fruit and veg

What is really the healthiest and best value diet?

As we approach winter, the bugs just seem to arrive en masse. Along with the colder weather, we spend much more time in enclosed spaces with other people, many of whom are likely to be carrying different germs. So between work, school and social gatherings, someone in your family may well bring home coughs, colds, stomach bugs and other infections this winter.

The good news is that there are various things that you can do to boost your family’s immune system. One of the most important things is to ensure that you all have a diet that is as healthy and well-balanced as possible. But there are so many contradicting pieces of advice out there that it’s difficult to know what exactly that diet should be.

And of course, another factor when considering a healthy diet is the cost. For example, does a simple traditional diet of “meat and two veg” work out cheaper than a vegetarian or vegan diet? And if you aim to go for a more plant-based diet, does this mean you also need to take supplements as well?

In this article we will explain some general guidelines for a healthy diet and then take a quick look at a few different types of diets and the health and cost implications of each one.


General guidelines for a healthy diet

Whatever type of diet you choose, there is general agreement that you should aim to include some of the main five food groups every day:

  • Fruit and vegetables;
  • Carbohydrates, including potatoes, bread, rice, pasta;
  • Proteins, including beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat;
  • Dairy and alternatives, including yoghurts which contain probiotics;
  • Oils and spreads.


If you keep to these guidelines as far as possible, you will be providing a good mix of vitamins, minerals and nutrients and helping your family to stay healthy.

As well as including the main five food groups, also keep an eye on how much you are eating, as overeating can affect not just your weight but also your overall health. As a general guide, men should keep their calorie intake less than 2500 per day, and women 2000. Calorie recommendations for children vary according to age and gender, so do check on the NHS website for guidance about calorie intake for children and teenagers.

It’s also important to make sure that you are all drinking plenty of fluid. The general recommendation is 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day, which adds up to around 2 litres. The best thing to drink is plain water, because it has no calories or sugars. But sparkling water, squash, low fat milk, tea and coffee are also good alternatives.


The main four types of diet in the UK

There are many different diets but the main four types of diet in the UK are:

  • Omnivore: people eat everything;
  • Pescatarian: people eat fish but not meat;
  • Vegetarian: people do not eat meat or fish;
  • Vegan: people do not eat any animal product.


Within these different diet types, there are also further variations such as:

  • Flexitarian – only eating meat occasionally; or not eating red meat;
  • Ketogenic – high in fat and low in carbohydrate;
  • Low carb – moderate protein and moderate fat;
  • Low calorie – restricting calorie intake, perhaps as part of a recognised weight loss programme.


Let’s take a quick look at the main four types and explore how healthy they are . . . 

  • Omnivore

If you are happy to eat everything, including meat, it is fairly straightforward to get all the food groups every day. Just be careful to avoid processed foods as excessive consumption can lead to various health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. 


  • Pescatarian

Fish is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Additionally fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardine, cod, trout and tinned tuna contain omega-3 which is beneficial for the health of your heart, bones and joints, as well as helping to fight autoimmune diseases.

It could also be argued that following a pescatarian or vegetarian diet can also reduce your carbon footprint because animals such as cows produce methane, which is a contributing factor to climate change as it traps heat in the atmosphere. An estimated 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by meat and dairy farming.


  • Vegetarian

Around 20% of British adults aged 55+ follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. The main difference between these diets is that most vegetarians eat animal products such as eggs and cheese, whereas vegans eat no animal products at all. 

This means that for vegetarians there are plenty of alternative sources of protein available in a vegetarian diet, even though meat and fish are excluded. Examples include eggs, cheese, beans, and pulses such as peas and lentils. 


  • Vegan

Vegans do not eat or use any animal products. A vegan diet can be very healthy, because it avoids processed foods. Plant-based sources of protein include beans, pulses, oats, wild rice, and soybean derivatives such as tofu, tempeh, and edamame.

However, if you follow a vegan diet, you need to ensure that you are getting all the essential vitamins and minerals that you need, including calcium, iodine, selenium and vitamin B12 which are present in meat, dairy and fish. This does not necessarily mean taking supplements if you are careful to include sources of the vitamins and minerals in your vegan diet. For example:

  • Calcium : fortified plant-based milks, soya yoghurt, calcium-set tofu, green leafy vegetables, dried figs, chia seeds and almonds.
  • Iodine : fortified plant-based milks, cereals and grains. 
  • Selenium : brazil nuts.
  • Vitamin B12 : fortified plant-based milk, soya yoghurt, vegan spreads, fortified breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast flakes.


Reading the above, it would appear that with careful planning, and avoidance of processed foods and ready meals, most types of diet can be healthy. Based on this, diet choice is largely down to personal preference.

However, are there significant differences in costs between different types of diet? Let’s take a look.


So what about the costs?

Recent research by Oxford University indicates that if you currently have an omnivore diet and switch to a vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian (reduced meat) diet this could reduce your food bill by up to 33% for vegan and vegetarian, and 14% for flexitarian. However, if you were to switch completely to a pescatarian diet this could increase your food bill by around 2%.

So looking at this, it appears that vegetarian and vegan diets are the cheapest. This finding is endorsed by Miguel Barclay, author of the “One Pound Meals” series of cookbooks. His comment on the research was: “I definitely agree that cutting down your meat, or cutting it out completely, will save you money. I’ve written seven budget cookbooks and have costed up hundreds of recipes, and without doubt vegan and vegetarian meals consistently come in at a much lower price than recipes with meat.”

Even if you do not want to give up meat completely, switching to a flexitarian diet could still result in significant savings. Similarly, if you like the idea of a pescatarian diet, you could consider combining this with a vegetarian or vegan diet for a few days a week, and shopping wisely for fish the rest of the time.


We hope that this article has given you food for thought! Whatever diet you choose, it’s encouraging that savings can be made on food bills whilst still ensuring the vital nutrients needed to keep your family healthy this winter. 

Check back here soon for more lifestyle and financial tips from direct lender Munzee Loans.