Ask the Pros Q&A

Q: Is vegan food more expensive?

Contrary to popular belief, eating a whole food plant-based diet is not expensive. The myth that eating a plant-based diet is expensive derives from the fact that consuming processed versions of vegan foods, such as vegan brats, vegan burgers, and vegan can be very expensive.  However, eating whole foods such as oats, beans, rice, in season vegetables and fruits is extremely affordable and can save you so much money.

In fact, according to a recent study in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition (Flynn & Scheff, 2015), meat-eaters can save $750 a year by simply switching to a plant-based diet. The study compared U.S. Department of Agriculture weekly meal plans, which included meat, with plant-based meal plans. Of the two plans, both totaling 2,000 calories per day, the vegetarian diet cost less.

But the cost savings of a plant-based diet don’t stop at the checkout line. The study found that the vegetarian diet provided 25 more servings of vegetables, 14 more servings of whole grains, and eight more servings of fruit per week. These plant-based foods have been shown to fight obesity, heart disease, diabetes, breast, prostate, colorectal cancers, and other chronic diseases that can cost you tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime in medical care.

There is a great podcast called The Exam Room from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which played May of 2018. In this episode they showed how to buy a week’s worth of groceries for 2 people for $41. That’s just $2.93 per day or $0.97 per meal per person!

A few tips for adopting a plant-based diet:

  • Make sure to shop seasonally when it comes to produce and buy frozen fruits and vegetables when they’re cheaper than fresh.
  • Look for dry essentials in bulk, like flours, beans, pastas, and nuts.
  • Batch cook essentials like beans, rice, and eat leftovers or freeze for future meals.
  • Plan your meals. I always spend the most money on groceries when I enter the store without a plan.

And lastly, consider the cost of health-related problems over time as much chronic disease is due to lifestyle factors, especially poor diet. A University of Oxford study found that if everyone adopted a plant-based diet, there would be a 10 percent decrease in mortality, a 70 percent decrease in greenhouse emissions and savings of $1.067 trillion per year (Springmann, Godfray, Rayner, & Scarborough, 2016). Researchers estimate that 5.1 million fewer people would die by 2050 and food-related carbon emissions would go down 29 percent (Springmann et al.). So, if you want to add years to your life and dollars to your wallet, start choosing plant-based meals over meat and dairy products.

Springmann, M., Godfray, C. J., Rayner, M., Scarborough, P. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Mar 2016, 201523119; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1523119113.

Flynn, M. M. & Schiff, A. R. (2015) Economical Healthy Diets (2012): Including Lean Animal Protein Costs More Than Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 10:4, 467-482, DOI: 10.1080/19320248.2015.1045675

Contributing Writer: Erin Sinnaeve APN, FNP-C

Erin Sinnaeve is a Family Nurse Practitioner and owns her own private health coaching business Thrive Plant Life. She also works in Allergy/Immunology at Advocate Aurora Health.

Erin received her BSN from University of Nebraska, her MS from Creighton University, and her DNP from Chamberlain University. She is an instructor at Chamberlain University. She is also a Food Over Medicine instructor and a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.