Nutrition Myth: Is Healthy Eating Expensive?

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Worried about your budget? Think you have to choose between health or your finances? Let’s dive into this hot topic.

How to make healthy food affordable (despite rising costs)

Many people feel healthy eating is expensive – the cost of this nutrition myth is high. Researchers estimate the belief that healthy eating is expensive is one of the largest reasons our diet quality is deteriorating. Is it possible to eat healthy food on a budget? Discover a better way to shop: check out the factors influencing your purchasing decisions and find savings in holistic strategies to overcome hurdles in your way of healthy eating.

FACT: A cube of tofu (450g) costs about $4, while the same amount of steak costs between $7 and $25, depending on the cut of meat.

Is Eating Healthy Really More Expensive?
Healthy eating can be affordable. Many healthy foods are very inexpensive, including beans, lentils, and other plant-based proteins. Hence, healthy and sustainable eating habits were up to 22-34% less expensive in a study, with vegetarian and vegan dietary patterns being the most affordable. Yet, some of these ingredients are unfamiliar to some shoppers, limiting their ability to make healthy eating affordable.

How to Make Healthy Food Affordable
For many, a lack of cooking knowledge is in the way of making healthy eating less expensive. Research strongly links cooking skills with an increased consumption of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Learning additional cooking skills may help more people overcome one of the hurdles between them and healthy eating on a budget. If you’re looking for tofu recipes or, how to make lunch with beans, check out our Holistic Kitchen.

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Healthy Eating Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
The nutrition myth that it’s more expensive to eat healthier food is a key barrier to healthy eating, say experts. Eating healthy costs about $1.50 more per day, according to Harvard experts. Annually, it’s about $550 per year. (Alternatively, poor diets account for 45% of cardiometabolic deaths). Luckily, there are cost-cutting tips to help you eat healthy on a budget.

7 Cost-Cutting Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are 7 cost-cutting tips to help you eat a healthy diet on a budget.
• Eat seasonal fresh produce
• Try frozen vegetables and fruits (longer shelf-life for less waste)
• Meal plan to reduce waste
• Swap in more plant-based proteins (beans, lentils, and tofu are inexpensive)
• Convert your scraps (veggies into stock, stale bread into croutons)
• Shop based on need
• Cook at home

FACT: A bag of potato chips costs about $5 and is made from 4 lbs of potatoes. A 5lb bag of raw potatoes costs the same amount.

Why are Healthy Foods Expensive?
One of the most challenging areas of the grocery store to navigate is the fresh produce section, where value for money is riskier. The flavour of the produce and perishability make it harder to choose with confidence a healthy fruit or vegetable, over the shelf-stable, consistent experience of a less healthy, packaged food.

The perishability of fresh fruits and vegetables can lead to price distortion, particularly in rural or lower-income areas. Access to affordable, fresh foods is another barrier in the way of healthy eating for many households. As the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has increased more than average food prices over the past years, by 29 to 49%, according to experts, it’s important to find ways to eat healthy on a budget.

FACT: When fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive, it accounts for a third of the gap between actual and recommended intakes.

Why Is Unhealthy Food Less Expensive?
The perception that unhealthy foods are less pricey is one of the many reasons you may find yourself choosing them over a healthier option. Marketing of unhealthy foods, misleading labels, education, income, and socioeconomic status all play a role in how you shop, according to researchers.

Start Shopping Better: Strategy for Shopping for Healthy Food
Your grocery store shopping strategy may be impacting your health. There are a lot of complex thoughts that fill the moment when you decide to place a food item into your grocery cart. Scientists have found that moment includes thoughts that compare the price of the food item in relation to another. In other words, you may make decisions based on whether a food item is pricey or perceived as expensive, instead of whether the food meets a need. For example, an apple is no more expensive than a snack-sized bag of chips when compared to serving size. If you compare them based on nutritional value, the apple is superior at meeting your health needs.

Are consumers discounting the long-term effects of their dietary choices?

The Costs of Unhealthy Eating
More preventable deaths are linked to poor diet than any other risk factor. Obesity rates have increased sharply since 1980, taking a staggering toll on human and economic health. There are far-reaching implications of the choices we make about food; even the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was more detrimental for those who were obese.

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Assessing the cost of healthy and unhealthy diets: a systematic review of methods. Current Nutrition Reports 2022; 11,600-617.

Is healthy eating too expensive? How low-income parents evaluate the cost of food. Soc Sci Med 2020 Mar; 248: 112823.

A tale of two cities: the cost, price-differential and affordability of current and healthy diets in Sydney and Canberra, Australia. Int J Beh Nutr Phy Activ 2020 Jun 22; 80.

The global and regional costs of healthy and sustainable dietary patterns: a modelling study. The Lancet 2021 Nov; 11(5):e797-e807.

How distorted food prices discourage a healthy diet. Sci Adv 2022 Mar 30;8(13).