The Cost of Eating Healthier is Less than You Think

Posted On Monday, 27 July 2015
The Cost of Eating Healthier is Less than You Think
Many people complain about the high cost of healthy food choices.

Just looking at the prices at Whole Foods and other well-known (as well as lesser known) food stores, you can feel overwhelmed by the high prices for food.

Yet, according to a USDA report, 14% of all deaths in the U.S. are related to poor diets and/or sedentary lifestyles. Eating a healthy diet can greatly reduce the risk of chronic disease and the associated healthcare costs.

So, we know the importance of healthy eating; but, do healthier foods truly cost more?

According to a systematic review by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2013, the cost of eating a "much healthier" vs "much less healthy" overall diet is approximately $1.50 more per day for an adult. The greatest price differences were for healthier vs. less healthy meats/proteins; a difference of $0.29 per serving. For grains, fats/oils, and dairy, the differences in price per serving for healthier vs. less healthy options were much smaller ($0.03, $0.02, and $0.04 respectively).

An extra $1.50 per day to eat healthier and reduce disease risk may not sound like much, but this equates to approximately an additional $550 per person per year or almost $2,200 per year for a family of four. For some, this additional cost makes it difficult to purchase healthier foods.

If this is your position, what can you do?

There are some great ways to eat healthy on a tight budget.

First, make sure that the food you are buying is being consumed and not wasted. The average American household throws away approximately 25% of their food! Store your food properly to avoid unnecessary waste. Using refrigerator and freezer thermometers can help ensure your food is stored at safe temperatures. Some foods shouldn't be stored together (e.g. onions will cause potatoes to sprout). Many fruits emit ethylene gas, which can cause vegetables to ripen faster; so store fruits and veggies separately. Potatoes should be stored in the dark at room temperature. Be sure that vegetables are stored loosely, without moisture, and with some ventilation. For more info on food storage, listen to: How You Store Your Food is as Important as What You Eat.

Meal plans and shopping lists are very important for shopping on a budget. Be sure to include quantities and stick to your list to avoid over-purchasing food. Before buying more food, check your pantry and refrigerator for foods you already have to avoid buying more of the same items. Prepare meals with the most perishable foods first. You'll waste less fruits and veggies if you prep them when you get home from the store. That makes it easier to grab and eat. Keeping them in plain sight or in clear containers in the refrigerator is also helpful. Label leftovers and store them in smaller serving sizes that are easy to use. If you can't use a food before the expiration date, freeze it!

Seasonal produce is often on sale, so plan meals around what's in season. Consider talking to your local produce manager and use the store ad as a guide to current and future sales. If a food that your family eats often is on sale, buy a little extra and freeze it to be sure it won't go bad before you eat it. If you live in a place where you can easily access a farmers' market, buy your fresh foods from there. Buying food from farmers' markets and produce stands cuts out the middleman and may be less expensive in the long run. Local produce may also taste better and be higher in nutrients, since it is picked when ripe and doesn't have to travel across the country (or from another country) to get to your home.

Last, try more meatless meals. Going vegetarian, even if it's only for a few days out of the week, can be very good for your health. Dried beans and peas are very economical and loaded with nutrients. Pair them with a whole grain for a complete protein in place of meat. Lentils and split peas don't require soaking so they require less planning. Nuts, nut butters, seeds, tofu, and eggs are all less expensive sources of protein that can be used instead of meat.

Want more tips on eating healthy on a budget? Here two "Family Food Kitchen" radio shows with great ideas:

How to Eat Healthy on Any Budget
Save $4600 & End Food Waste in Your Home

Jaimie Vaughn Proctor

Jaimie Vaughn Proctor, MS, RD, LD, Manager of Nutrition and Education, is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian devoted to teaching others about the benefits of choosing whole, organic foods for their families. She received her B.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition and completed the combined M.S. and Dietetic Internship Program at the University of Florida.

As an undergraduate, Jaimie started volunteering in a research laboratory and metabolic kitchen for a controlled feeding study. This sparked a fascination with nutrition and nutrient-gene interactions. As part of her master’s research, she worked with a research team investigating the relationships between specific genetic variants and B vitamin metabolism. This work was published in the Journal of Nutrition and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Jaimie enjoys attending nutrition seminars to keep up with the latest scientific research and recommendations for optimal health. As a proud Air Force pilot’s wife, Jaimie has had the opportunity to experience different cultures, international cuisines, and natural foods around the globe. She loves baking and cooking for her extended family and friends, which makes her a great fit for working with the Family Food Experts.

News Flash: Jaimie and her husband are parents of 2, an adorable son and his darling baby sister! 

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