The Cost of a Healthy Diet: Eat Healthy and Save Money

By , Category : Food and Nutrition

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Cost of Healthy DietI spend a lot of money on food; more than the majority of people that I know. I spend well in excess of $400.00 per month on food for myself, and the truth is that sometimes I have a hard time affording it. I sacrifice in other areas to make sure I’m getting the proper nutrition to reach my goals and maintain a certain level of health and fitness.

And although it’s resulted in some hard times every so often, I view it as money well spent. It’s my belief that by spending now on quality nutrition, I’ll be able to keep my healthcare costs low as I grow older.

But right now, one of the biggest barriers to meeting your nutritional goals can be the cost. Eating healthy is more expensive, even if you avoid buying into those sometimes sneaky marketing crazes, such as pre-packaged gluten-free or organic foods. Even those who keep their diet simple by getting a diverse array of healthy nutrients from whole foods, rather than succumbing to pricey “health”-conscious marketing labels, are likely to spend twice as much as people who eat unhealthy diets with low nutritional value.

Recently, researchers from the University of Leeds studied this relationship between cost and diet.

First, they identified six stereotypical eating patterns in the United Kingdom that, in my opinion, can be easily compared to various American eating styles. They are as follows:

The Monotonous Low-Quality Omnivore: This diet is high in white bread, milk, and sugar; contains some meat and potatoes; and includes little else. It offers very little nutritional value and virtually no diversity in nutrients.

The Traditional Meat, Chips, and Pudding Eater: This diet is high in starchy, refined foods. It also features creamy, fatty foods, while being low in fruits and vegetables. This diet is high in calories, but offers poor nutritional value.

The Conservative Omnivore: These people eat a moderate quantity from a wide range of food groups. They are relatively healthy with a diverse diet, but they aren’t hitting their daily recommended values for most fruit, vegetable, and nutritional guidelines.

The Low-Diversity Vegetarian: This diet predominantly features fruits, vegetables, and whole grain bread, while being low in eggs, meat, dairy, and fish. It’s quite close to meeting dietary guidelines but still fails to meet recommended daily nutrient intakes.

The Higher-Diversity Traditional Omnivore: This is a very diverse diet that’s moderate in nearly everything. While not perfect (there are still some refined and fatty foods), this diet is great for total nutrient content.

The High-Diversity Vegetarian: High in whole grains, soy, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, this diet is lower in white bread, meats, and fish. This diet meets the daily nutrient intake requirements.

After establishing these diets, the researchers ran each through a cost database and found the healthiest eating pattern was more than double the daily cost of the unhealthiest diet, with prices ranging from roughly USD$11.20 to $5.50 per day, respectively. Over the course of a year, the discrepancy came to more than USD$2,060 per person.

Getting quality nutrition is more expensive and access to a healthy diet, based on these numbers, is a luxury. But there are ways to save on your grocery bill and eat healthy.

One of the biggest things to remember is that most nutrients are found in more than one food. If a food known to be high in a particular nutrient is expensive, look for a variety of foods that offer the same nutrient—and more—that may be cheaper. Broccoli, for example, is cheap and accessible and is packed with a number of essential nutrients and antioxidants. Tomatoes, strawberries, and some vegetables can also be a good choice.

If you’re on a budget, you might consider staying away from organic foods. There is very little scientific evidence proving organic foods have more nutritional value and they are always far more expensive than traditionally farmed foods.

Yes, eating healthy is more expensive, but smart shopping—and viewing your grocery bill as an investment in your long-term health—can help ease the burden, especially later on.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Kobayashi, L., “How much does a healthy diet really cost?” PLOS web site, August 4, 2014; http://blogs.plos.org/publichealth/2014/08/04/diet-cost/.
Morris, M.A., et al., “What is the cost of a healthy diet? Using diet data from the UK Women’s Cohort Study” J Epidemiol Community Health July 22, 2014; doi: 10.1136/jech-2014-204039.




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Dr. Victor Marchione, MD

About the Author, Browse Victor's Articles

Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »