While living in a bus is certainly one way to escape the high cost of living, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Fortunately, there’s a more practical solution at hand. We all know that eating more fruits and vegetables is better for our health, but few of us stop to consider the positive impact a healthy lifestyle will have on our bank balance.
The Standard American Diet (SAD)
According to Rip Esselstyn the standard American diet is even sadder than we thought. Let’s break it down to see where our calories are being consumed and then we’ll look at the cost implications.
A paltry 12 percent of calories come from plant-based food (ironically, 6 percent of that is from french fries). A whopping 63 percent is taken up by refined and processed food, with the remaining 25 percent coming from animal-based foods.
In addition to being costly from a health perspective, this way of eating is not doing our pocket book any favors either.
What Does the Average American Family Spend on Food?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer expenditure survey a family of four on a low-cost food plan spends an average of $774 per month on groceries.
The survey looked at four levels of spending: thrifty, low-cost, moderate and liberal. I referenced the second lowest level, because I thought low-cost a more accurate estimate of the average consumer.
It’s important to note, however, that all of these plans serve as a national standard for a nutritious diet. Taking into account the amount of processed food consumed in the SAD breakdown, the above average would likely be higher.
The Blue Zones Diet
Determined to identify the secrets of longevity, National Geographic explorer and author, Dan Buettner, headed to places around the globe where people routinely lived to a healthy old age.
Dan and his team identified five areas where people live the longest and are healthiest: Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan and Nicoya, Costa Rica.
Inhabitants of these Blue Zones routinely manage to avoid many of the diseases that kill Americans. They are also three times more likely to reach the age of 100 and more importantly, they’re still extremely healthy when they get there.
They all share nine common traits, which Dan claims are the key to reverse engineering longevity. The most important of which (for the purpose of this article, anyway) is that they all eat a mostly plant-based diet.
Dan and his team surveyed more than 150 of the world’s oldest people in each of the Blue Zones and distilled the information into 10 simple guidelines.
In stark contrast to the SAD breakdown, the Blue Zones diet is 95 percent plant-based and just 5 percent animal-based. Of this, 65 percent is carbs, 20 percent is fats and 15 percent is protein. This pretty much turns our western high protein/low carb approach on its head.
What Does the Average Blue Zone Family Spend on Food?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has yet to survey the Seventh Day Adventists living in America’s only Blue Zone. However, given that the large majority of them are vegetarian, we can assume from a recent study published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition that they’re more than likely spending less.
The study compared the cost for a 7-day meal plan for an economical version of MyPlate (MP) with a comparable plant-based meal plan (that included olive oil) and found that the plant-based option cost $14 less per week.
Based on those calculations we can roughly estimate that a plant-based family of four will spend in the region of $624 per month on groceries. That’s $150 less per month than our SAD family.
The Proof is in the Plant-Based Pudding
In her 2015 healthy food on a budget experiment, Darshana Thacker determined she could eat well on just $5 a day. Adjusted for the current rate of inflation (2.2 percent), that’s still only $5.22.
In a previous (slightly more hardcore) experiment in 2013, she managed to eat well on just $1.50 per day. While not rich in treats, her diet was nutritionally dense. Which is ultimately all that really matters.
Our family of four is spending roughly $5.50-6.00 per day, so not much more. However, when you factor in that they’re probably eating out occasionally and indulging in processed food and snacks, that number is going to go up.
How to Get Started on the Blue Zones Diet
If the thought of giving up meat, eggs and dairy is too overwhelming, don’t worry. There are ways to get you started on this path and still see you save money.
The Reducetarian Movement came about because while a lot of people are committed to consuming less in the way of meat, eggs and dairy, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of an ‘all-or-nothing’ diet.
Graham Hill hit on a similar concept after finally accepting that as much as he ‘got’ that being vegetarian is better for the planet and the animals, he couldn’t see his way clear to quitting meat completely. His compromise? Become a weekday vegetarian.
If you’re feeling inspired to try this way of eating you’ll find a bunch of tasty recipes on the Blue Zones website. One last thing, Blue Zones people eat until they’re 80 percent full and are vigilant about portion control. Employ these two tactics and you’ll save even more of those hard-earned dollars.