Does It Really Cost More To Eat Healthy?

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In 2007, a University of Washington study concluded that energy-dense food — higher-calorie junk food — is the least expensive, and most resistant to inflation, and explains why the highest rates of obesity continue to be observed among groups of limited economic means.


The study claims eating a healthy diet can cost up to 10 times as much as a diet based on junk food.

The study suggested the sharp price increase for low-energy-density foods — fruits and vegetables — may pose a barrier to the adoption of more healthful diets.

Adam Drewnowski, the study’s lead author, insisted that it’s easier for low-income people to sustain themselves on junk food rather than fruits and vegetables.

“If you have $3 to feed yourself, your choices gravitate toward foods which give you the most calories per dollar,’’ said Dr. Drewnowski.

“Not only are the empty calories cheaper, but the healthy foods are becoming more and more expensive. Vegetables and fruits are rapidly becoming luxury goods.”

The study claims eating a healthy diet can cost up to 10 times as much as a diet based on junk food.

But as Nate Morrow with the Huffington Post points out, the study uses a misleading measurement, and it’s studies like this that have perpetuated the myth that it costs more to eat healthy.

The study uses price per calorie in their equations, so when comparing junk foods loaded with fat and sugar to nutrient-dense foods like spinach, broccoli or apples, the junk food is going to dominate calorie count every time.

“If we discount the fact that the calories in junk food are, by and large, nutritionally worthless, a more appropriate metric would be price per serving,” writes Morrow. “Fruits and veggies, by nature, have a much lower calorie count per serving.”


Nate Morrow of the Huffington Post proves, through his healthy daily meal plan, that dining on healthy food will not rob the bank, the opposite of what the media has been trying to tell us.


Based on Dr. Drewnowski’s findings, a 2,000-calorie diet would cost just $3.52 a day if it consisted of junk food, compared with $36.32 a day for a diet of low-energy dense foods. The average American spends about $7 a day on food, although low-income people spend about $4, says Dr. Drewnowski.

While it may be accurate to claim some organic food is cost prohibitive for those on a restrictive food budget, eating a diet rich in conventionally grown fruits and vegetables is about at par in cost and far healthier than junk food.

Morrow decided to put together a healthy meal plan for a day to see how it compared to the national average. While not counting for inflation, Morrow’s daily food plan is as follows for a 6-foot, 3-inch, 200-pound man.

Scrambled eggs with cheese
Oatmeal with raisins and honey

Turkey sandwich with whole-grain bread, cheese, avocado, tomato and lettuce

Grilled chicken breast
Steamed broccoli
Baked sweet potato


Here’s the breakdown of what Morrow bought:

Shopping List

Brown eggs (30 ct)
$0.12 per egg

Frozen chicken breasts (4 lbs)
$1.34 per 6-oz breast

Deli style turkey breast (1 lb)
$0.31 per 1-oz slice

Mozzarella cheese (2 lb)
$0.16 per 1-oz slice

100% whole wheat bread (18 slices)
$0.09 per slice

Oatmeal (42 oz)
$0.21 per ½ cup serving

Sweet potato (1 medium)
$0.37 per potato

Gala apple (1 medium)
$0.24 per apple

Avocado (1 medium)
$0.88 per avocado

Broccoli (1 head, about ½ lb)
$0.25 per cup serving

Roma tomatoes (5 ct, about 1 lb)
$0.24 per tomato

Romaine lettuce (1 head)
$0.20 per cup serving

Almonds (½ lb)
$0.42 per 1-oz serving

Honey (local, 12 oz)
$0.15 per tbsp serving

Raisins (½ lb)
$0.19 per 1-oz serving

Now here’s how those prices apply to the meal plan for the day:


3 eggs

1 slice mozzarella cheese

1 cup oatmeal

1 oz raisins

1 tbsp honey

Breakfast total


2 slices whole wheat bread

3 slices turkey breast

1 slice mozzarella cheese

½ avocado

½ Roma tomato

½ cup Romaine lettuce

Lunch total


1 chicken breast

1 sweet potato

1 cup broccoli

Dinner total


1 Gala apple

1 oz almonds

Snacks total

Grand total

That’s 17 percent below the national average!

Morrow notes the studies that count calorie-value, and the articles promoting them, are misleading at best and dangerously disingenuous at worst.

“It’s this kind of self-perpetuating nonsense that makes people give up on the notion of a healthy diet.”

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper
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