Let’s first start off with defining a couple of variables. When talking about whether or not eating healthy is more expensive, we are comparing a whole foods diet rich in meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and potatoes, to a man-made processed food diet consisting of packaged food products. When it all comes down to it, it’s a debate on what’s cheaper – shopping the perimeter of the grocery store (healthy), or shopping the aisles (not so healthy).
Why People Think Eating Healthy is More Expensive
The debate on what’s healthier starts getting skewed once we start comparing apples to oranges. The arguments for it being more expensive tend to compare something like beef to a box of cereal. When we do this, we can make anything seem more expensive.
However, if we compare apples to apples, you can start to see that eating healthy is not more expensive. For example, a bag of steel-cut oats is cheaper than a box of individually packaged flavored Quacker Instant Oatmeal. A bag of apples is cheaper than a box of fruit snacks. Ground beef is cheaper than hamburger pizza.
In addition, I don’t like the whole salad costs $4 and a burger costs $1 argument. That burger might cost $1, but it’s from McDonalds. I would barely consider that real food. Regardless, I could make my own healthy burger for the same price by shopping at the grocery store. A bun, a slice of cheese, and maybe an 1/8lb of ground beef will all cost about a dollar, and will be 10 times healthier.
The same goes for the salad. Go to the store and buy some chicken breast, mixed greens, veggies, olive oil, and vinegar. For $4 you would have enough ingredients for several salads, and again, it would be much healthier.
What are Processed Foods?
Processed foods are man-made products that take whole foods, and then combine them with other ingredients and chemicals to form a new “food”. Why would this processed food product be cheaper than the sum of its parts? For example, let’s take a pizza and dissect it into its parts. You have grains for the crust, cheese, tomato sauce, and some toppings like pepperoni.
The food manufacturer buys each of these whole foods, and then buys machinery to manufacture the pizza, pays salaries to workers to make it, and then pays to have it shipped to the store. All of these things add cost to the product. Food manufacturers are in the business to make money. There is overhead involved in manufacturing things. The cost is passed down to you.
Is Eating Healthy More Expensive?
There are times when eating healthy can be more expensive. For example, if you were to eat all organic foods and grass-fed beef, then it might be more expensive – but only in the short term. Consider the money you will save down the road from lower health care bills, or the intangibles such as looking more youthful, feeling younger, and living longer.
In the end, it’s not about how low your food bill is, or the cost per calorie. This is a very simplistic view to take. Once you take into account all the tangibles and intangibles, eating healthy is not only cheaper, but it’s going to give you the biggest return on your investment. And isn’t that what food is – an investment in your health?