Are Healthy Foods More Expensive Than Less Healthy Options?

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.

To conclude…

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





About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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