Does Healthy Really Cost More?

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • There’s a theory that one of the reasons obesity rates are soaring is because healthy food costs more than fast food and many processed foods.  Belonging to a gym also costs money; so does a yearly visit to a doctor for a wellness check up.  Hence the position of some people who maintain that being healthy is costly.  But is that a theory or is it a fact?


    In May of this year Andrea Carlson and Elizabeth Frazao issued a report to the USDA that specifically examined costs of food.  They compared prices of healthy and less healthy foods, using price metrics including the price of food energy (cost/calorie), the price of edible weight (cost/100 edible grams) and price of an average portion of the food (cost/average portion).  Carlson and Frazao also looked at the cost of meeting daily nutrition recommendations from each of the food groups.  Except for food energy, the authors found that healthy foods actually cost less than less healthy foods.  And they defined less healthy foods as “foods high in saturated fat, high in added sugar and sodium or any food that contributes very little to meeting daily dietary requirements and recommendations. 

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    Let’s also look at healthcare costs associated with “living large.”  Though some individuals seem to have natural or let’s call it genetic protection that limits health consequences typically associated with being overweight or obese, most people who chronically carry significant amounts of extra weight will have a range of ailments that develop including heart disease, diabetes, cancers, arthritis, just to name a few.  The healthcare costs associated with these ailments will by far exceed the daily costs of healthier food – if you don’t believe the metrics I provided in the previous paragraph.  Most people won’t acknowledge these healthcare costs because they take time to accumulate, so they are not immediate concerns.  And we somehow perceive daily costs in our lives as more important than down-the-road healthcare costs.


    If I can’t convince you that healthy food can be had for less money than you think, then consider checking out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) healthy shopping guide called “Good Food on a Tight Budget.”  The shopping list focuses on best buys for lower income households – though we can ALL benefit from the information.  These best buys offer a huge nutrition punch for the lowest cost.  The list also takes each food group (there are six) and suggests cooking and shopping tips, recipes, meal planner outlines and a price tracker for each one.  Some of the foods that make the best buy list include: bananas, watermelon (in season), broccoli, raisins, romaine lettuce, barley, tuna in the can, lentils and beans, eggs, turkey (it’s often on sale), and cottage cheese.  The program also weeds out foods that contain a lot of pesticides and those whose production creates excess greenhouse gases.


    Of course, buying in bulk and then breaking it down into individual portions, buying dried beans and cooking them (cheaper than canned), making your own cooking spray “misters,” and swapping out cream in recipes for low fat yogurt can also help to lower daily food costs.  The creators of this particular budget approach took into account the current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) which allows for a budget of five to six dollars a day per person.  Healthy food can be affordable.  The authors do however point out, that giving up a fast food habit can be daunting.  Those cheap foods are palate-pleasers because of their high sodium/sugar/fat ingredients.  So it may be a food addiction rather than a budget concern that is fueling our reticence to swap for healthier fare.

Published On: October 03, 2012