Conventional wisdom tells us that a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds–aka a plant-based diet–is expensive and costs more than the traditional American diet of meat and dairy, fast or processed foods. Telling consumers to lean into a plant-based diet is often considered an elitist’s view of the world. But, upon a closer look, that seems to be untrue. When you go to the store and buy vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and leave out the processed foods, meat, dairy, and anything that contains added sugar or preservatives, you are bound to save money, as much as $23 a week by one recent study. This is because produce and fresh whole ingredients (like rice, lentils, and beans) are some of the least expensive items in every market.

Several studies have shown that families will save money at the store, up to $1,260 annually, simply by switching from a meat-filled diet to a plant-based approach. Meanwhile, cutting out meat and dairy and adding more plant-based foods to your plate is known to reduce the lifetime risk of major diseases including heart disease, type two diabetes, certain cancers, obesity, and more. A recent study tells us that when consumers switch from an animal-based protein source to plant-based proteins, they lower their risk of early death significantly.

Refuting the myth that this lifestyle is more expensive is tough work, but some pretty big names are pushing plant-based to the mainstream: Just last week, Michelle Obama asked her followers to try to make better produce selections, and that she is partnering with Walmart and other retailers to make inexpensive produce available to communities that do not currently have access to fresh produce and healthier whole foods, especially in cities. Obama has made it her mission to distribute more than one million meals to food-insecure families in connection with the debut of her children’s food show on Netflix called Waffles + Mochi. Her 'Pass the Love' campaign is a collaborative campaign from the nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America and Higher Ground Productions, founded by the Obamas.

Colourful root vegetables with oranges
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Healthier Food Does Not Have to be Pricier

Our personal health relies on getting over the idea that produce has to be pricey. If you can't find affordable prices in your local grocery store's produce department, you can choose frozen bags of fresh vegetables and fruit, which have nearly the same nutrient profile as fresh foods do, according to Maya Feller, RD and the founder of Maya Feller Nutrition, a nutrition private practice specializing in nutrition for chronic disease prevention.

In fact, there are so many inexpensive plant-based foods that can save you money, and benefit your health and the environment. Here is exactly what to buy to save money and eat healthy on a plant-based diet. First know this: When you eat vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains (like oatmeal and quinoa), and legumes (like beans and lentils) these plant-based foods contain protein, calcium, fiber, antioxidants, and other vital nutrients, while being very heart healthy, Plants do not contain cholesterol, unlike animal products, and have been known to lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, hypertension, obesity, type two diabetes, and other chronic lifestyle diseases. Plant-based diets literally save lives while saving money.

These and other healthy foods are inexpensive, especially when bought in bulk, in season, on sale, or at discount stores or farmer's markets. If you can grow any food or herbs, all the better!

“The key to eating vegan on a budget is simple”, according to Melissa from The Stingy Vegan, “[just] eat whole foods that are in season, cook at home when you can, and take the time for a little bit of planning.”

Eating more plant-based foods saves on health care costs

Researchers at the University of Oxford concluded that if everyone in the US switched to vegetarianism, it would reduce healthcare costs by up to $223.6 billion a year. Worldwide, Lauren Cassani Davis writes that current meat consumption costs the world economy nearly $1.6 trillion annually, and a global switch to plant-based diets would save an estimated 8 million lives each year. The experts at the University of Oxford detailed that a widespread switch to plant-based eating would also cut environmental costs by over half a trillion dollars annually, due to animal agriculture’s role in the loss of biodiversity and climate change. Plant-based eating is not only best for your health, but it’s also best for saving money and the planet.

Produce Stand Street Market, Buenos Aires Argentina
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50 plant foods to stock up on to save money on your trips to the grocery store

  1. alfalfa sprouts
  2. bean sprouts
  3. beans
  4. beets
  5. bok choy
  6. bread (various)
  7. broccoli
  8. Brussels sprouts
  9. cabbage
  10. carrots
  11. cauliflower
  12. celery
  13. chayote
  14. chickpeas
  15. chili peppers
  16. cilantro
  17. collard greens
  18. couscous
  19. eggplant
  20. frozen veggies
  21. kale
  22. lentils
  23. lettuce
  24. mustard greens
  25. non-dairy milk
  26. oats
  27. okra
  28. onion
  29. parsley
  30. parsnip
  31. pasta
  32. peanut butter
  33. peas
  34. potatoes
  35. pumpkin
  36. rice
  37. rutabaga
  38. squash
  39. snap peas
  40. spices
  41. spinach
  42. string beans
  43. sunflower seeds
  44. sweet potatoes
  45. tomato sauce
  46. tomatoes
  47. turnips
  48. yams
  49. yellow squash
  50. zucchini

Take this list to the store and buy several items on it each week, to save money, and your health and the planet. For great ideas of what to cook, check out The Beet's library of healthy plant-based recipes, here.

Dan Brook, Ph.D., teaches in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at San Jose State University, is on the Board of San Francisco Veg Society and the Advisory Board of Jewish Veg, and is the author of the free Eating the Earth: The Truth About What We Eat and editor of the non-profit Justice in the Kitchen.

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