According to federal dietary guidelines, 75 percent of Americans do not eat enough fruit, vegetables, and dairy. The typical American diet is now one that is high in sugar, salt, and saturated fats.
This is partly why diet-related diseases like diabetes and obesity have been on the rise in the US and around the world. Many people simply aren’t getting the right balance of nutrients and foods necessary to maintain a healthy diet.
However, when trying to eat healthy, cost can be an issue. Researchers from the Nestle Research Center in Switzerland set out see how much a healthy diet actually costs and which diet would be the most cost-effective.
It turns out that eating vegetarian is the most affordable option for people if they shop online.
Eating a diet rich in greens, grains, fruit, and dairy has many health benefits and the researchers found that it cost around $2.00 dollars less per day than the Mediterranean diet and what is considered a healthy US diet.
For the study, the researchers chose three healthy diet options, the US healthy diet, the Mediterranean diet, and a vegetarian diet and bought groceries online for two weeks worth of food for each diet plan.
Each diet plan was based on the Nutrient Balance Concept which is a new metric for assessing the nutritional value of foods in an overall diet established in 2015.
The researchers bought groceries from Amazon’s Grocery and Gourmet Food platform, which is currently responsible for 26 percent of all online food and drink markets in the US.
Food was bought depending on the price and the researchers went for the cheapest option excluding sales, discounts, and deals.
The cost of food groups was also calculated for the study because most dietary guidelines are organized into food groups.
The nutritional value of all three diet plans was similar, but the vegetarian diet was much more affordable than the Mediterranean. On average, the cost per person per day was $15.40 dollars for the vegetarian diet, $17.00 for the US healthy diet, and $17.30 for the Mediterranean diet.
The reason for the significant cost difference is likely attributable to the lack of meat in the vegetarian diet.
As online grocery shopping is expected to become more and more common, with sales in the US predicted to reach 30 billion dollars by 2021, understanding how sourcing food online will impact the cost of healthy diets is important.
“Online shopping makes it convenient to buy foods for a nutritious diet that meets government recommendations, but it may be expensive,” said Hilary Green, one of the leaders of the research. “Even though a vegetarian menu plan may be more affordable than other healthy menu plans, $15.4 per day per person is still expensive. The United States Department of Agriculture has previously estimated that the daily cost of food for a healthy menu plan can be as little as $6.5 per day.”
The research will be presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna, Austria later this week.