Dec 12 2007

The high cost of eating healthier


Be sure to check out this article in the New York Times, which was published last week.

Researchers compared food costs by calorie. How do you get 500 calories for really cheap? Go to a vending machine, insert .75, and buy an Olde New England Brownie. Yum.

Try to spend three quarters on 500 calories with real nutritional value. It’s hard.

“Although fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients, they also contain relatively few calories. Foods with high energy density, meaning they pack the most calories per gram, included candy, pastries, baked goods and snacks.” , according to the article.

Researchers found that “energy-dense munchies cost on average $1.76 per 1,000 calories, compared with $18.16 per 1,000 calories for low-energy but nutritious foods.”


If you’re broke and hungry, you might lean toward buying those energy-dense foods. And, you’ll be more likely to have health problems including weight gain if you do.

According to the article, “a 2,000-calorie diet would cost just $3.52 a day if it consisted of junk food, compared with $36.32 a day for a diet of low-energy dense foods.”

The article explained that average Americans spend $7 per day on food, while low-income folks spend $4.

Their study shows that it really does cost more to eat healthy.

I saw the Times story linked on Smart Spending.

Posted under Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “The high cost of eating healthier”

  1. Maybe I’m just out of touch with what people spend on groceries, but $7 a day? That’s rediculous! I’m very grateful for great deals on groceries.

  2. But, in perspective, perhaps when you add in health problems associated with diet, you save a lot in the long run by not having to make extra doctor’s visits, corrective pills, or worse :-). Unfortunately medical insurance (while in many ways a good thing) has removed those sorts of consequences from people’s minds.

  3. Excellent point, Susan.

    We’ve seen what some frugal bloggers can do on $35 a week or less. It’s definitely doable. They’re feeding their families on a small budget–and in many cases the meals are nutritious (something I need to work on, for sure).

    BTW–hope you’re feeling well!

  4. There was a much longer, in-depth Times article a while back on WHY unhealthy foods are cheaper- and surprisingly, it’s a political issue. (I found it to be interesting and posted on it a while back)

    The government heavily subsidizes the harvest of a handful of key crops, making them much cheaper to grow than any other crop. Not surprisingly, these crops include corn, wheat, and soybeans, where most of our junk food comes from. They are processed into corn starch, corn syrup, oils, flours, and a host of other ingredients that turn into Twinkies, chips, and other energy-dense foods.
    From the article:

    U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.

    That’s because the current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both). By comparison, the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. A result of these policy choices is on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a k a liquid corn) declined by 23 percent. The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.

    Currently the Food Bill that provides these subsidies is currently up for renewal in Congress, and people aware of the issues are pushing to change the bill such that healthier foods are subsidized, and therefore affordable.

    (Sorry this turned so long! It’s obviously an issue I care about- equal access to healthy food for the poor!)

  5. I agree the $7 a day is a bit high .. I’d like to stay around that mark for the family for a day!

  6. The numbers are ridiculous. It also ignores the fact that an apple, for example, will satiate for hours vs. potato chips where you can eat the whole bag and still be hungry.

    It also ignores the fact that for the cost of ONE McD’s value meal, I could buy an entire chicken (and feed one person several meals)

    I feed 9 people nutritious food for way less than $7 per person per day (our food bill would be $1890 a month!)

    I also think that if they added in the cost of various supplements, fiber pills, and vitamins to make up for eating brownies all day the junk food diet would cost as much or more than the healthy diet. They are comparing apples to oranges.

    Also – the cheapest diet would be the all butter diet.
    1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) has 2400 calories and only costs $1.50

  7. We live very frugally, but we like to eat well. Recently when my husband and I worked on our budget, we decided that groceries was not the area to trim. For physical health and the enjoyment of a good meal, fresh healthy food is worth it to us! We decided not to buy any new clothes, shoes, or tools for a year unless we absolutely have to. I am still very conscious of food costs, so many of our meals are meatless or use very cheap cuts of meat to flavor the food.

  8. the butter diet….yum, lol. The numbers are off–but I think the point was that cheap, awful-for-you food is what is readily available. It’s much easier to go through the drive thru and eat out of a bag than cook a healthy meal. It’s quicker to hit the vending machine than take a few minutes to have a snack of cheese and crackers. Healthy eating takes a little planning, which is something not everyone takes the time to do!

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Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

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