Cost is often cited as one of the barriers to eating a healthy diet, especially when it comes to the Mediterranean diet, but does it actually cost more to eat well?
Research conducted in Australia has in fact shown that following a Mediterranean diet does not cost more and can be cheaper than the poor-quality diet that many Australians currently consume . A study by Opie et al assessed whether the Mediterranean diet was affordable for a population with major depressive disorders, as compared to their current unhealthy eating pattern, and showed that the Mediterranean diet was $22 cheaper per week. While the study looked specifically at a population with depression, the authors noted that the poor-quality diet of study participants was likely reflective of dietary habits of the general population in Australia, as most of the population fail to meet the Australian Dietary Guidelines .
Another study conducted by the University of South Australia compared the cost of popular weight loss diets to healthy eating patterns such as the Mediterranean Diet and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, with the Mediterranean Diet coming in as the second cheapest option per week .
International evidence also supports the affordability of the Mediterranean diet. A study conducted by the Miriam Hospital and the Rhode Island Community Food Bank showed that following a mostly plant-based Mediterranean-style diet (the ‘plant-based olive oil diet’) was significantly cheaper than following the USDA recommended ‘MyPlate’ guidelines . The authors suspect this reduction was largely due to the lack of meat in the ‘plant-based olive oil diet’, which can increase costs significantly.
The above study highlights that when considering the cost of an eating pattern, it is important to think about the total diet, not just singular components. While the Mediterranean diet includes foods such as extra virgin olive oil and nuts (which are considered expensive), it also includes large quantities of cheaper foods such as legumes, seasonal produce, and grains such as rice and pasta. Red meat is also only eaten in small quantities in this largely plant-based eating pattern, bringing down the overall cost.
There are many other practical ideas that can reduce the cost of the Mediterranean diet – see below for our top budgeting tips.
1. Eat Seasonally
A traditional Mediterranean Diet consists of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Choosing to buy fresh produce when it is in season is not only cheaper but is often tastier and can be better for the environment
2. Choose frozen and canned options
Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh varieties but can be much more affordable and readily available. The same goes with legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans. These healthy foods can be purchased in cans and are a great way to bulk up a meal for a lower cost. Canned fish such as tuna, sardines and salmon are also great alternatives to the more expensive fresh fillets.
3. Use one cooking oil
Instead of wasting money buying multiple different cooking oils, buy one bottle and use it for everything. Extra virgin olive oil is the key fat source in the Mediterranean diet, and this highly versatile oil can be used for all domestic cooking – from salad dressings through to frying and roasting.
4. Buy in bulk
The Mediterranean Diet lends itself well to buying in bulk. Foods such lentils, legumes and wholegrains can be purchased in large quantities and stored safely, saving money.
5. Utilise leftovers
When cooking, double the recipe and utilise the leftovers for lunch the following day. Meals purchased outside the home can be less healthy as well as expensive so using up leftovers is a simple way to save.
6. Shop the sales
Look out for sales on pantry staples such as extra virgin olive oil. Watch for discounts or sales at your local supermarket and stock up when they occur.
View article references
2. Bracci EL, Milte R, Keogh JB, Murphy KJ. Developing and implementing a new methodology to test the affordability of currently popular weight loss diet meal plans and healthy eating principles. BMC Public Health. 2022; 22 (1): 23.
3. Flynn MM & Schiff AR. Economical Healthy Diets (2012): Including Lean Animal Protein Costs More Than Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil. J Hunger Environ Nutr. 2015; 10 (4): 467-482.