There are so many reasons people put off eating a more healthful plant-based diet: time, motivation, and cooking skills, to name a few. But one of the main reasons people are not eating a cancer and disease protective diet, filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, boils down to one simple factor: cost. In fact, a new AICR survey found that 35% of Americans who said their diets were not very healthy cited cost as being the most important factor getting in the way.
It’s easy to see why people might think healthy, plant-filled eating is synonymous with high cost. Tiny packages of “superfoods”, like blueberries, walnuts, and spices seem to carry a hefty price tag for such small containers, especially compared to fast food drive-throughs boasting dollar menus. Indeed, it’s true that many less healthful foods carry discount prices, such as liters of soda, giant bags of chips, and high fat ground beef, giving the impression that healthy foods will break your food budget. But you have to dig a little bit deeper.
Many plant-based foods are amazingly easy on the pocket book. Take dried beans, a bag of brown rice, and a jar of peanut butter, for example, which all contribute a wealth of important nutrients for a tiny price. In contrast, generally the animal proteins—steak, chicken, pork—are the most costly contributions to the meal. In fact, a recent study found that people who adopt a more plant-based diet, such as a vegetarian diet, save an average of $750 per year on groceries, compared to those who eat meat-heavy diets.
The bottom line: You can have your healthy, plant-fueled diet without breaking the bank, and here are my top 6 tips for doing just that:
- Power up on Legumes. You won’t find a better protein bargain than legumes—which include dried beans, lentils, peas, soy foods, and peanuts. Just one serving of these plant-based super stars packs in protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins, and even phytochemicals linked with disease protection.
- Make it a Whole Grains Bonanza. Simple, unprocessed whole grains—oats, wheat berries, and brown rice—are economical choices for side dishes, casseroles, and stews. They also contribute plant-based protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals to your day.
- Select Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables. When aiming for your recommended fruit (1 ½ – 2 cups per day) and vegetable (2 – 3 cups per day) intake, you can save money by focusing on seasonal produce rather than costly out-of-season produce that must be shipped great distances. That means oranges and chard in the winter, asparagus and strawberries in the spring, peaches and tomatoes in the summer, and squash and apples in the fall.
- Preserve Dollars with Preserved Produce. Fresh is not always best! Since the beginning of time, humans have been preserving their summer harvests of plants for sustenance during the off-season. And you can save money by following suit. Choose frozen or canned (unsweetened and unsalted) fruits and vegetables, such as berries, tomatoes, corn, and peas to fill in your menu.
- Grow Some Food. You can seriously cut your grocery bill by growing some of your own food. If you have a yard, replace some of the landscaping with edible plants, such as fruit trees and a container vegetable garden. If you don’t have a garden, start with a pot of herbs or a summer tomato plant.
- Enjoy Powerful Plants in Small Amounts. It may seem like certain foods, like hemp seeds, walnuts, and turmeric are too costly to fit in your budget, but think again. A single serving of these foods is tiny—an ounce of nuts or seeds, a teaspoon of spice—meaning that they contribute a powerful kick for a relatively modest price. Add one special food to your weekly shopping trip to fit them into your budget and create a disease-protective pantry.
Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™, is an award-winning food and nutrition expert, journalist, and editor. She is author of The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Health, Beginning Today (The Experiment, 2012) and Plant-Powered for Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps & 125 Delicious Recipes (The Experiment, 2014). Sharon also is editor of Environmental Nutrition, nutrition editor of Today’s Dietitian, blogger for The Plant-Powered Blog, and publisher of her monthly The Plant-Powered Newsletter. Living in the chaparral hills overlooking Los Angeles with her husband and two sons, Sharon enjoys visiting her local farmers market, gardening, and cooking for friends and family.