You’ve probably heard about it, and no doubt many of you reading this will believe that the healthier the food, the more it will cost. This assertion is one that passes the lips of many, but to be fair to them… it’s understandable. A chicken breast is at first glance more expensive than a processed alternative, but I’d always contend that this is ‘swings and roundabouts’ if a nutritional plan is devised intelligently. I won’t argue the fact that if somebody goes out and buys nothing but processed food, they will end up paying less compared to somebody that buys solely organic, more natural options. Like for like, processed foods are cheaper, which is in part a consequence of the governments drive to make readily available foods at a cost effective rate, the problem now is that people have either become addicted to the salty taste of many processed foods, are getting along better financially when opting for cheaper, less healthy options, and/or are believing the compelling cultural force of a hear and repeat cycle whereby something is said once, and grows from there on in!
Is there a middle ground?
When people assert that healthier foods are more expensive than less nutritious, more highly processed options, what they’re actually doing is comparing extremes in diet patterns and not considering the middle ground. There has to be a compromise somewhere along the lines e.g. buy ‘value’ versions of mixed veg (a food source that undergoes very little processing) and avoid the processed, reconstituted meats and instead opting for a nice lean chicken breast for example.
Price difference between food groups
A meta-analysis (a study that considers all research papers findings on a given subject matter) on the cost of different foods was conducted by Rao et al (2013). The findings were very interesting in that they confirmed that healthier foods/food patterns cost the consumer more than the less healthy foods/food patterns. This fact held true whether the costs were based on a days intake or per 2000kcal, proving it is an objective assertion. The average differences between meat/protein sources were most notable, with healthier options costing $0.29 (sorry but the study was American, although it does consider foods in 10 different countries) more per serving than less healthy options. However, price differences between other food groups were far less significant, for example grains were only $0.03, dairy was $-0.004, snacks/sweets were $0.12 and fats/oils were just $0.02 more expensive than the less healthy options.
So what are the short and fast answers then? Are less nutritious and more highly processed foods cheaper per serving than healthier more options…yes. Well that’s that then right…well actually, no it’s not! You see the average price difference between less healthy and healthy options is just $1.50 a day, and is that significant, maybe, but factor this into a weekly shop and the figures get significantly smaller in relative terms. $1.50, so basically £1.20ish really isn’t a lot of difference a day when it comes to healthy eating (for most people), improving health, performance and quality of life…is it!? With this in mind, consider then that all Americans and Brits at all income brackets allocate too little of their food budgets to healthy foods. Consider also the cost that the poor dietary options have on the health services in the UK when people are admitted with obesity related chronic and acute conditions, or cholesterol related issues etc etc…the cost implications of opting for less healthy, cheaper options don’t just stop at the wallet, they transfer to your health and wellbeing too!
Rao, M., Afshin, A., Singh, G. and Mozaffarian, D. (2013). Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Medical Journal. 3: 12. Retrieved 24th April, 2014, from http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/12/e004277.full