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Is a plant-based diet more expensive?

Is a plant-based diet more expensive?
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Plant-based diets are good for the environment, but do they cost more money? Although plant-based foods are widely available, they can be pricey. We discover whether it’s possible to enjoy a plant-based diet for less.

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What is a plant-based diet?

‘Plant-based’ is not the same as ‘vegan’. There are a couple of crucial differences which can make a plant-based diet a more viable and economical option.

Strict vegans will not consume or use any animal products at all. A plant-based menu can include some animal products, but the majority of the foods should be derived from plants.

According to vegans, it is never acceptable to exploit animals, birds, fish, or even insects. Plant-based diets avoid animal products as far as possible for a wider range of reasons. Maintaining health and protecting the environment are priorities. Therefore, by being flexitarian (mostly vegan), it is not necessary to pay the vegan premium.

High-priced and imported plant foods, like tempeh and quinoa, are not compulsory on a plant-based meal plan. Flexitarians can simply reduce their consumption of animal products without spending a fortune, and save money. Plant-based diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, have been around for a very long time. 

Is vegan protein affordable?

‘Where do you get your protein?’ is a question that sparks endless controversy over the health and cost implications of plant-based diets.

Is vegan protein cheaper than meat? The answer is yes, sometimes. 

More and more vegan ‘meats’ are available in supermarkets as alternatives to processed meat products. These include vegan sausages, pies, burgers, and bacon.

Any processed food is not particularly good for you, but processed animal products are often sold for less than their vegetarian or vegan equivalent. So the most widely available, and merchandised, plant-based protein is generally more expensive. 

Why choose veggie if the traditional product costs less? Many people buy vegan and vegetarian convenience foods just to cater for the lone vegetarian at the dinner table or barbecue. If you are feeding an entirely plant-based family, it pays to look beyond Linda McCartney sausages and Quorn.

Are there plant-based dairy options?

Non-dairy milk, cheese, and yoghurt are definitely more expensive. In some cases, they cost twice as much. Some of it is not very appealing at all to committed omnivores, particularly the ‘cheeses’. Again, these products are processed food. That said, Applewood Vegan Slices are worth a try.

Consumption of dairy, or its fake substitutes, can be reduced by drinking tea without milk, swapping cheese for hummus, and eating fruit for dessert. There are many other sources of plant-based calcium.

Look for supermarket own brand plant-based milk if you want to make an affordable latte. Frugal vegans advocate making your own plant-based milk – the vegan equivalent of milking your own cow.

As vegan options are more in demand, more competition and investment are beginning to bring the prices of packaged foods down.

Healthy and cheap vegan options: what can you eat?

In the past, only the wealthy could afford to eat meat. The lower classes rarely had the opportunity to enjoy it. The mass production of meat, through factory farming, has reversed this. Today, you can buy a whole chicken for less than £3.

It’s easy to see why plant-based diets may appear costly, but buying healthy vegan options, instead of meat or fish, can save a lot of money at the checkout. For example:

  • Bolognese, or a bowl of chilli, is cheaper made with lentils than with beef, processed soya or Quorn.
  • Vegetable-based soups, stews, and casseroles cost very little, with a can of beans added for protein.
  • High-nutrition whole grains, as an accompaniment to veg, allow vegans to leave out the meat or fish.

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How can you save money on a plant-based diet? 

It’s difficult to gain any benefit from a plant-based diet without putting a wide variety of plants in your trolley. As both vegetarians and meat-eaters know, supermarket fresh fruit and veg often costs more than crisps and biscuits.

Still, opting for a nutritious plant-based diet can be a great way to survive on a low income, if you limit the amount of fresh produce bought from less budget-friendly supermarkets.

  • Opt for frozen or canned fruit and veg, where possible.
  • If buying fresh fruit and veg, stick to what is in season.
  • Buy from traditional greengrocers and markets.
  • Grow your own.

Where should you start?

There are plenty of plant-based resources online, with ideas for affordable plant-based meal plans and recipes. 

To explore local plant-based dining, pop your postcode into HappyCow.

It is vital that vegans supplement with Vitamin B12, and ensure sufficient intake of Vitamin D and other nutrients.

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