Many think that turning to vegan food to manage their weight might be a more expensive approach but new research has found quite the contrary. 

The new clinical trial published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a vegan diet could actually lower food expenses for overweight adults.

In the study, researchers set out to understand the economic implications of dietary choices, particularly for individuals who are overweight.

The trial involved a sample size of 200 overweight adults between the ages of 30 and 55, who were divided into two groups. One group was guided to follow a plant-based diet, while the second group was allowed to maintain their regular eating habits. 

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Through self-reporting, researchers tracked the spending of each participant on weekly groceries over a six-month period. Additionally, both groups were given equal access to discounted food items and promotions, ensuring that the data collected was not influenced by any external economic factors.

Vegan diet lowers food costs

After six months, the data revealed that participants who followed a vegan diet spent on average 16 percent less on their weekly groceries—a savings of approximately $1.51 per day— compared to the control group. This could amount to an annual savings of approximately $500 on groceries. 

“We knew that a vegan diet significantly reduces your risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity—and now we have proof that opting for beans instead of beef will also lead to significant savings on your grocery bill,” study co-author Hana Kahleova, MD, PhD, director of clinical research at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said in a statement. 

The decline in daily spending was primarily due to saving $1.77 on meat and $0.74 on dairy. These reductions were partially offset by increased spending on vegetables by $1.03 per day, fruits by $0.40 per day, legumes and whole grains each by $0.30 per day, as well as meat and dairy alternatives.

Overall, the study supports previous research that suggests a plant-based diet is more cost-effective than one that includes animal products. 

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The study also examined the health outcomes of the participants and found that those on a vegan diet had a measurable improvement in body mass index (BMI) and lower levels of bad cholesterol.

These findings suggest that a vegan diet is not only cost-effective but also beneficial for health, offering a two-fold advantage.

The study adds to the growing body of evidence highlighting the economic benefits of plant-based diets. However, researchers point out that their findings are not conclusive, and more extensive studies are needed to substantiate these claims. Further research is also required to explore how these cost reductions could impact broader economic metrics, such as healthcare expenses related to obesity and lifestyle-related diseases.

Overall, this new data offers valuable insights for consumers, healthcare providers, and policymakers alike, opening up new avenues for promoting dietary choices that are both economically and health-wise beneficial.

Are plant-based diets cost-effective?

These new findings align with previous research that emphasizes the economic viability of plant-based diets and their benefit in tackling obesity. 

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For instance, a recent study led by researchers from the Mass General Brigham healthcare system found that providing plant-based foods could be a useful strategy to prevent childhood obesity in children from food-insecure families, setting them up for health in adulthood. 

“It’s important to encourage healthy eating habits during childhood to help prevent comorbidities associated with obesity later in life, but many families do not have access to expensive healthy foods, such as produce,” Lauren Fiechtner, MD, Director of the Pediatric Nutrition Center at Mass General for Children, said in a statement.

Another study published this year that examined the cost-effectiveness of a plant-forward Mediterranean diet found that a family of four could save $28 AUD ($19 USD) per week, amounting to a substantial $1,456 AUD ($987 USD) per year, by choosing this diet over a typical Western diet. 

“This research shows how a Mediterranean diet can be a cost-effective option, letting people prioritize both their health and their hip pocket,” study co-author Ella Bracci said in a statement.

“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.

Slashing medical costs by going plant-based

The prevalence of obesity in the United States has shown a concerning increase, rising from 30.5 percent in 1999 to 2000 to 41.9 percent between 2017 and March 2020, according to the 2021 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This uptick also includes a near doubling of severe obesity rates, from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent. 

These alarming figures come with significant health implications, as obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death. 

In financial terms, the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the US was nearly $173 billion in 2019, with adults who are obese incurring $1,861 higher medical costs than those with a healthy weight. 

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Not only has research shown that switching to a plant-based diet can aid in weight loss, but it has also demonstrated that this diet can slash risks for all of these obesity-related illnesses. As such, switching to a plant-based diet can alleviate medical costs for both individuals and the public health sector at large. 

This was the inspiration behind the changes New York City Mayor Eric L. Adams—who himself regained his health after switching to a plant-based diet—is implementing at the city’s public institutions, including the groundbreaking Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program in New York. 

Over the past year, the city has broadened its lifestyle medicine programs, trained healthcare practitioners in nutrition, and introduced plant-based options in public institutions. These actions have yielded substantial health benefits, including improvements in cardiometabolic health among patients. 

The program has also inspired 1,400 US mayors to sign a Plant-Based Resolution to bring similar initiatives to their own cities.

“With New York at the frontline of plant-based promotion in our schools, hospitals, and agencies, we aim to lead by example and start conversations that lead to action on how other mayors and cities can apply our best practices and lessons learned to their communities,” Adams previously told VegNews.  

Furthermore, New York City is expected to save an estimated $500,000 annually and has reduced its food-based carbon emissions by 36 percent.

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