Healthy Diet Is Affordable, Study Shows

Consumers are firmly convinced that healthy food is more expensive than junk food. A new study published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service says that might be because we are making the wrong comparisons.

Andrew Carlson and Elizabeth Fraz„o turned to the USDA’s online guide, ChooseMyPlate, as a template for modeling a healthy diet. Using three different data sets, they estimated the cost of 4,439 food items.

The results are encouraging. “Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price” shows that just looking at calorie costs, as earlier studies did, is too simplistic. For example, a bag of potato chips might be cheaper than a baked potato, compared calorie for calorie. But you might need to eat two portions of chips to equal the nutrition in a potato, and the chips would deliver more of what we don’t need, such as saturated fat and sodium.

To give a more accurate picture, Carlson and Fraz„o used three different metrics: price per calorie, per edible gram, and per average portion. When they overlaid the three, they discovered that grains, fruits and vegetables actually deliver more value for less money than less healthy foods.

The authors conclude:

When making food choices, consumers may need to consider the entire cost of their diets. Cheap food that provides few nutrients may actually be “expensive” for the consumer from a nutritional economy perspective, whereas a food with a higher retail price that provides large amounts of nutrients may actually be quite cheap.

That’s important. As I pointed out in We Are Killing the Kids, the cost of a diet heavy in what the authors of this study call “moderation foods” (processed foods with high levels of salt, sugar or fat) is a tsunami of added health care costs that threatens to swamp our health care systems.

Just what constitutes a healthy diet is the subject of ongoing and vigorous debates. A lot of other factors are part of the equation as well, such as environmental pollutants, access to fresh foods, cooking skills and time.

Specifics and disagreements aside, what this study adds to the conversation is reassurance that a healthy diet is within most people’s budgets.

Related Care2 Stories

We Are Killing the Kids

Food Systems Creating Public Health Disaster

Junk Food Costs More Than Real Food: 4 Reasons We Keep Eating It

College Food Culture: Students Demand Delicious, Healthy Food

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Jenny H.
Past Member 2 years ago

Awesome work out guys which you are sharing with us, great efforts you have shown there. meal plans for weight loss

Roger M.
Past Member 6 years ago

Interesting. Thanks.

Belinda E.
Belinda E6 years ago

It depends on whether you are calculating cost for food that will satisfy your hunger, or for food that will satisfy your nutritional needs. The latter may be the "better buy," saving health care costs over the long run, but it definitely will cost more per month to buy.

mags g.
6 years ago

Agree with eat food in season and reduce what you can re processed food, one small change can be beneficial

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W6 years ago

Whatever tastes good is unhealthy and all healthy foods taste disgusting. :-(

federico bortoletto
federico b6 years ago

Grazie delle informazioni.

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim6 years ago

Thanks! An even better reason to eat healthy.

Cynthia Blais
cynthia l6 years ago

I can't afford it one I have no car to get it there is nothing healthy in walking distance Healthy products are higher priced like sugar free

Sheri P.
Sheri P6 years ago

a healthful diet may not be inexpensive but it is definitely affordable. there are ways to make it happen, you have to be deliberate and want to, though. it takes planning and effort.