Healthy Living

Does Healthy Eating Cost More?

Neatly stacked vegetables in a supermarket aisle

Does having a healthy diet mean spending more money? Perhaps you’ve observed it as you shop – the nutrient-packed goodies can be painful for the wallet and can make you think that healthy living is beyond your family’s budget. But does healthy food really cost more?

Harvard: Healthy diets do cost more

A 2013 study by the Harvard School of Public Health researchers showed that the healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day per person than the least healthy diets. A dollar and fifty cents is the difference between a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts, and an unhealthy diet with loads of processed meat, processed foods, and refined grains.

It doesn’t seem that much, but the extra cost can add up. Going on a healthy diet would cost about $2,200 more a year for a family of four.

The study analyzed 27 existing studies from ten high-income countries and evaluated the difference in the cost per serving per 200 calories of food and prices for 2,000 calories per day. Researchers have found that a healthier diet pattern hits you harder in the pocket.

However, most health professionals argue that this price difference is small when compared to the economic impacts of chronic diseases caused by poor diet, including diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. The medication costs alone would certainly surpass $1.50 a day. So, when you think about it, it’s like an investment for your long-term health.

The problem is that hyper-processed salty and sugary foods are too cheap, and they seem to be commonly found on sale.

Why Does Healthy Food Cost More

Why are healthy and organic foods more likely to break the bank? The answer can be found when we take a look down the food supply chain to understand the money going into our food.

1. Production costs

The food supply industry prioritizes packaged and processed foods since they’re more efficient to produce. Only 1% of the US’s cropland is allotted for organic agriculture, or foods containing no pesticides or GMOs. And farmers who want to venture into organic farming must make a huge investment of time and money before their crops can be rated as certified organic. For instance, crops are only considered organic when it’s grown on land that has been pesticide-free for three years. That’s a lot of time to wait if a farmer wants to shift to organic farming.

2. Logistics costs

Transporting fresh produce is more expensive than transporting packaged, processed foods because fresh foods need refrigeration to remain fresh and avoid spoilage. To get to the market on time, the delivery truck also requires shorter lead time. This puts more strain on shippers and logistic providers to make more frequent shipments of smaller quantities, thus adding to the products’ final cost.

3. Lower demand

While demand for fresh and organic foods has been increasing for over a decade, it’s still not as high as the demand for packaged and processed food. The organic food market comprises only 5% of the total food sales. Since fresh foods have a shorter shelf life, companies have to be careful about overshooting demand when they order them. Orders for both organic and fresh foods tend to be lower than processed foods, so companies cannot make bulk shipments to lower logistics costs.

Tips for Reducing Your Costs while Shopping for Healthy Foods

Being aware of simple shopping tricks can help you feed your family healthy food while keeping your grocery bill low. Apply these tips on your next trip to the market:

1. Don’t get overwhelmed with the labels. When you shop, you can see labels like GMO-free, organic, gluten-free, paleo, keto, vegan, halal, Fair Trade, sustainable, etc. Sometimes, these labels do increase costs, so unless you have a diagnosed medical condition or following a strict diet, you don’t have to worry about these extra labels. The key to eating healthier is to eat more whole foods and fewer processed ones.

2. Don’t expect that healthy foods only come from health food stores.

Health food stores offer beautiful displays of healthy options, which often have higher prices. In reality, you can get any healthy and fresh food at any grocery store.

3. Prioritize.

Pick and choose what kinds of food you prefer to spend your organic dollars. Most of the time, you don’t have enough budget to buy all things organic, so compare prices for organic and conventional produce, especially those that tend to have higher pesticide residues.

For instance, you may choose to buy organic on fruits and veggies you eat whole, like lettuce, berries, and tomatoes. Then, go for conventional options on items with a thick rind that you’ll only discard, like melons, pineapple, and squash.

Also, if you have concerns about hormones and antibiotics, you may prioritize buying organic meat and eggs. Then, go for conventional pasta, grains, and bread on a discount grocery store.

4. Buy directly from the farmers.

The best option for buying cheap and fresh, healthy food is to buy directly from farmers. This cuts out the costs for middlemen and transportation.

5. Make a plan before you shop.

Have you ever felt the need to be healthier and ended up buying a cartful of fruits and veggies that has gone mostly rotten in your fridge’s crisper? To avoid this waste of food and money, plan your meals before you shop, so you will know exactly what you will need for the week. Better yet, plan and choose recipes based on seasonal produce or healthy foods that are on sale.

6. Add some cheaper proteins.

Meat is probably one of the most expensive foods on your shopping list. When you buy meat, calculate how much you really need based on 4-5 ounces per serving to avoid having too many leftovers. Instead of eating meat all week, go meatless for one day and have legumes, veggies, or grains instead. For example, a bag of lentils only costs a few dollars, but it offers you five to six meals worth of protein.

7. Buy in season.

Don’t try to get the same fruits and veggies all year round. Buy seasonal produce, as the costs will be lower. Out-of-season fruits and vegetables are more expensive, as compared when you buy them when they are in season.

8. Buy whole.

Avoid buying pre-cut fruits and veggies as they can be pricier. Buy them whole and prepare them at home.

9. Buy in bulk.

Instead of buying healthy foods that come in single containers like whole-wheat pretzels, nuts, apple sauce, yogurt, raisins, and seeds – buy them in bulk or larger-sized packages as these will cost you less for the same amount of food. You can simply divide them into single-serve containers at home.

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