Life Wellbeing Healthy eating done cheap: University team cracks the formula
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Healthy eating done cheap: University team cracks the formula

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It has been billed as the diet that will keep humans and the planet healthy. Now, Australian researchers have shown it’s affordable, too.

The planetary health diet could save the typical Aussie family (two adults, two children) $1800 a year, Deakin University researchers say.

“There is often a perception that eating a healthy diet that is also good for the environment is unachievable, partly because it will cost more,” research lead Tara Goulding said.

“This study shows that Australians can be confident that it is more affordable to eat a healthy diet that supports the planet, compared to what they might typically eat.”

As well as feeding people healthily, the planetary diet considers the health of the environment, which isn’t faring so well under our current eating regime. Photo: Getty

I’m a planetarian

The planetary health diet came to us in January 2019, and was touted as a science-backed diet that would feed billions of people, prevent millions of (health-related) deaths and avert growing environmental destruction.

At its core are fresh, minimally processed foods – plus halving red meat consumption while doubling the intake of fruit and veg.

Sugar gets kicked to the kerb, without saying.

The planetary diet doesn’t look too dissimilar from the famed Mediterranean way of eating. Photo: Getty

Alongside fresh food are pulses, nuts and legumes, and there is small amounts of animal products allowed – about one beef burger and two serves of fish a week, a bit of dairy a day and two eggs a week.

When released, it was also tailored for each country’s environmental strengths and weaknesses, plus the population’s health needs.

Hit the shops

In the age of activated almonds and superfoods, “healthy diets” often get lumped into the too-expensive basket.

To show this isn’t always the case, Ms Goulding and her team devised a shopping list that would feed the aforementioned household, plus tick all the boxes for the diet.

Armed with their shopping lists they headed online to stack virtual baskets at Coles supermarkets in various states, to account for price discrepancies.

They did the same with shopping lists that reflect the “typical Australian diet”.

To make sure both baskets were evenly scaled, the cheapest version of every item was chosen.

They costed out each basket, and then crossed them against the average wage per socioeconomic area.

The bottom line

Ms Goulding’s results showed low socioeconomic households had to spend 17 per cent of their income (on average) to buy the planetary diet basket, but 21 per cent to eat like a typical Aussie.

For higher socioeconomic households, it was 11 per cent for the planetary diet and 11 per cent for the typical diet.

The research just compiled a costing from supermarkets – they note the overall cost could be even cheaper if people shopped in bulk. Photo: Getty

In dollar terms, the planetary basket cost an average of $189.20 a week, compared to $224.66.

“We really hope these results will convince shoppers that making healthier and more sustainable choices at the supermarket will not blow their food budget,” Ms Goulding said.

The authors did acknowledge the planetary diet, because of its reliance on fresh and whole foods, does involve more preparation time and to some extent, cooking skills.

It also did not factor in dietary requirements that might force some shoppers to reacher for more expensive items.