Is a vegetarian diet better for you (and cheaper) than eating meat?

This study compares the health benefits (and costs) of vegetarian diets versus eating meat

Plates of vegetables for a vegetarian diet
(Image credit: Eiliv Sonas Aceron/Unsplash)

There's loads of great nutritional value in lots of animal products, especially unprocessed meat. It's a good source of iron and vitamin B, excellent source of protein, and products like oily fish and steak marbled with fat are full of omega-3s and other essential fatty acids. 

However, we are seeing lots of evidence that vegetarian diets are just as good for you. In fact, one study has suggested a vegetarian diet isn't only better for your health – it's also cheaper.

One study, published by the European Association for the Study of Obesity, looked at a healthy US diets that contained meats versus the Mediterranean diet plan and entirely vegetarian diets, for both nutritional quality and cost. The authors looked at a typical two weeks on each diet. 

Results showed that the average nutritional quality scores of all three dietary patterns were similar, with the vegetarian diet scoring 85.3 out of a possible 100. The healthy US diet scored 84.3, while the Mediterranean diet plan scored 82.4. 

However, the vegetarian diet was found to be significantly more affordable than the Mediterranean menu plan, costing around two dollars less than the other plans every day. 

  

Osteoarthritis foods: a diet high in oily fish like the Mediterranean Diet can be beneficial

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Less meat and poultry products were (obviously) included in the vegetarian meal plan, although milk and eggs were still on the table. However, the study authors found the lack of animal products "did not affect nutritional quality and may have contributed to making this the most affordable menu plan."

It's still possible to get your protein elsewhere: dairy products, eggs, soya and tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes all have a very high protein content. In addition, the vegetarian diet permits the use of whey-based protein powders, while plenty of vegan options are also available. 

The end result? If you're thinking of going vegetarian but still want to maintain a healthy diet, don't panic: you won't be deficient in proteins, vitamins or minerals as long as you plan your diet correctly. 

If you're a vegan, even more careful planning is required to ensure you're fulfilling all your nutritional needs. However, it's definitely doable – check out our guide to the health benefits and pitfalls of going vegan to make sure you've got all the right pieces in place. 

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