more plant-based protein than animal protein had a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, according to one of the studies presented.
Additionally, those who ate more plant proteins were shown to have less plaque in their arteries in separate research. Research shows that vegetarians have lower BMI, smaller waist circumference, lower quantities of abdominal fat, lower cholesterol, and lower blood sugar than those in the same demographic category who eat meat.
Another research presented at the conference found that healthy plant-based choices lowered mortality by 27% and cancer deaths by 37%, but those who ate high-quality animal meals didn’t have a reduced death risk.
Not simply vegetarianism, but a healthy diet
A vegetarian diet involves careful attention to ensure that you’re not simply eating anything without meat—for example, French fries are vegetarian, but they shouldn’t be a regular component of a balanced diet. A vegetarian diet
High-quality plant-based foods including whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables were associated with lower weight gain than lower-quality plant-based meals like sweets and refined grains. However, even if they’re technically vegetarian, many of these meals are either highly processed or very heavy in fat, making them unsuitable for vegetarians (4).
“It is possible to consume foods that are poor in nutrients and of low quality in a plant-based diet,” Palmer added. Beans, peas, almonds, soy, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are all part of a well-rounded plant-based diet.
New data shows that vegetarian diets are associated with decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, according to Palmer, who spoke at the American Heart Association’s annual conference. “As a result of these advantages, vegetarians tend to live longer.”
The surge of national fast-food chains incorporating plant-based items into their menus may create an illusion of health for concerned customers who are actively seeking to incorporate plant-based meals into their diets. However, theoretically, a veggie burger could contain higher amounts of sodium and the same number of calories as a beef burger. While the substitution of meat for a processed plant-based burger should offer some protection in this case due to its zero cholesterol content, there is not yet sufficient evidence to demonstrate this. As formulations and ingredients of plant-based meat alternatives change, it will be important to examine their nutritional composition to identify potential benefits (4).
Other FAQs about Vegetarian that you may be interested in.
In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Is a vegetarian diet cheaper?” and discussed how you can save money by going vegetarian?
- Green H. A vegetarian diet is not only good for you — it’s the most affordable too. 2018, European Association for the Study of Obesity.
- Springmann, Marco, et al. The global and regional costs of healthy and sustainable dietary patterns: a modelling study. Lancet Planet Health, 2021, 5, e797-e807.
- Kidd B, Mackay S, Vandevijvere S, Swinburn B. Cost and greenhouse gas emissions of current, healthy, flexitarian and vegan diets in Aotearoa (New Zealand). BMJ Nutr Prev Health, 2021, 4, 275-284.
- Sterling, Samara R., and Shelly-Ann Bowen. The potential for plant-based diets to promote health among blacks living in the United States. Nutrients, 2019, 11, 2915.
- Pais, D.F., Marques, A.C. & Fuinhas, J.A. The cost of healthier and more sustainable food choices: Do plant-based consumers spend more on food?. Agric Econ, 2022, 10, 18.