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Plant-based diet shift could save £7.5 billion

Wider implementation of plant-based eating could save the UK billions in reduced healthcare costs.

Researchers at the University of Ghent assessed the health and economic consequences of a soy-containing diet and the Mediterranean diet. The former is rich in soy protein, whilst the latter is defined by large amounts of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and seafood. Both involve low intakes of meat.

The experts calculated that if 10% of the UK population committed to a Mediterranean-style diet, it could save £7.5 billion over 20 years. The savings would be direct (for example reduced healthcare costs) and indirect (reduced sickness and absenteeism). A similar shift to higher consumption of soy would save £10.9 billion.

The research, published in the Journal of Nutrition, demonstrates that increasing plant-based eating is “cost-effective, reduces economic costs, such as hospital admissions and doctors’ bills, as well as increasing the number of healthy years people live, and enabling them to continue working”, said Lieven Annemans, professor of health economics at Ghent University, and lead author of the paper. “Our study has the potential to contribute to the way healthy eating is promoted,” he added.

A November 2017 report from the Sustainable Food Trust found that for every £1 UK citizens spend on food, another £1 is incurred in additional costs to society. These can take the form of greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation, or the cost of treating diet-related ill health – costs that are not paid by food businesses nor passed on to the consumer at the till.