To find out whether a healthy diet really is more expensive than the unhealthy one many Americans are eating, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed 27 studies from 10 higher income countries mining them for data on the costs of individual foods and compared prices for healthier and less healthy diets. They looked at differences in price per serving and per 200 calories for certain foods as well as the cost of 2,000 calorie per day diets (that’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendation for average daily calorie intake for adults). The Harvard team even figured out the costs per calorie since prices can vary depending on the unit of consumption, the researchers explained.
So how much more does a healthy diet cost? Here’s the scoop: the difference per day between the healthy and unhealthy diets amounted to only $1.50. That’s all it costs to eat fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts instead of processed foods, high calorie snacks, meats and refined grains. The study showed that the largest price differences were for meat and other protein foods. How much? The healthier choices cost a mere 29 cents per serving more than the unhealthy ones and 47 cents more per 200 calories than the less healthy ones. Price differences (healthy minus unhealthy) were much smaller per serving for snacks and sweets (an additional 12 cents) and fats and oils (only two cents more).
OK, that $1.50 per day cost is per person, so you would have to multiply by the number of people you have to feed, and it is possible that for some families those costs may seem too high. That’s a topic I’ve addressed in my book “The Omni Diet” (available in paperback Dec. 24th for those of you looking for last minute stocking stuffers) and on my blogs on this site. The Harvard team makes the point that the differences in cost between healthy diets and the low quality foods found in less healthy diets stem from government policies that subsidize big money crops like soy and grains used in the highly processed foods that make up unhealthy diets.
But for most people the costs of a healthy diet aren’t as high as you may have thought. For many families the added costs are easily affordable, especially if you swap out the money you spend on high calorie, high cost snacks, sweets and take-out meals for fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts. The study was published online December 5, 2013 in BMJ (British Medical Journal) Open.