Plant-Forward Mediterranean Diet Is Healthier and Saves $987 per Year, Study Finds

A new study found that a plant-forward Mediterranean diet not only promotes good health but also proves to be a cost-effective option—debunking the common belief that following this eating plan is financially burdensome. The study’s findings reveal that a family of four can save $28 AUD ($19 US) per week, amounting to a substantial $1456 AUD ($987 US) per year, by adopting the Mediterranean diet as opposed to the typical Western diet.

The study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Nutrients, involved a comparison of three food baskets based on the typical Australian Western diet, the Mediterranean diet, and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE). 

The results indicated that while both the Mediterranean diet and AGHE met the recommendations for essential nutrients, macronutrient distribution, and key micronutrients associated with good health, the typical Australian diet was deficient in crucial elements such as fiber, zinc, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, and vitamin B6. 

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Furthermore, it was found that the Western diet had double the recommended salt intake.

The cost breakdown of the Mediterranean diet revealed that it amounted to $78 AUD ($53 US) per week for a single person household; $135 AUD ($92 US) for a household of two; $211 AUD ($144 US) for a family of three; and $285 AUD ($193 US) for a family of four. 

These figures demonstrate that adopting a Mediterranean diet can prove to be an affordable and healthy option for families on a budget.

Western diet contributes to chronic disease

Ella Bracci, study co-author, researcher, and PhD candidate at University of South Australia, emphasizes the significance of a balanced healthy diet in reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Bracci notes that a substantial number of Australians still fail to consume a well-rounded and nutritious diet, opting instead for foods high in fat, salt, and sugar, which aligns with the Western diet. 

Unfortunately, the Western dietary pattern contributes to the rising rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and osteoporosis. 

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Bracci explains that global agencies are increasingly endorsing plant-based diets like the Mediterranean diet as the preferred approach to healthy eating. However, the adoption of such diets in Australia faces barriers, primarily due to the perception of higher costs. 

“To help combat unhealthy food choices, global agencies are increasingly endorsing plant-based diets such as the Mediterranean diet as their preferred guide to healthy eating,” Bracci said in a statement.

“The challenge, however, has been for people to adopt these in Australia and one of the greatest barriers is perceived cost.” 

The misconception that Mediterranean foods are expensive discourages many individuals from incorporating these options into their diets. Given the high cost of living these days, it is understandable that people are cautious about how they spend their hard-earned money. 

“The Mediterranean diet encourages eating fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, seeds and seafood, and there is a view that these foods are more expensive,” Bracci said. “And with the cost of living being so high in Australia, it’s no surprise that people are being careful about where their hard-earned dollars go.”

Plant-forward diet is more affordable

However, the research demonstrates that the Mediterranean diet is an affordable choice, allowing individuals to prioritize both their health and their budget. “This research shows how a Mediterranean diet can be a cost-effective option, letting people prioritize both their health and their hip pocket,” Bracci said.

Study co-author and Associate Professor Karen Murphy from the University of South Australia asserts that healthy food shopping is more affordable than commonly perceived. She advises that while adhering to either the Australian Guidelines for Healthy Eating or the Mediterranean diet, individuals can obtain the necessary nutrients and energy without straining their wallets. 

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“Eating a balanced healthy diet doesn’t have to break the bank, but eating unhealthy food can damage your body,” Murphy said in a statement.

“Whether you prefer to follow the Australian Guidelines for Healthy Eating or the Mediterranean diet, both provide the necessary nutrients and energy, but as this study shows, the Mediterranean diet is generally less expensive.”

Murphy suggests money-saving strategies such as comparing prices, taking advantage of specials and mark-downs, buying in-season produce, and stocking up on frozen, dried, and canned goods. Opting for home-brand or non-premium products can also contribute to reducing the costs of weekly grocery shopping.

“As with anything, shopping around, looking out for specials and mark-downs, purchasing in season, or stocking up on frozen, dried, and canned produce, can help reduce the costs of your weekly grocery shop. As can choosing home-brand or non-premium products,” Murphy said.

“A $28 ($19 US) saving may not seem like much a week, but over a year this is nearly $1500 ($987 US), which can make all the difference to your budget when times are tough.”

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