Does It Really Take Less Than $2 More to Eat Healthy?

Healthy Eating Dollars

I read an article on Fox News that talked about a study published in the British Medical Journal that looked at how much it really costs to eat a “very healthy diet.” The article states:

The greatest price differences were seen in meats and proteins, in which healthy versions of the foods cost about 30 cents more per serving, and 47 cents more per 200 calories, on average, than less healthy versions.

Healthy diets, like the Mediterranean diet, cost $1.48 more per day, or $1.54 more per 2,000 calories, than less healthy diets. When the researchers considered only studies conducted in the United States, the results were similar: healthy diets cost $1.49 more per day, and $1.79 more per 2,000 calories.

The study is open in its entirety (linked above) and I encourage you to read through it.

The researchers looked at six food groups and compared the cost of unhealthy and healthy food in each group. On average, they found that it costs less than $2 a day to eat a healthier diet such as the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and 100 percent whole grains.

Healthy Food Costs Do Add Up

At first I thought, “Well, $1.79 a day isn’t that much,” but then I realized that would be a yearly increase of $653 a year for one person and almost $6,000 a year more for a family of nine like I feed. I’m sure this study cannot be absolutely accurate for every area of the country but it’s a good starting place.

From what I could tell of the study they were not looking at organic versus non-organic foods. Instead they were comparing processed foods to healthier options such as 100 percent fruit juice to sugar-filled juice, etc. If they had made organic foods a component of their study I feel sure the difference would have been even higher.

Is the cost of eating a healthy diet worth the sacrifice you may have to make in other areas? For us it is. But honestly, I’m not sure that it costs us more to eat healthier food (excluding organic) than it would if I were buying a lot of processed junk.

Homemade Saves Money

Case in point. If I make oatmeal for seven of us, it costs me about $3 including the oats, fruit, and honey for sweetening. Two small boxes of sugar-filled cereal would cost me about $5. Two boxes may seem like a lot, but when you are feeding five boys – it’s not much at all. :) That’s just one meal. If I were to feed all five school-aged kids Lunchables which cost about $1.49 each, that’s $7.45 for one lunch. I can easily feed all five boys a well-balanced lunch for less than $5.

The light and fluffy pancakes I make with freshly ground whole wheat flour cost less than the cereal as well, and everyone stays full until lunch time. Making my own bread for sandwiches saves money as does buying in bulk.

But the biggest ways I save money on food is by not going out to eat, not buying prepackaged meals that cost a fortune per serving, and cooking almost everything from scratch, including soups like cream of mushroom soup.

Healthy Eating Goes Beyond Money

The cost of eating a healthier diet could be offset by a reduction in health problems, according to the study. I think this makes a lot of sense. If you eat a healthier diet and avoid having to be treated for diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. you save money on medications and doctor visits. I don’t know how your health insurance is, but even with “good” insurance, it costs us quite a bit for prescriptions and doctor visits.

Healthy eating may cost more on the front end, but over time, those extra dollars a day can save you and your family money in reduced medical costs. It’s worth it to me to make sacrifices in other areas to do my best to feed my family and myself the healthiest diet I can afford. For us, it’s not always organic, but it is almost always wholesome foods that I make myself.

What do you think? Does the extra cost pay itself back later in better health and do you sacrifice in other areas to make better food choices? Diane

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Comments

  1. I think I live in a bad area of the country to gauge this, but up here in Vermont I can feed my family for 50% less on processed/prepackaged foods compared with making my own in a lot of cases – and those processed foods are still more expensive than most places too. I make most of our meals myself anyway, but the cost is simply ridiculous. (Lunchables are only $1.49 there? They’re $3.50 here! And $4.29 for a dozen eggs for a more staple-example? We LIVE in farm-central, for crying out loud!) And organic? Forget it, I can’t afford it. I stalk the sales, and buy more when I can, but our meals are completely dictated by what’s on sale that’s healthier than the alternative. I also try to buy certain things in bulk (like oats) from the natural foods stores, because those sorts of things usually are cheaper there.

    Homemade still saves me some money in a lot of cases, depending on what I’m baking, and it certainly saves when compared with eating out (which we hardly ever do.) I think the yield is higher for the cost, but when you only have four in the family – if it can’t be frozen, sometimes it costs more to make it myself than to buy something prepackaged.
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  2. Eating the best food we can afford is really important to me, and I do spend less in other areas. We rarely go out to eat and never get coffee, etc. We also eat not very much meat, but when we do, I buy grass-fed beef and organic chicken. Meal planning (so that there is no waste) and making as much as possible from scratch certainly helps. but good food is expensive. But in the end I think doing all I can to maximize our chances that we stay healthy is worth it.
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  3. I think I leave this same comment each time I read a cost comparison post:
    One of the biggest areas for savings is WATER.

    Eliminating soda/pop, ice cream sundaes disguised to look like coffee, juices, etc either homemade or restaurant ready, is a major savings of money and calories.

  4. Well, if you start eating LESS, and eating AT HOME instead of you, you will save a lot of money. Oh, and grow your own food. :-) That’s cheap.

  5. I suppose if I chose to eat the generic breakfast cereals, mac ‘n’ cheese cheap boxes, and top ramen noodles instead of fresh fruit and vegetables with real meats, that I would save quite a bit financially at the register. Would I enjoy the same level of health I am currently experiencing? With the same energy levels? Very Doubtful.
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  6. Debra Davis says:

    If you are working a couple of jobs cooking from scratch would be a luxury not many could afford. Many people don’t have ready access to fresh food.

  7. There’s also the issue of how much money you save by not buying the other things you’ve mentioned buying when you were struggling with your weight: bags of candy and fast food. :-( I know it’s a sensitive subject to bring up, and I don’t want to sound callous to anyone reading this, but I never see these cost comparisons really compare the cost of a healthy diet with whatever the person is eating habitually now. Grain-fed beef may be pricier than hormone-fed beef, but there is no way it is more expensive than two stops in a fast food drive-through, a pint of ice cream eaten on the sly, and a bag of leftover Halloween candy. Weight management is at its heart about consuming LESS. It bothers me that modern Americans have managed to convince themselves that it costs more to consume less somehow. It’s like we’re afraid of not consuming things, like we fear that we’ll disappear if we’re not spending money 24/7. :-(

  8. It might cost a bit more to eat healthy, but if you ask me, it’s worth the price. Think about the diseases you’d get down the road if you ate junk all the time, and how much it would cost to treat them.
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  9. I like to think that my hefty grocery bills thanks to buying healthy foods, will pay me back later in life, however, this has yet to be determined! Ask me again in 50 years, LOL! ;)

    That being said, my diet makes me feel amazing, so at least I have that going for me!
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  10. I have little doubt that eating healthy costs more for the calories. There are many ways to lessen the burden, but they take planning, education, and work. Of course it’s worth it in the long run, but it will not be easy, something that disappoints me very much about our food industry.

    • I agree with you totally and I find it very sad. I would also add in order to cook good food, you need a home with utilities, access to a grocery store that sells good food, a little time and fairly decent mental health. I mean, who can soak and cook dried beans when they’re depressed or otherwise not motivated to get off the couch. Also it can be tough if you’re working multiple jobs, terrible hours, etc. I’m very fortunate indeed, but my diet can go to h*** in a hand basket when I’m working a string of 12 hour overnight shifts and can’t sleep during the day. Nothing sounds good, my appetite is terrible and I’m too exhausted to cook. And I’m highly educated and relatively affluent – not everyone is so fortunate.

  11. I’m a big believer in the concept that everything in life is a trade off. I’m willing to trade off the health benefits I gain from eating less processed, for the money it costs to obtain fresh fruits and veggies. The advantages to my health gained by stepping away from processed foods are great. I heal more quickly, I get sick less often, I have more energy, and I sleep better at night, plus I don’t have to fight the cravings for simple sugars all day long. Eating less processed is a win/win for me. It does take longer to prepare meals and it does cost a little more, but as you said here, I’m not spending our hard-earned dollars on chips, fries, and cookies, like we once did. And eating out has been wheedled down to a minimum as well. Eating this way if the only way I have found to lose weight and keep it off.

  12. I think my problem isn’t so much the cost but convenience – I’m all about anything that is easy and convenient!
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