Is eating healthy expensive?

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Cindy Gay
Nutrition & Dietetics
Eating whole, unprocessed foods is the focus of healthy eating. Cutting, cleaning, and making the food yourself saves money.

Following the MyPlate method does not involve a lot of food: 
  • Make 1/2 the plate fruits and vegetables. This can be 1 apple and 1/2 cup green beans.
  • Make 1/4 the plate lean protein. This is a small portion of lean meat (2-3 ounces). Dried Beans, eggs or low fat cheese can replace meat.
  • Make 1/4 the plate whole grains. This is 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, 1 small piece of whole-grain cornbread or 1 slice whole-wheat bread.
  • Drink 1 cup skim milk or eat 6 oz. low fat yogurt with each meal. 
Cooking without added fats and sauces can save money. Hot air popcorn makes a healthy snack, much cheaper than packaged chips. Buying seasonal produce and buying only what you need is the most economical. Dried beans, even the cooked kind in the freezer section, are very economical. Eggs, fish and poultry on sale are affordable. Bags of apples, cabbage, potatoes, carrots all meet the bill.

Yogurt is available in quart containers and usually has a long shelf date.
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics
Put simply, no. If you were to consider the price per calorie, one may reason that unhealthy foods are more affordable -- a bag of chips will give you more calories per unit price. This approach, however, can really skew the results. Look at the situation from a different angle. When shopping for the least processed foods (no added fat, salt, or sugar), we really are getting more bang for our buck! Plant-based, whole foods; lean, unprocessed animal products; and non-fat or low-fat dairy are jam-packed with nutrients that help your body fight disease. In the long run, health care costs can be lowered at an individual, community, and national level. If low or no medical bills and few doctor/hospital visits aren’t enough incentive, consider this: The USDA’s Economic Research Service surveyed the prices of over 4,000 foods.

When looking at the price per edible pound or even the price per average portion, the less healthy foods were more expensive than all food groups, except protein. In other words, when comparing the cost of foods by weight, grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy foods are less expensive than most meats and processed foods. Thus, following a healthy diet based on the Dietary Guidelines is economical.

Think about it! When buying processed foods “cooked’ in a factory, it is worth much less than the price you pay. You are also paying for all the work that goes into processing, manufacturing, and packaging that product. Whereas, when you buy whole foods in their natural state, you are virtually only paying for one whole food item (and the work they put into bringing it to you).

To save on healthy groceries, remember to choose store brands or generic items that typically are less expensive but equal in quality with the name brand. Buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season; this is when their quality is at their highest and their prices are the least expensive. Also, always keep an eye out for store coupons!

For a list of what fruits and vegetables are in season year-round, visit: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/whats-in-season-all-year
Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
It depends how you look at it. I think healthy eating is cheap when you consider the long-term benefits. You will have more energy, less chronic disease, better focus, and a body that you are proud of. You will also be a role model to your family, friends and co-workers. If you choose more organic, locally sourced foods you will be protecting the environment. This is one way to look at wealth. If you eat poorly, years from now you will be more likely to have developed chronic disease, be overweight, taking prescription medication and limited in the activities you can do. When you ask the question "is healthy eating expensive?" I say it is the cheapest and most important thing you can do to ensure a vibrant life.
Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics

Eating healthy can be more expensive, but does not have to be. If you are on a budget, don’t give up. You can eat healthy without emptying your wallet. Fresh fruits and veggies are best when aiming for health, but not always necessary. Frozen can work too. Aim to purchase seasonal fruits and vegetables, which are often cheaper. Potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, and other dry goods are generally expensive and can be purchased in bulk. This way you will always have a supply and pay less. Meats can be purchased on sale and frozen.

Dr. Robin Miller, MD
Internal Medicine

Healthy foods can cost more than other foods. But in this video, Dr. Robin Miller explains why making healthy choices a priority is worth its weight in gold.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.