The Mediterranean Diet - Detail - ©

Mea Culpa: Healthy Diet Cost Differential A Mirage?

I’ve constantly harped about the cost of a ‘healthy’ diet like the Mediterranean, or the recommendations of the major national Eating Guides. Now it appears I was wrong. An Australian team says the Med is actually less expansive to eat…

Med diet Ingredients - © everydayhealth.comYes, you can afford these scrumptious, healthy foods –
with a little forethought and a little extra effort…

The mirage effect

“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. The challenge, however, has been for people to adopt these in Australia and one of the greatest barriers is perceived cost,” The study preamble says.

“The Mediterranean diet encourages eating fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, seeds and seafood, and there is a view that these foods are more expensive. And with cost of living [already] being so high in Australia, it’s no surprise that people are being careful about where their hard-earned dollars go.”

What they did

A team of Australian researchers wanted to compare the actual cost to follow the Mediterranean Diet or the latest version of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, with the average cost of the typical western diet an Australian family consumes each week.

Also, the team also wanted to compare ‘bang for the buck’ of all three eating regimes, by comparing the nutrition profile of all three.

What they found

Content comparison

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends that a balanced, healthy diet comprises five food groups: fruit, vegetables and legumes, breads and cereals, dairy foods, and meat (and alternatives). The average Aussie is way off that target.

Comparing the nutrition content of the three eating regimes, the study discovered that, “Only 8 percent of Australians eat the recommended 375 g of vegetables per day, with the average Australian consuming up to 35 percent of their daily energy from foods high in salt, added sugars and unhealthy fat.”

Cost comparison

Left to their own devices, most average shoppers will probably find that following the so-called healthier eating regimes is more costly than following their accustomed high-processed-food diets. But the researchers say that’s need not be so.

Associate Professor Karen Murphy says healthy food shopping is more affordable than some may expect. “Eating a balanced healthy diet doesn’t have to break the bank, but eating unhealthy food can damage your body. ‘Whether you prefer to follow the Australian Guidelines for Healthy Eating or the Mediterranean diet, both provide the necessary nutrients and energy, but as [our] study shows, the Mediterranean diet is generally less expensive.”

How to make healthy ends meet

Believe it or not, a thoughtfully-sourced healthy diet can save a family of four $28 per week (or $1,456 per year) compared to the typical Western diet.

“As with anything, shopping around, looking out for specials and mark-downs, purchasing in season, or stocking up on frozen, dried, and canned produce, can help reduce the costs of your weekly grocery shop. As can choosing home-brand or non-premium products,” Murphy notes. “A $28 dollar saving may not seem like much a week, but over a year this is nearly $1500, which can make all the difference to your budget when times are tough.”

My take

I agree with Murphy. On balance, I can see how the average person can make a healthy eating program work cost-wise. Just for fun, I went down the list of stuff I by regularly (whether frequently or infrequently), and I can see how relying on frozen produce and scouting the specials can save considerable money over a year. One drawback I see, though, is that the specials (what’s available at an attractive p0rice one week to the next) may come to dictate my menus over time. A small price to pay for better nutrition and, collaterally, better health? That’s for each of us to decide for themself.

Making Murphy’s recommendations work will require an expanded commitment to shopping the specials and keeping tract of that you have in the house so as to avoid costly duplicate buying. Also, expanded panty and freezer space may help you follow the shopping recommendations proposed by the team.

Anyway… I recogise the error of my ways. I will henceforth stop hammering on the ‘excessive cost’ of a healthy diet and focus more on how to make healthy eating practices work within the circumstances, such as they may be, now and in the future…


~ Maggie J.