The Cost of Eating Healthy

  By Laura Cuddy  /  

People often believe that eating healthy is very expensive. 

In this article we review a Harvard University School of Public Health study about the cost of eating healthy in the US compared to the costs of an unhealthy diet.

We also explore the health consequences of an unhealthy diet and share four of our quick and healthy recipes and compare their costs to popular unhealthy alternatives.

The Cost of Eating Healthy in the US

Cost Comparison Study: Healthy vs Unhealthy Diet

According to a Harvard University School of Public Health study, the daily cost of consuming the healthiest of diets, is approximately $1.50 more per person per day compared to the least healthy of diets.  

There are some important price differences that should be noted when it comes to different types of food.  

Within this study, proteins had the most expensive difference per serving, with the healthier choice being $0.29 more than the less healthy choice.

Similarly, healthier snacks and sweets were $0.12 more expensive per serving.  

Grains, fats and oils were only marginally more expensive with a $0.02 to $0.03 difference.  

Interestingly, healthier dairy products were found on average to actually be cheaper than their unhealthy counterparts.

Also, there was no price difference found in substituting healthy juices for processed, low nutritional value soft drinks.

Cost of Eating Healthy in the US

While this is not necessarily a miniscule difference, it is smaller than you’d expect, especially considering much of the negative publicity relating to class and poor diet practices.  

Furthermore, not only are many healthy foods more accessible than many believe, often healthier organic alternatives can be cheaper than their processed counterparts.  

A 2012 US government study found that carrots, onions, pinto beans, lettuce, mashed potatoes, bananas and orange juice are all less expensive per portion than soft drinks, ice cream, chocolate candy, French fries, sweet rolls and deep-fat fried chicken patties.  

On top of that, the price per serving of potato chips, a favorite amongst processed foods and a staple of many American diets, is nearly twice that of carrots, the same study found.

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Health Consequences of an Unhealthy Diet

Obesity

Even in cases where eating healthier is more expensive, the health care costs associated with having a poorer diet of processed foods dwarf the short term savings of a cheaper diet.  

It is no secret that unhealthy diet practices lead to many health complications.

Chief among these are obesity and diabetes.

Both of these health issues are growing significantly in the US.  Obesity is responsible for $147 Billion per year in healthcare costs.  

It is also estimated by the CDC that anywhere between $3.38 to $6.38 billion is lost per year in economic productivity due to absenteeism caused by obesity.

Approximately one-third of all American adults are obese, along with 17% of American children.  

This works out to a per capita related costs of $79 to $132 per individual in the American labor force.  

Direct medical costs may include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to obesity.

Indirect costs relate to morbidity and mortality costs.

Cost of Eating Healthy

Diabetes

Diabetes is an even bigger drain on costs, both personally and socially.  

In the US, nearly 30 million people have diabetes and 86 million more have pre-diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

 The ADA also states that 1 in every 5 dollars spent on healthcare and diabetes costs $245 billion dollars per year.

The total cost in the US works out to $176 billion in healthcare costs and $69 billion in lost productivity per year.  

While highly variable, most people contract diabetes in adulthood, known as type 2 diabetes.  This happens as a result of a gradual failure of the body to produce insulin which is highly correlated with obesity.     

Such astronomical health care costs as the result of poor diet choices clearly show a huge financial impact.

There are preventions in both fiscal terms and in terms of physical well being that could be made and it all starts with nutrition.  

In taking the small short term expense, mountains of expenses can be prevented by making the right choice and choosing the healthy nutritional option.  

Therefore, in spite of the perception of higher costs, it is imperative to remember both the long term savings related to healthy nutrition as well as the immediate savings with smart food choices.

The Cost of Eating Healthy

Move towards a Healthy Diet

Even amongst those who are not overweight, diabetic, or obese, the rise of unhealthy eating habits has put a huge portion of the population into risk of further health complications.  

Now more than ever, it is absolutely imperative to be proactive and move towards a healthy diet.

Furthermore, with a near neutral cost offset,, there’s no reason not to make a change and adapt a healthy diet.

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4 Recipes to Eat healthy on a budget

At Mammoth Hunters, we have several recipes that are quick, easy, and healthy. (Mammoth Hunters Recipes)

Many of our recipes take no longer than 15 minutes to make. There are also delicious alternatives that are effective and inexpensive.

We have prepared four recipes that can be used for breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with associated cost estimations.

Tuna Steak ($6/serving)

Alternative  to Starkist canned white tuna  ($4/serving)

The Cost of Eating Healthy

Ingredients 

  • Olive oil – 2 tbsp
  • Salt – 1 tsp
  • Tuna – 0.5 lbs

Cooking Instructions

  1. Heat a griddle and when it is hot enough grill the tuna for a few minutes on both sides according to taste.
  2. Add coarse Sea salt or Maldon salt and a splash of extra virgin olive oil.

Chicken with Apricots and Raisins ($4/ serving)

Alternative to Hormel Chicken and Rice – ($5/serving)

Cost of Eating Healthy

Ingredients

  • Raisins – 2 oz
  • Lemon juice – 0.1 cup
  • Medium onion – 1
  • Chicken breast – 0.5 lbs
  • Dry apricot – 0.7 oz

Cooking Instructions

  1. Peel and chop the onion. Fry over a low heat (if needed add a little butter or ghee).
  2. In another pan, brown the chicken.
  3. When the onion is almost done, add the apricots and raisins and let cook for 2 minutes, add the chicken, add the lemon juice, cover and simmer for 12 minutes.
  4. Add salt and pepper.

Zucchini Spaghetti with Pesto ($5/serving)

Alternative to Stouffer’s mac n cheese ($5/serving)

The Cost of Eating Healthy in the US

Ingredients

  • Zucchini – 1
  • Olive oil – 4 tbsp
  • Garlic clove – 1`
  • Pinon nuts – 2 oz
  • Fresh basil – 2 oz

Cooking Instructions

  1. Wash the zucchini in plenty of water.
  2. Make the spaghetti with a Spirelli cutter, julienne peeler or grater.
  3. To cook the spaghetti: either one minute in boiling water or sautéed in a pan with a little coconut fat. Set aside.
  4. For the sauce, blend the basil, garlic and pine nuts into a smooth paste. Then add raw olive oil and beat to a creamy consistency.
  5. Pour the pasta into a bowl, add the sauce and mix well.

Buckwheat Pancakes ($0.38/oz)

Alternative to Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Pancake mix ($0.44/oz)

The Cost of Eating Healthy in the US

Ingredients

  • Egg – 1
  • Zucchini – 1/2
  • Butter – 2 tbsp
  • Buckwheat flour -1/3 cup
  • Smoked salmon – 1.5 oz

Cooking Instructions

  1. To make the crepes: slightly melt the butter and mix with the ingredients: water, buckwheat flour, salt and egg until you get a uniform batter.
  2. While making the filling, set aside the batter in the refrigerator.
  3. Wash and julienne-cut the zucchini and saute.
  4. Chop the smoked salmon.
  5. When the zucchini is cooked, turn off the heat and mix with the smoked salmon
  6. To make the crepes use a large skillet, over high heat, lightly butter and cover the whole skillet with a thin layer of batter. Check that you can flip the crepe without breaking it, flip and brown the other side.
  7. Fill the crepes with the filling (zucchini and smoked salmon).

Conclusion: The cost of eating healthy

The costs of eating healthy vs eating poorly is not so significant in the US. 

What are your thoughts on the costs of eating healthy?

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2 thoughts on “The Cost of Eating Healthy”

  1. Nice post. True, I always assumed that it’s way more expensive to eat healthier. I think one point we miss here is the convenience and time saved by ready to eat stuff.

  2. If you grow your own, shop seasonal and local, and meal plan it can cost less! My family of 6 has been paleo for over a year and we’ve saved money from comparing to previous years.

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