Study Warns Healthy Diet Too Expensive - A Rant

August 11, 2011

A paper published in the Health Affairs journal has claimed that eating a healthy diet, like the one recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for 2010, is just too expensive for those of us struggling to make ends meet. 

Researchers from the University of Washington, surveyed over 2,000 residents of King County, Washington. Here is what they found: 


Almost across the board, eating more nutrient-dense foods rather than empty-calorie junk foods came at a hefty price. For every extra 1 percent of daily calories in the form of added sugar, the consumer saved $25.55 a year. A little more saturated fat cut the annual food bill by a hefty $102.20.

Raising the average respondent's paltry consumption of fiber just 10 percent would cost an extra $54.75 a year. Raising potassium intake an extra 10 percent cost $189.80.

In fact, the study found that for potassium alone, raising the average person's intake (2,800 mg) to the recommended daily value (3,500 mg) would cost the consumer about $380 more per year.

The authors close with: 

Dietary recommendations need to become more sensitive to the economic constraints faced by consumers, particularly those in the most vulnerable segments of society, who bear a disproportionate burden of obesity and chronic disease

My response? Uh-huh. 

I can not believe that anyone, and I mean anyone at all, would say that eating junk food t is somehow better or the lot in life for people without money. Not knowing how to shop is not an excuse to fall back on the Cheetoes. 

Why is it that healthy food always gets a bad rap? We need to let go of the idea that it is too hard or too time consuming to eat something that never saw the inside of a box or snack bag. Please. 

As for the cost of healthy food, instead of turning to junk, why not go back to the basics? Buy basic foods and make simple but healthy  meals. Our society feels it  is entitled to such extravagance as fast food, cheap food and food made by someone else. For goodness sakes, put food in it's place and use it to  nourish your body - not to continuously have a full feeling in the stomach. 

It takes less healthy food to fill you up. Let's say it again. It takes less healthy, whole grain, natural food, to make you full and satisfied. For example, you may be able to eat an entire bag of potato chips but you will not be able to eat an entire bag of apples. You do not have to eat organic food. You do not have to eat Vegetarian or any other *type* of diet at all. Just eat food that does not come from a box. 

Need help making a food plan? Email me! I would be happy to help. 



Patti Wigington's picture

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I get so frustrated with my friends who say it's so much more expensive to "eat healthy." Simple, from-scratch cooking involves a bit more time, and some effort, but far less money. I can prepare at least two full meals to feed five people by spending about $12 at the farmer's market, so I know it works.


Chris OE's picture

Don't underestimate the advantage education gives us. You and I know what to do with a green pepper. Frankly a lot of kids have never seen someone cook a home cooked meal, let alone a balanced one. The demise of Home Ec classes in schools around this country has done a lot of harm. One class in high school to teach kids how to peel and chop an onion and/or saute a chicken breast isn't too much to ask. Granted, we'd have to be willing as voters to foot the bill.

Logan's Mom's picture

I feed my family on less than $100 a week of food stamps & we eat healthy. We eat whole grains, fresh produce, & lots of fresh seafood. I have found 3 local health food stores that take food stamps & have taught my kids how to make healthy choices at our local Publix. My 7yo son used to ask for Taco Bell so I buy lean ground turkey, whole wheat tortillas, and lots of colorful veggies then we have taco night at home. He doesn't even ask for Taco Bell anymore. I'm so sick of people using a lack of money as an excuse to eat junk. Sure my kids still ask for chips or soda sometimes and if we are at a party I even let them have a little as a treat, but they also ask for edamame, quinoa, salmon, & tilapia. Besides it's cheaper to eat healthy now rather than pay huge medical bills later!

Todd's picture

The fact is healthy option packaged foods do cost more than "conventional" products. Ask any of the marketing departments behind these brands and they will proudly tell you their Target consumer is educated, wealthy, married and has children. The less fortunate are barely aware that these products exist.

Jasmine Rodriguez's picture

Agreed!!! the problem is that people want to eat what they want with no consequences. Everyone wants a quick fix but the only way to get healthy is to eat and live a healthy lifestyle there is no shortcut. I've lost 70lbs this year just by replacing processed foods with whole grains and veggies its so much cheaper and worth the time in the kitchen to know exactly whats going into my body.

A lurking Kate's picture

That's all well and good if you are able to cook and you know how to cook. And if you have the time to cook. For many of the working poor, an entire day spent on one's feet is enough. They don't want to spent an hour chopping and slicing and cooking. You can't leave a pot of beans simmering on the stove in an efficiency apartment for 9 hours. Especially since most of these people haven't ever had beans outside of KFC or taco hell.
Then there are the disabled, of whom I am one. I can't stand long enough to sautee or stir fry, and a lot of days I can barely make it to the bathroom. Crackers are not as healthy as veggies, I'm well aware of that. But my food stamps are only $75/month, and crackers go a lot further.

It's easy to make decisions about the habits of people you don't know, and assume they have the same strengths and abilities and acquired knowledge you have. But believe it or not, you really are privileged in many ways. Your average poor person doesn't know how to cook with basic ingredients, and it would involve far too much work for most of them, and cost too much.

What -would- be a good idea would be if people like you could get together with people who have no clue, or no ability, or no endurance, and have communal food prep days. Once a month a group pools resources, and a local church or community center provides the location, and maybe even garden space. Then everyone can learn in a non-judgmental manner, and children can learn to cook by watching and participating, the way it's been done throughout most of human history. Then everyone can have a share of the spoils to take home and eat, or freeze. But then we have the issue of many apartments having such tiny freezers that there is no room for a month's worth of food.
I'm not trying to be rude, and I'm not trolling. I just really think it's not a good idea to assume that people are as capable as you are. I'm not, and I know I'm not. However, if someone feels they are capable of putting together a menu that costs less than $75/month that requires almost no prep or standing, please let me know.

Jenn 's picture

Some people make excuses, others, make a have to figure out where you fall. Rich or poor, black or white, handicapped or healthy,male or female,we are all in a category we could use as an excuse for anything... Either be happy where you are or work for something different... It's nobody else's responsibility but your own.

Dan D's picture

There seems to be a problem with this studies basic methodology. They may even be right that raising a single nutrient to recommended levels increases cost. But even if that is the case, raising that single nutrient is also going to haul up most of the rest, since foods are not mono-nutritive (yes I made that word up, deal with it). Even if they are right that bringing pottasium up to recommended levels, that $380 is likely to bring everything else up similarly. A dollar a day in food costs in exchange for a lifetime of better health sounds like a good deal to me.

CJ's picture

I feel people should educate themselves on "food deserts" before they encourage this rant. I think it reflects a misunderstanding of what some people have to go through just to get basics like meat and vegetables. Especially in cities like Chicago that have extreme weather.

Please read the link before you continue this rant.

Mayra Fernandez's picture

Thanks for all your comments. I am now doing missionary work in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America. We are eating very healthy and cheaply. My four kids and I have lost fatty weight and feel so much better. I was scared of returning to the US b/c of all the chemicals in food and my not being able to control all the junk food everywhere. Reading your readers' comments give me hope for my return in three years. Thank you.