FoodFacts.com has always heard consumers claim that healthy diets are much more expensive than diets consisting of processed and fast foods. We’ve always held to the idea that this isn’t necessarily a true statement. Fresh, whole foods aren’t necessarily going to break the budget bank for most people. And frankly that box of Hamburger Helper with five servings probably won’t leave leftovers in your refrigerator. But if you purchased a pound of ground beef, a bag of pasta, mushrooms, carrots and sour cream and followed a few simple directions, you’ll have actual stroganoff with enough leftovers for lunch the next day.
Fresh, whole foods help us in so many ways. They help us fight the obesity crisis and provide us the necessary nutrients that keep our bodies healthy, reducing the risk of any number of diseases and conditions.
Just how much more expensive is it for us to maintain a healthy diet?
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have placed the additional cost at $1.50 more than it would be without an emphasis on healthy eating. They reviewed 27 different studies on the cost of healthy foods vs. unhealthy foods and were able to estimate the daily cost of a healthier diet.
“Conventional wisdom has been that healthier foods cost more, but it’s never been clear if that’s actually true or exactly how much more healthier foods might cost,” said lead study author Mayuree Rao. “We found that the healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day, and that’s less than we might have expected.”
Rao and her team looked at studies done after 2000 that compared healthy and unhealthy version of certain foods – for example, lean beef vs. a fattier cut, and studies that compared healthy and unhealthy diet patterns, such as a diet rich in fruits and vegetables versus a diet without fresh produce.
The studies they analyzed came from 10 countries, including the United States, Canada and several European nations. The food prices were converted to international dollars and adjusted for inflation.
The researchers evaluated the prices based on a specific food’s price per serving, as well as the price per 200 calories of that food item. They evaluated the diet patterns based on the price per day (three meals’ worth) and the price per 2,000 calories – the FDA’s standard daily intake recommendation for adults. This ensured the researchers were looking at the price variations from all angles.
Some food groups showed more of a difference in price than others. Meat had the highest price difference; healthier versions cost 29 cents more per serving on average than the less healthy option. Grains, snacks and dairy, on the other hand, showed minimal price differences between healthier and unhealthier versions.
On a broader scope, the healthiest diets appear to cost consumers about $1.50 more per day than the unhealthiest diets. This means consumers who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, for example, pay about $1.50 more per day than those who eat a diet made up mostly of processed foods.
While $1.50 per day is probably less than the average consumer assumes healthier food choices actually cost, that same small amount can mean different things to different people. For lower-income families, it can add up pretty quickly. And that does indicate that budgets can be a barrier to healthier eating for some segments of the population.
But there will definitely be others who will be surprised to learn that for about the price of a cup of coffee, they can grocery shop with their health in mind. Healthy eating is simpler than most people think. And a $1.50 daily investment might save a lot of money on preventable health concerns later on in life. Whatever we can do to improve our diets can go a long way towards improving our health and quality of life.