Eating Healthy Is Cheaper Than You Think

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The smart people at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have crunched the numbers and it’s official: the healthiest diets cost just $1.50 more than unhealthy diets.

While cost is an issue in when it comes to adding more fresh produce and leaner meats such as fish in your daily diet, researchers of a new study published in the BMJ say that few studies have actually evaluated how much more expensive a healthier diet might be.

So the HSPH team conducted a meta-analysis of 27 studies from 10 higher income countries that compared price points for healthy and less healthy diets. They studied the price differences per serving and per 200 calories for a variety of specific foods, as well as prices per day and per 2,000 calories, which is the average daily recommended caloric intake for U.S. adults.

The results confirm that healthier fare, like fruits, veggies and fish are more expensive than unhealthy foods like processed meals and snacks and refined grains. That’s because current food policies support inexpensive but high volume production, and favor easily manufactured and processed foods that provide more profit per unit for the food industry.

However, swapping out some of these less expensive, and less healthy foods, for fresher and more nutritious ones added up to only about $1.50 more per day.

That might not be a problem for some, but the study authors acknowledge that people with lower incomes may not be able to afford the added cost. But, they hope, the small difference may put more nutritious foods within reach of more people, if food programs aren’t as deterred by the perceived high cost of eating better. “While healthier diets did cost more, the difference was smaller than many people might have expected. Over the course of a year, $1.50 [per] day more for eating a healthy diet would increase food costs for one person by about $550 per year. This would represent a real burden for some families, and we need policies to help offset these costs,” said senior study author Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor at HSPH and Harvard Medical School.

Ultimately, however, the researchers suggest that production systems that make healthy foods more economical to produce, and therefore are more in line with processed food prices, are necessary. That way, healthier foods may become more accessible, health care costs for chronic diseases related to poor diets may also start to drop.

16 comments
JordynRandall1
JordynRandall1

I believe that the healthier foods should be cheaper so people who with lower income can afford it. I feel this will also help the obesity rate lower.

tommy_kaira
tommy_kaira

The research totally misses a vital point though, that fact that healthy food generally takes more time to make, in a time where people spend more and more time working. Time is money too.

georgealexander817
georgealexander817

I totally agree with you that lower income people will not be able to spend more on nutritious foods. According to me, the healthier foods should be made cheaper so that the lower income people can too afford it.

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sbansch09
sbansch09

you need to read the book "Wildly Affordable Organic" by Linda Watson. She did a test on eating with a food budget equal to the amount you would receive on food stamps. She proves that it can be done if you plan your meals and cook at home. Very healthy too!

leafygirl
leafygirl

sorry eating healthy is less expensive--and for those who say "they cannot afford it"-they seem to have money for fancy cell phones and cable TV. HUMMMM


MonicaKlausner
MonicaKlausner

Eating Healthy IS cheaper than you think! How much money do you spend on lunch or dinner when you go out?  How about having some healthy, plant-based, organic meals in the freezer?  http://www.veestro.com offers a huge selection of plant-based preservative-free and delicious meals for less than you would spend at a restaurant!  and best of all, they're delivered straight to your door FROZEN, so you keep them in the freezer for those times when you're just too tired or too busy to cook!.  Check out the sampler pack http://www.veestro.com/the-sampler-feast.html (12 meals for $99 AND dessert! that's $8.25 per meal!!) 

CynthiaBaileyMD
CynthiaBaileyMD

In my experience it's not more expensive to eat a healthy diet, it does take retraining and advanced planning though. You have to premeditate your meals and snack foods because they are not as readily available as are the "fast" foods.  For years I've eaten leftovers from last night's healthy dinner for lunch, snacked on cut-up fruit and veggies and nuts.  I've also retrained myself not to crave sugars, refined carbs and trans-fats by simply not having them.  Yes they are tasty but then that's all I want to eat over and over again.


Look at the foods with ad budgets and that are placed in the middle of the grocery store shelves.  Those are the most profitable, meaning you are paying for that profit. That's not food budget money well spent in my opinion. I buy the fresh veggies and fruit, dried beans and brown rice or other whole grains and these are cheap, filling and healthy.  I spurge on organic dairy and meats in small quantities because that's the best diet for health and appearance http://www.drbaileyskincare.com/blog/top-3-tips-for-gorgeous-healthy-skin-in-2013/ and those are more important to me than having "fast food".  I also really don't like the feeling of being hooked on sugar, refined carbs and the flavor of trans-fats so I just entirely quite them cold turkey.  It's so much easier,  and I believe it's cheaper.    

lcsw33838
lcsw33838

Even making small changes, we have a large family and a tight budget, for example everyone complains how high fresh fruit is? frozen fruit with no added sugar is not expensive, makes a great dessert, frozen vegetables are a staple for us as well off season. We eat less meat also, and that saves money.

I work in health care and the Nutritionists I work with tell me frozen is just about as healthy as fresh and it is definitely more healthy, than cake, pie, ice cream, etc.

People who say they cannot do it, normally do not want to do it and/or let their kids tell them what they will and won't eat, ours are not obese and if they don't like it, they don't eat, no one has died of starvation yet.

Angie_Joy
Angie_Joy

I used to feel good about keeping processed foods out of my diet but now I'm finding that I'm always researching to filter out GMO's and hidden chemicals used in organic growing.  It used to be a lot more fun and exciting to plan a meal 2 or 3 decades ago; in the days before I started caring enough to check what was going into my body. 

spring
spring

This study doesn't take into account added time that needs to be spent preparing healthy foods. Baking your own bread is cheap and healthy, but takes a lot of time. It would be interesting to see how much more time is required to make the healthy, vs unhealthy foods. Some people on lower incomes, who cannot afford much help with childcare, etc, end up very time-poor, and can make unhealthy diet decisions as a consequence.

CreativeFrugalH
CreativeFrugalH

Eating healthy does not have to be expensive. Get grains and groats as well as beans or lentils, add some veggies and you have a great, unprocessed, nutritious meal (learn how to prepare it here http://creativefrugalhealthy.com/). Buy some whole wheat or spelt flour and bake your own bread - it is much more filling and nutrient-dense that the supermarket spongy junk people know as bread. Eating a healthy, unprocessed vegan foods is very cost-effective because it is more satiating, more nutritious, and will reduce your health care expenditure in the future.

wangyutzu
wangyutzu

We all know eating health food is good to your body, but we also know unhealthy food would taste better. The health food do cost more, and some family might not be willing to spent so much money on that,But the whole "not eating health food" problem is not only the price, it is that people just do not have the luxury waste on every day meals. Sometimes we just too busy to eat or cook, so fast food or instant food are our best choice. Therefore If the government want to change people`s eating habits, the price might not be the only problem. There are many people can actually afford healthier food, but they ignore the warning to chose processed food just because eating that will feel happier. So considering chronic diseases are mostly due to unhealthy food,therefore it seem that in the long shot the health food is not cost that much, with this, I still doubt people will say goodbye to fast food.   

theirmind
theirmind

Maybe! In a majority of the food market rumors, especially Taiwan ......