Does Healthy Food Cost More Than Junk Food?

by in Food News, June 21, 2012
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Does eating well cost more money?

Does following a healthy diet mean dishing out more dough? Not necessarily. A new study published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that healthy food isn’t any more expensive than junk food.

The Studies
With more than one-third of U.S. adults being overweight and a push from the Obama administration to fight rising obesity levels, this new study sheds light on budgetary concerns when it comes to healthy eating.

Previous studies were highly criticized for comparing the cost of food per calorie. These studies found that pastries and chips and cheaper than fruit and veggies. The newest study conducted by the Agricultural Department compared cost of foods by weight or portion size which reveals that grains, veggies, fruit and dairy foods are less costly than most meats or foods high in added sugar, salt, or artery-clogging saturated fat. The study found that carrots, banana, lettuce and pinto beans were all cheaper per portion than soda, ice cream, ground beef or French fries.

The Issues
Using the cost per weight or portion also makes more sense. When you compare foods per calories, there is no consideration taken for the quality of the calories or its satiety value (meaning, how full you will feel after eating the food). You may devour an unsatisfying donut for 300 calories but feel very satisfied after a 95-calorie apple. Furthermore, if you’re eating that 300 calorie donut you’re not getting nearly as many nutrients. Higher calorie and fatty foods have also been associated with a higher long-term healthcare costs from chronic diseases like obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Shopping on a Budget
Knowing simple shopping tricks can also keep your food costs down. Use these tips on your next trip to the market:

  • Buy seasonal produce — out of season fruits and veggies cost more.
  • Plan your meals and choose recipes based on the supermarket circular, seasonal produce and healthy foods that are on sale.
  • Look for coupons in print or online of healthier options. Remember to check the manufacturer’s website for coupons and special deals.
  • Write out a shopping list of what you need to cook healthy meals and snacks to avoid spending more on impulse buys when you’re at the store.
  • Instead of buying food that comes in single containers like apple sauce, nuts, raisins, yogurt and whole wheat pretzels, buy them in bulk or in larger-sized packages. When you get home, divide them into single-serve containers.
  • Pre-cut fruits and veggies tend to be pricier. Buy them whole and prep them at home.
  • Go meatless on Mondays or any other day of the week. Meatless options like fruits, veggies, grains and legumes were found to be cheaper.
  • When you do opt for meat, calculate how much meat you really need based on 4-5 ounces per serving.
  • Some foods that cost a pretty penny at the market, are easy (and cheaper) to make at home such as salad dressings and tomato sauce.

TELL US: How do you purchase healthy food on a budget?

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Comments (376)

  1. Stoich91 says:

    This is true, but CONVENIENT healthy foods (eg. prepackaged/prepared/easy to make for weeknight dinner) are not *nearly* as cheap as convenient unhealthy foods. Sure, corn is cheaper than mac & cheese, but one is more filling and much easier to prepare. These tips are great, though! I love this blog, so far!

  2. Pati says:

    I buy very little processed food anymore. Fresh food is only more expensive if the organic is bought. I even grow some of my vegies, such as kale, bell peppers, tomatoes, serrano peppers, basil, & mint.

    Since I started watching Food Network & The Cooking Channel in the last few years, I have tried many of the recipes. Most have been pretty good, so I priinted and now have a notebook full of good healthy meals. My favorites chefs are Ellie Krieger, Ingrid Hoffman, Giada, Bobby Flay, & Milissa D'Arabia. Also, I now like my own cooking better than going out. Once I got my routines down with preparing the recipes, the time to prep became shorter. However, even though some prepping takes time, I started using it as a form of relaxation instead of "hurry, hurry try to get it done as fast as I can because I am tired and want to sit down and rest". This has helped me tremendously. This has really saved money along with becoming more healthy, which also saves money.

    Thank you Food Network and Cooking Channel

    • Debbie says:

      Yeah Pati. You hit the nose right on the button…relaxing while you prepare your foods…the kitchenis my favorite room in the house because no one else likes to cook or clean the kitchen so therefore I won't have any interruptions just relaxing while I'm cooking :0)

  3. […] doesn’t cost more to eat healthy. A recent study showed that per portion, fruits tend to be cheaper than […]

  4. doctor notes says:

    According to the today's market value the cost of the junk food is less than healthy food. and it is not a good news for human life.

  5. DeDe says:

    I love & agree with the article… but in my house hold when money gets tight I tend to buy food that I can stretch which is way more cheaper. I was raised off Mexican food so when I prepare food for my kids I think about the foods we grew up on. My plan is to make dinner and have enough left over food for work the following day…I'm buying boxes of fideo that you can get for 27cents, bags of rice, beans, tortillas, breads, bags of pastas, and some meats. You can make several meals out of those items I just named. So by saying that I can spend less money on fatty (and yummy) foods then healthy food. Unless I am doing something wrong?

    • Maria says:

      I grew up with mexican food also but everything you named is all CARBS!!! That is why our population has such high type II Diabetes and why our children are so Obese. The children are also being diagnosed with type II Diabetes which use to be a only for senior adults. There are many things you can add to their plates that is not just starch to fill the belly. They more starch the belly gets the more it craves it. Check the size of the portions you are serving also. Is each getting 1 or 2 tortillas, only 1/4 cup of rice, and beans"

  6. Christina says:

    Sorry but I am still not buying it….I can have a full blown meal from Mcdonalds for $3.00 or any fast food restaurant that has a dollar menu. Sure I can eat beans and rice for under $3.00 but that is not a meal to me. Also If I eat a small cheeseburger I am full for hours but to have an apple, celery sticks with peanut butter, etc I am starving 15 min. later.

    • Jay says:

      Christina, have you looked at your behind lately?

    • Mary Fitzpatrick says:

      Your mindset is a heart attack waiting to happen. Not to mention a pasty complexion, oily hair, and rancid body odor. Then when you see your behind chasing you, what is chasing it will be Type 2 diabetes preceded by high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and wacky tri-glycerides. A steady cheapo fast food or processed food lifestyle may be expedient but it will lead to to long term illness in the future.

    • Judith says:

      last time I ate at a fast food place my bill was $7. I can make several meals for that. By the way, my co workers are always coveting my lunch cause it smells divine when I nuke it….can't say the same as they are chowing down on their fast food meals. Don't kid yourself that you are not paying the price of a good future life by eating that fast food today. Beans and rice cooked right are great….it is a Monday meal in New Orleans–it deserves respect!

  7. Brandy says:

    I have been trying to eliminate the processed foods from my grocery list and focus on "whole" foods. For example, I will buy a whole chicken and after I have roasted it, I make chicken broth from the carcass and save all the leftover meat for other meals. Broth can be frozen to avoid wasting it. I have a grden with tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin and corn, as well as herbs. Since I have started cooking with herbs fresh from my garden, I don't think I could buy dried herbs at the store anymore. I will not longer be buying canned tomatoes or sauce as I can make both, even if it means buying fresh tomatoes while I'm waiting for my crops to come in.
    I must admit that I have an advantage over some as I live in the agricultural mecca of Walla Walla, so when it's harvest season, there are really great prices for many different produce items. I think the biggest problem is lack of knowledge on a whole. Too many people just don't know what to do with the healthier foods. We need classes that can show people what to do with all the different healthy foods so that they are not intimidated by them.

  8. Debbie says:

    I am a very healthy eater,and therefore since I prepare all the meals….so is my family eating healthy. I look at the reward my family and I are receiving from eating healthy…low or no medical attention and a fuller, longer lasting, satisfying stomach after each meal. If we want to's air popped popcorn with olive oil and a little garlic or onion powder and a smidgin of salt.
    It's not alway about how convienent it is to prepare the food, it's how you're going to feel later in life

  9. Monika says:

    I appreciated this article and have been following some of their ideas for the past months. I think that eating more produce and whole foods is better for you and can be done cost-effectively. We don’t buy anything processed and do our own preparations (ie bake a whole chicken or slice our own veggies) and are trying to cut back on our intake of meat. No matter what, it seems worthwhile, if necessary, to spend a bit more time and money on healthy food than face the cost of health problems/medication in the future.

    I really recommend shopping at farmers markets or getting a farm delivery service if it’s possible where you live.

  10. amanda arreola says:

    I like this article, but I am a young single working mom. I have always liked to eat healthy but recently I started buying organic foods and little to no processed foods to cook healthy meals at home for me & my 2 yr old son. It may be cheaper to buy carrots or banans than a pack of soda but buying organic fruits and veggies for meals and things like organic spaghetti sauce or anything really from the health food store is so much more expensive than a processed meal. Sometimes when money is tight I can’t afford the organic good food all the time. If people only knew how bad pesticides and processed foods were the price of organic good for you food would go down. There would be more demand for it, companies would start competing & wa-la it would be affordable. Good for yóu food makes you feel so much better. I have a huge sweet tooth so I try to turn my favorite meals or desserts into healthy organic versions. So really it is do able to have affordable organic food, but we’re not there yet. People just have to be made aware. (Example: olive oil/coconut oil vs canola oil-huge price difference)

    • Mary Fitz says:

      Try sourcing organics at a chain grocery store instead of a health food store. Prices are still higher than mainstream items, but will be lower than health food stores. It took me searching 1 national chain, 1 regional chain supplied by a national chain, and a regional upscale employee-owned chain before I found a good fit for me (I am gluten intolerant and I juice). I drive 22 miles each way to get to
      the third option (the other two are four miles each way) but the cost of gas is worth it. The chain store
      that works for me has everything in one store that I need for my entire house. If your favorite store
      does not carry what you want or need, email their corporate location. Amazon is a good source for
      dry goods, if you can buy by the case. Added bonus there is that they deliver right to your door!

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