Is eating healthy more expensive?
Healthy eating doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, healthy eating can actually be cheaper than buying overly processed, additive-laden packaged food. Unfortunately, the general population believes that healthy equals expensive. But oftentimes, that’s not the case. So, why are we conditioned to thank that healthy eating isn’t budget friendly?
Part of the issue is that we confuse ‘healthy’ with other labels like organic and gluten-free, doesn’t mean that it’s nutrient-dense or inexpensive. The other issue is that healthy food can be associated with higher priced health-food stores. In reality though, a healthy diet is built on whole, unprocessed foods (fruit, beans, nuts, etc.) which can be found very affordably at most grocery stores.
While yes, a Big Mac is cheaper than a pasture-raised burger and a gas station soda is cheaper than an organic vegetable juice, the same notion works in reverse: a fried chicken sandwich is more expensive than a banana.
Social Inequities in Our Food System
All of that said, health and social status are inextricably linked. Systemic health and social inequities disproportionately affect racial, ethnic, and poor minorities. Meaning, conventionally-grown ingredients are more likely to be consumed by these groups (due to factors like price, accessibility, and knowledge). Ultimately, this means that low-income households are amongst the highest to consume processed foods and fast food.
According to the 2012 USDA report, some research suggests that neighborhoods consisting primarily of low-income minority ethnic groups have limited access to supermarkets compared with wealthier, predominantly white neighborhoods. More and more studies indicate that food deserts are now up for debate. As the Scientific American reports, since the areas aren’t completely absent of food, some believe a more accurate description would be to specify them as “fresh food deserts” or “health food deserts.”
But while the researchers debate over semantics, it’s safe to say that as an entire ecosystem—from farm to corner store or supermarket—we have a long way to go.
Interestingly, research indicates that the world’s wealthiest countries are not necessarily the healthiest. Blue Zones are identified as having the longest life expectancy and greatest longevity. A few of these cities are Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan, and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. What is common in these areas, though, is what they eat: minimal animal protein, whole grains, fresh vegetables, fruits, olive oil, seeds, and nuts. In other words, economical food.
If you want to learn more about Blue Zones, the Japanese way of living, and their secret to a happy and long life, check out our post about Ikigai.
How Can You Eat Healthy On a Budget?
There are a variety of ways to stick to your budget while still creating nutritious, flavorful recipes. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to keep your grocery bill low while still fueling your family with nutrient-dense food. Ultimately, it comes down to planning, comparing options, and knowing what’s the best bang for your nutritional buck.
Planning your meals can help you avoid buying packaged items you don’t need or fresh veggies that might go bad. Meal planning also helps you avoid eating out on a regular basis. Find a couple of recipes to make, check your pantry to see what you already have on hand, then make your grocery list. Plus, meal planning ensures your fridge is stocked ahead of time.
It’s always helpful to spend a few minutes comparing prices. Doing a bit of homework can help you stay within your budget. Another way to compare is by thinking about serving size.
Buy in Bulk
Speaking of sweet potatoes, buying in bulk can be more economical. In essence, buying in bulk is cheaper because it costs the manufacturers less to sell the item in larger quantities. Buying ingredients like nut butter, lentil-based pasta, olive oil, and organic meat at Costco. Some of the cheapest ingredients to buy in bulk are beans, rice, frozen vegetables, and bananas.
Emphasize Whole Foods
As a helpful rule, first shop the perimeter of the store. This will make you more likely to fill your cart with fruits, veggies, and protein. In other words, whole foods.
While processed foods tend to be less expensive than most fresh foods, that is because the U.S. government subsidizes the producers of those main ingredients (i.e. corn and wheat). In turn, that helps keep crop prices low. However, processed foods and many packaged foods have added sweeteners and higher fat content, along with sodium and other preservatives. Whole foods, on the other hand, contain a vast array of nutrients—like vitamins, minerals, and fiber, that your body needs to function optimally.
Shop the Frozen Section
Typically just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, frozen fruits and veggies are less expensive and available year-round. Picked and packaged at their height of ripeness, freezing seals in nutrients (and flavor). With the shelf life being much longer, you can prolong the frozen fruit or veggie’s use. Frozen produce is usually sold in large bags, allowing you to use only what you need and keep the rest in your freezer.
Choose What’s in Season
While buying frozen berries in the winter is an easy way to consume immune-boosting antioxidants, buying fresh berries in the summer also does the trick. In other words, buying frozen fruits and veggies during their off-season is just as advantageous as buying that same produce during peak harvest. Eating with the seasons is more economical. When produce is in season, there is an abundance. In turn, it’s available at a lower price.
Produce grown close to home costs less money to transport, culminating in a lower overall cost at purchase. Plus, when you support local farmers and growers, that money stays in the community and subsequently helps stimulate local economies.
As a registered nurse and part of the amazing healthcare community, I value health, safety, and nutrition as my top priorities. With a healthy diet in your body, you’ll have an increase amount of energy to be more productive, active, and take on more challenging tasks during your day. To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we will not be able to keep our mind strong and clear — a healthy outside starts from the inside.
Be wealthy in health, not money, that’s the most important factor to living a happy and successful life.