RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A new study by researchers in Spain, published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that the über-healthy Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, fruit, vegetables, legumes and fish, is more expensive than a conventional western diet. We could argue that a Mediterranean diet plan is only more expensive if you don't factor in the costs of health care incurred when you live on the high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie fare that seems so cheap. But everybody's paying closer attention to their budgets these days, so what can you do if you want to eat healthier without a spike in your grocery bill?
Lead researcher in the study, Maira Bes-Rastrollo, PharmD, PhD, from the department of preventative medicine and public health at the University of Navarra’s School of Medicine, admits that eating a Western diet, especially fast food, tends to be cheaper than adhering to a Mediterranean dietary plan. Her advice? "One option to make it more affordable is to purchase seasonal products. Another is to buy food, when possible, directly from producers." So that's one more reason to visit farmer's markets and sign up for a CSA program. How else can you cut costs while eating healthy? Follow these tips from Laura Pensiero, nutritionist/chef and author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean: The Gigi Good Food Cookbook (HarperCollins, 2009).
#1: Bargain-hunt elsewhere, but splurge on extra-virgin olive oil.
According to Pensiero, one main reason the Mediterranean diet plan is more expensive than the conventional Western diet is the difference in price when comparing a flavorful, antioxidant-rich extra-virgin olive oil to a flavorless, refined vegetable oil. Yes, there’s a cost difference here. But in this case it’s definitely worth it, for both taste and nutritional reasons. To get the most flavor bang for your buck, reserve extra-virgin oil for recipes that don't require cooking, such as salads. Use lower-grade olive oil for sautéing or other hot cooking techniques, since the heat will eliminate the subtle flavor of the extra-virgin oil.