(RxWiki News) The Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve health. As it turns out, the diet is also inexpensive and may save you money at the grocery store.
Meat, poultry and seafood are usually the most expensive items bought at the grocery store. For some, these items can take up 50 percent of their food budget.
However, these items are not needed on a daily basis for good health. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are considered good for our health. These foods are all plant-based ingredients.
A recent study found that following a plant-based cooking program, participants spent less money at the grocery store and bought healthier items.
Research participants also lost weight and body fat.
"Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. "
Mary Flynn, PhD, of The Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, and colleagues set out to to see if improved food purchases and decreased money spent at the grocery store could happen if participants were shown how to eat a plant-based diet.
A total of 63 clients were enrolled from emergency food pantries and low-income housing sites and completed the 34-week study. For the study, participants enrolled in six weeks of cooking classes and were followed for six months.
Almost all of the participants were unemployed women (84 percent) with an average age of 51.8 years.
Cooking classes showed participants easy plant-based (no meat) recipes that used olive oil, whole grain pasta, brown rice, fruits and vegetables.
The participants were given a bag of groceries after each cooking class. The groceries had enough ingredients to make three meals for the family that week.
Researchers collected grocery receipts from the participants to look at what food they bought. Participants were also asked about the meals they prepared and how secure they felt about the amount of food they had for their family.
Researchers also measured participants' body mass index (BMI). BMI uses a person's height and weight as a calculation to compare people of varying sizes.
Participants reported using study recipes 2.8 times a week on average. Their intake of different fruits and vegetables significantly improved during the study.
Participants' BMI decreased from 33.3 to 32.9 at the end. An average weight loss of 5 pounds was seen in 49 percent of participants.
Results also showed that participants reported that their food insecurity (fear of not having enough food) decreased during the study. This decrease led to less reliance on the food pantry, from 68 percent visiting the food pantry weekly at the beginning of the study to 54 percent at the end.
Grocery receipts showed that participants bought fewer meats, sodas, desserts and snacks. Participants spent an average of $40 less at the grocery store after completing the study.
"A healthy diet may be perceived as expensive if the focus is on the inclusion of foods such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains. However, by changing the focus to the elimination of foods not needed in order to decrease chronic disease – such as meat, snacks, desserts and carbonated beverages – a healthy diet can be quite economical," the authors wrote in their study.
There were some limitations to the study. Researchers did not collect complete diet intake information at the beginning of the study. Not having this information meant researchers could not determine if making better grocery store purchases led to better dietary intake.
No information was collected on physical activity, which could be related to the participants' improved health. Furthermore, participants may not have given researchers all of their receipts.
This study, titled "A Six-Week Cooking Program of Plant-Based Recipes Improves Food Security, Body Weight, and Food Purchases for Food Pantry Clients," was published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition.
It was funded by a donation from Clare and Jeffery Black and a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island. Dr. Flynn and colleagues disclosed no conflicts of interest.