Does Healthy Food Cost More?

My first instinct is to say that it does cost more to eat healthy. The question isn’t as simple as it may seem though. You can look at the cost per calorie of different types of food and see that 100 calories from celery or broccoli is a lot more expensive than 100 calories from a candy bar or potato chips. It is easy to categorize candy bars or broccoli as healthy or unhealthy but many foods are harder to categorize.

Most people don’t eat exclusively healthy food or unhealthy food. You can’t just compare the food budget of a person who eats healthy food and a person who eats junk food and conclude which diet cost more. There are wide variations in the budgets of people who eat healthy or unhealthy. Some healthy food eaters may only eat organic produce from a botique farm while another healthy food eater might get most of their vegetables from a low cost supermarket. Some unhealthy eaters might eat mostly pasta and sandwiches while others eat mostly ready to eat convenience foods. One blogger insists that fresh food is cheaper than processed food and supports her argument by stating that her food budget is lower than her friends who buy processed food. A grocery list posted on her site though includes cereal, peanut butter, canned meat, mac and cheese, and cheese puffs. I would consider all of those to be processed foods rather than fresh food. It is clear that different people have different ideas of what is fresh or healthy food.

My food budget has been about $100-$125 for many years. This consist of both groceries and fast food and the food would mostly be considered unhealthy. This food budget is lower than what most people spend on healthy food. It is also lower than what most people spend on unhealthy food so you can’t really draw a conclusion from just my food expenditures. I think that it does cost a little more to eat healthy. That being said I believe that I could eat a healthy diet on a $100-$125 food budget with some careful planning.

Even if healthy food does cost a little more I doubt that is the reason people don’t eat healthy food. I think most people eat unhealthy food because they like it and it is what they are used to eating, not because it is cheaper. What do you think?

15 thoughts on “Does Healthy Food Cost More?

  1. Even so-called healthy versions of the same product often cost much more, either with a higher price for the healthier (lo-cal, lo-fat, etc.) version, or you get a smaller package for the same price, meaning a higher price per ounce. I understand that the healthier version may cost more to produce and may not have the volumes necessary to price it lower, but it still has the effect of turning people toward the more favorably priced option.

  2. If there’s a “healthy version” of a product, chances are it’s not actually all that healthy. With the exception of an OCCASIONAL snack I don’t buy any processed foods- which allows me to spend exclusively on high quality produce, legumes, and grains (I don’t do meat, so that saves a lot too). In the long run living a healthy lifestyle- eating right and exercising- is the clear financial winner and it has the bonus of looking and feeling great!

    • Avoiding processed foods does make sense but I have a problem doing that. I don’t doubt that eating healthy is the smart choice in the long run. It is probably the smart choice in the short run too.

  3. I could afford to eat healthy food, and doing so probably would save me money on future medical bills. I choose to eat unhealthy because it feels good and I am addicted to unhealthy food.

    I am certain I could eat a healthy diet for less or the same as I spend on what I eat now. Bottom line: You’re right!

  4. I think that if you eat any food in moderation or at least in healthy proportions you can eat about anything. People overeat and I think that hurts you more than just being watchful of what you eat. My two cents.

  5. I was just reading the most recent USDA report that mentioned that healthier food is NOT more expensive, have to read their detailed report on how they arrived at that conclusion. From my personal experience, healthy foods are more expensive than normal. Mind you, I am not talking about the healthier version of the same food, but healthy food. For example, rice is an everyday staple for most of the Indians. Last year we got rid of rice and substituted with Quinoa, we instantly moved from a $1/lb item to $3/lb item. Same with substituting regular milk with almond milk. But that is what makes sense to “our” situation, so we adjusted our budget to make room for the increased grocery bill.

    • Healthy food definitely can cost more, especially when you’re substituting for cheap foods. It will be worth it in the long run. And if the rice and dairy were causing you problems then it is probably worth paying more right now.

  6. I whole hardly believe you can eat very healthy for cheap but it requires a lot of effort and planning. Things most people are lacking at least one of. It can be done though. Also, eating crap may be cheaper for teh in-term but will absolutely play a role in your overall aging health which will be substantially more expensive.

  7. Another factor: the cheaper, unhealthier foods can be easier to make. It’s simpler to make Ramen Noodles than making a full meal from, uh, “single ingredient items”. I don’t discount that factor as well.

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