Switching To A Healthier And More Sustainable Diet Can Save You Money
Our current agricultural and food production systems are partly responsible for global warming, ecosystem degradation, and the death of several million human beings annually, not to mention tens of billions of animals each year. To reduce the harmful effects of these systems on the environment and human health, and to feed the projected population of 10 billion by 2050 in a sustainable and healthy way, researchers have been working hard to identify appropriate global diets.
This is what the EAT-Lancet Commission did in 2019. They outlined global dietary recommendations which, if adopted globally, would reduce the pressure of our food systems on the environment and save the lives of millions of people. These recommendations basically consist of a shift to diets with mostly plant-based foods, unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and fewer foods of animal origin, highly processed foods, or foods with added sugars.
But these recommendations need to be adopted in order for the world to appreciate their benefits. This study aimed to ensure that the diets proposed by the EAT-Lancet Commission are affordable to consumers — affordability being one of the main determinants of food choices — with a focus on Australia as a case study. Authors focused on metropolitan areas because 71% of all Australians live there, and they examined whether such diets would be affordable for low, middle, and high socio-economic groups.
The authors developed a food basket for a reference family composed of two adults, a 15-year-old boy, and a 4-year-old girl, using a specific software and following the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission. They designed it to be accessible and to match the food preferences of Australians. They checked the prices of what composed the food basket by going to one of the main Australian online supermarkets (Coles supermarkets) — food prices online were the same as prices in the stores — and they conducted this operation in a variety of metropolitan areas around the country. Then, they compared the cost of the food basket with the weekly disposable income of low, middle, and high socio-economic groups in each area. They also compared the price of the food basket following the EAT-Lancet recommendations with the price of a typical Australian food basket based on actual consumption habits for the same reference family, a basket that had already been developed by other researchers. After doing all of this, they had the price of a typical Australian food basket and the price of a healthier and more sustainable food basket, in different metropolitan areas.
What they found was that the prices of the two baskets differed between metropolitan areas. The healthiest and most sustainable food basket cost $14 AUD more in Brisbane than in Sydney. On average, the healthiest and most sustainable diet cost $189.20 AUD per week, 14% of the average weekly disposable income, while the typical Australian diet cost $224.66 AUD, 16% of the average weekly disposable income. Specifically, for low, middle, and high socio-economic groups, the healthiest and most sustainable diet cost 17%, 13%, and 11% of the weekly disposable income while the typical Australian diet cost 21%, 15%, and 13%, respectively.
The results of this study are positive and encouraging. A diet following the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission, mainly a plant-based diet, is more affordable than the typical Australian diet. This means that in Australia, those living in metropolitan areas — the majority of Australians — would save money by switching from their typical diet to a healthier and more sustainable one, and this would be the case for all socio-economic groups. For example, someone living in Sydney and switching from a typical Australian diet to the more healthier would approximately save $43 AUD per week, or $172 AUD per month — or $2064 AUD per year!
This study helps to dispel the misconception that mainly plant-based diets are more expensive than conventional diets, at least in an Australian context. These results are of interest for all policymakers and advocates that would like to encourage a shift towards food production systems that are more respectful of humans, animals, and the environment. The results are also of interest to anyone who would like to have a healthier diet that respects both animals and the environment. Indeed, in addition to all the benefits offered by such a diet, it could even save them money.