If you want to live longer and preserve the planet at the same time, multiple studies suggest eating less red meat and packing your plate with more fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. It's true: a diet rich in plant-based foods — and fewer animal-based foods — not only boosts your health but can help the environment, too.
Indeed, earlier this year, the EAT-Lancet Commission laid out recommendations for a global, plant-based food plan that sought to simultaneously improve human health worldwide and double down on environmental sustainability. It seems like a win-win.
There's one problem, though: A November 2019 study published in The Lancet Global Health found that a staggering 1.6 billion people can't afford the commission's proposed universal diet.
So, how can you do your part to protect the planet without wrenching your wallet? Here, Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a Brooklyn-based dietitian and author of Eating in Color: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for You and Your Family, shares five ways to eat plant-based on a dime.
1. Reach for Canned Legumes
Largeman-Roth suggests packing your pantry with affordable beans, which cost around 99 cents per can. Stock up on canned legumes when they're on sale, and just make sure the "best by" date is at least six months out.
"I keep a variety of canned beans and lentils on hand for weeknight meals, especially during the winter when I make soup," she says, adding that "They are an excellent source of plant protein, as well as fiber and other nutrients."
To make your beans even healthier, opt for low-sodium varieties or simply rinse them a few times to reduce their salt content.
2. Stick With Seasonal Veggies
Locally grown seasonal vegetables are generally the cheapest options in the produce section, says Largeman-Roth. That's because, often, out-of-season veggies must be shipped from overseas, so you incur that extra cost when you buy them.
For an even better bargain, buy in bunches. "You can usually find deals when you buy seasonal veggies in larger quantities, such as two pounds of Brussels sprouts for $7 or two bunches of organic carrots for $4."
Worried all that food will spoil? "Even if you're only cooking for one or two people, you can roast the veggies, toss them in a casserole or quiche and freeze them for up to three months in an airtight container," says Largeman-Roth.
3. Favor the Frozen Food Section
For reasonably priced produce, you can't beat the frozen food aisle. Not only are frozen fruits and greens cheaper than the fresh stuff, but they're just as nutritious.
"Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak of ripeness and flash frozen, so the nutrients are sealed in," says Largeman-Roth. Plus, frozen veggies save you a ton of time (especially during busy weeknights), since they come pre-washed and chopped.
The best part for the planet: There's no waste. Use only what you need and store the rest in the freezer.
4. Go for the Generic
Brand names aren't always better. Often, the only difference between a brand-named food item and its generic counterpart is fancy packaging, according to Largeman-Roth.
That's why you shouldn't be hesitant to experiment with less expensive generic alternatives, which can save you big bucks, especially when it comes to whole grains and canned foods.
For example, generic nut butters — which usually cost significantly less — can be just as good as brand name nut spreads as long as they're not loaded with added oils or sugar, says Largeman-Roth. Always check the nutrition label to make sure your spread has one ingredient: nuts. (A bit of salt is OK, too.)
5. Buy in Bulk
If you have room in your pantry, stock up on staples. "You can find dry beans, quinoa, oats and other whole grains in bulk at cheaper prices than the boxed versions," says Largeman-Roth. "Just make sure to transfer these items to airtight containers when you get home and mark them with their purchase date."
According to Largeman-Roth, most whole grains will last for four to six months in the pantry and up to eight months in your freezer. "But if you're buying nuts in bulk, you must store them in the freezer — their high fat content means they can become rancid at room temperature."