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Healthy Eating is Cheaper than You Think!

September 4, 2012 in News

Thinking about changing what you eat can be intimidating. After all, few of us have the luxury of planning meals based solely on what we want to eat. There are other people’s tastes to consider, what’s available at the store when we go… and of course, the price. Food costs have been going up, and a lot of us are under pressure to choose foods that are as filling as possible for as cheap as possible. “Healthy” foods don’t seem to fit in to that category, right?

A recent study reported by the USDA actually looked at the costs of “healthy” food as compared to junk foods and other foods perceived as cheap but filling, and found surprising results. It turns out, eating following the USDA recommendations can actually the cheaper option.

The authors of the study looked at foods that were “healthy,” meaning foods that fall into one of the USDA’s main food groups (grains, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and protein) and are relatively low in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. They compared these healthy options to foods that contained very little of any of the main food groups, and were high in sodium, added sugar, and saturated fat – for example, sodas and some dried soups. They also used three different methods of comparison: price per calorie, price per edible weight, and price per average amount eaten.

When foods were analyzed in terms of price per calorie, the common perception that healthy foods cost most does tend to hold true. The researchers found that vegetables and fruits, which tend to be low in calories, tend to have the highest cost per calorie. Grains and unhealthy or “moderation” foods tend to be the cheapest.

However, when the researchers compared foods by price per 100 edible grams, the results were very different. Dairy foods tend to be the cheapest per 100 grams; grains, fruits, and vegetables all tended to be less expensive than moderation foods. Proteins tended to cost the most per 100 grams. Looking at price per average portion size, dairy, grains, and vegetables were the cheapest, with proteins and moderation foods tending to be more expensive.

The research suggests that if you look at what you’re buying in terms of how much it costs to fill your plate, or how much it costs to fill you up, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy are more cost-effective than higher-fat “moderation” foods that may seem cheap at a first glance. The USDA adds that if you’re looking to eat on a budget, it’s a good policy to consider the overall cost per day of all the food you eat, rather than each item, and to consider to balance the prices of individual food items with how many essential nutrients they contain.

You can see how your favorite foods shape up by reading the USDA report, which can be found here. Table 8, which starts on page 25, gives rankings (1 to 4,439) for each food listed in each cost analysis category.

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