Is Eating Healthy More Expensive?

We all know that junk food is bad for our bodies. But are healthier food options equally bad for our wallets? It’s no secret that foods that are grown locally and are organic have a heavier price tag, but recent studies have put a definitive number on that difference in price.

Researchers at the University of Washington completed a study of over 1,100 people in the Seattle area to find out how much it would cost Americans to meet newly released dietary guidelines. The guidelines challenged Americans to cut down on their calorie intake from sugar and saturated fat, and up their intake of vitamin D, potassium, fiber, and calcium.

The study found that those who made an effort to buy more nutrient-rich foods spent an average of $380 per year more than those who bought foods with more saturated fat and sugar. However, the study also showed that even those who bought nutrient-rich foods still didn’t reach the recommended amounts of many nutrients, although they were closer. People who spent twice as much on groceries as the low-end spenders didn’t even reach the recommendations.

So what would it take to reach the government’s recommendations? The study showed, based on grocery prices in the Seattle area, that Americans would have to spend $1,030 more than they do to reach all of those levels. It was also found that adding sugar and saturated fat to the diet actually decreases costs, making the gap even larger between healthy and unhealthy eating costs.

Researchers did admit, however, that the study isn’t without its flaws. For instance, Seattle is one the wealthiest and most educated cities in America. Thus, the researchers say, the people of Seattle are more likely to spend more on locally grow, organic, and sustainable produce than people elsewhere in the country. The cost of living in Seattle is also above the national average, meaning people may be spending more on groceries regardless of the quality of the food they purchase.

The biggest disparity in what the government recommended and what most people actually eat is in potassium, says Pablo Monsivais, PhD, who took part in the research. “Some fruits and vegetables provide a lot of bang for your buck,” he said, referring to potatoes and bananas. “Leaning more on those kinds of foods is a good way to increase your intake of potassium without having such a big impact on your overall food budget.”

Jay Druba

Jay Druba is a student at Franklin College in Indiana where he studies broadcast journalism and public relations. Jay is a lifelong runner and enjoys keeping up with the latest news in health and fitness.

7 thoughts on “Is Eating Healthy More Expensive?

  • August 22, 2011 at 3:33 am

    I am sure that healthy eating is much cheaper. Half the problem with processed food is that everything is expensive. You pay for the packaging, the marketing, the transportation. Go to a local green grocer or farm shop and everything is simpler and cheaper. A sack of vegetables will last several weeks and costs about the same as junk food.

  • August 21, 2011 at 11:25 am

    This does not surprise me at all. I’ve long suspected that the short term costs of eating healthy, in terms of finances, cost more than eating “processed” food. However, it is a bit cheaper still than eating out all the time and in the long run, if you have better health through eating healthy foods, I can see how it would save on medical bills down the road. I may not be the healthiest eater now, but I am working to improve what I eat.

  • August 21, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Yes in the short term, it is more expensive to eat healthier. Then again, thinking about the long term benefits and the good that nutritious food is doing for your body, and I reckon its actually cheaper!

  • August 18, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    I don’t need a study to answer this question. I shop every week for a family of six and eating healthy most certainly costs more especially if you also try to buy certain (not even all) products organic.

    Store brand chicken breasts $1.99/lb on sale…organic chicken breasts $8.99/lb.

    Tuna and salmon steaks $7.99/lb to $13.00/lb.

    Organic raspberries $4-6.00/6 oz serving. Bag of cookies $3.00 dollars.

    Organic Milk $6.00/gallon vs regular $3.00/gallon.

    Nuts $7-8.00/lb, bag of chips $2-3.00.

    I could go on. Fruits and veggies don’t cost a lot per item when compared to junk food but they cost significantly more per calorie. My kids are small 3-8…they don’t eat that much. We spend on average over 250-300 dollars a week on food..that’s over 13,000-15,000 dollars per year on food and that is with being a super bargain shopper and doesn’t include meals eaten outside the home. There are also times, I do without or buy the non-organic alternative because it is just too expensive. Unfortunately most quality food products cost more.

    Still there are ways to save…stock up when things go on sale, buy fruits and veggies locally when possible, buy organic fruits and veggies frozen as they are often cheaper, limit organic purchases to foods on the dirty dozen list, buy seasonal items as they are often cheaper, etc, etc.

    I personally think it is important to acknowledge that good food costs more. Once we accept this fact, maybe we can do something to make it more affordable.

  • August 18, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    I think eating healthy may not necessarily expensive. If one plan properly it can be managed with same cost as that of normal food. But not planning well may cost higher.

  • August 18, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I think if you can demonstrate to consumers that they could spend approx $35 more per month to buy more nutrient rich food and thus improve their health then you can convince enough people to do that without breaking the bank. After all, that’s just over $1.00 per day! As the blog post suggests, you can still get a lot of good nutrients from fruit and veg which doesn’t necessarily skyrocket your grocery bill each month. With proper planning and education, coupled with smart shopping I think we can all eat better and not make it a price issue as a reason not to do so.

  • August 18, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Given a choice between cutting down on food expenses and aiming for a healthy lifestyle, I’d choose the latter any time. I’m a firm believer that what you save on grocery bills you’ll eventually make up for in hospital bills later. That said, I’ll never trade organic fruits and veggies for cheap, processed food.


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