Is It Really More Expensive to Eat Healthier? Your Guide to Cheap Healthy Eating

It seems like every time my fiancé and I are at the grocery store, we happen to walk past aisles that sells loaves of bread for 99 cents or a huge bag of chips for a couple dollars. We gawk at these prices—how could anything so cheap ever be healthy? Isn’t good food more expensive? 

A study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2013 shows that eating healthier foods cost, on average, $1.56 more per day than buying foods considered to be less healthy based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet.

However, this difference is pretty minor when you consider the prices of fresh, organic foods compared to prepackaged, preservative-filled foods. It can certainly be considered trivial when you also consider the actual cost of eating cheap!

What is your $1.56 less per day doing for your health? Here’s why eating healthy really isn’t more expensive—and a guide to circumnavigating those complex marketing claims at the grocery store.

The Meat Difference

The study done by the British Medical Journal showed that the greatest difference in price for healthy vs. non-healthy foods was most evident in meat or protein purchases.

This means that if you regularly consume commercial meat, you’re going to pay more for an organic or “natural” version of these meats than for a conventional side of beef.

So what are you really buying here?

When you purchase cheap meat, you’re likely consuming antibiotics, hormones, and unhealthy saturated fats. Low-priced meat likely came from an animal that was fed the cheapest food available—this means genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and a sick, sad life for the animal, as these foods are not part of their natural diet.

So not only are you spending money for unhealthy food that’s going to increase your risk for chronic disease, but you’re also going to have to spend more than any other group of food to buy a healthy version of this stuff, according to the BMJ. 

Vegetables are cheaper, healthier, and every vegetable contains protein.

Buying Cheap Means Living Expensively

Many families say they can’t afford to eat healthily. But buying cheaper foods can lead to a costlier lifestyle. How can this be when the whole point of buying cheaper food is to live… well, cheaply?

Here’s how it happens.

These foods are not nutrient dense. What this means is that despite eating a decent serving size of these cheaper foods, you’re likely to still feel hungry afterward. This is because simple sugars lack fiber and nutrients despite having more calories, therefore leaving you feeling less full, despite increased consumption.Not to mention that since sugar is more addictive than

Not to mention that since sugar is more addictive than cocaine and heroin, it wires your brain to want more. Therefore you consume more calories than you would if you’d eaten whole foods.

These foods cause weight gain. For the same reasons above—more sugar, less fiber, and empty calories. Therefore, you increase your risk for illness and disease including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity (yes, apparently obesity is a disease now).Health problems are expensive! This is why the food industry doesn’t want you to be healthy—being healthy doesn’t cost much. Sickness costs a lot.

Health problems are expensive! This is why the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want you to be healthy—being healthy doesn’t cost much. Sickness costs a lot.

You can and will get sick. Eating cookies might make you feel great for a little white, but the toxic stress on your body in the form of acidic sugar can cause increased joint pain, liver damage, insulin disruption, and more. Sugar can even increase your risk for cancer, as cancer cells have twice as many insulin receptors as normal cells and therefore can accelerate cancer cell growth.

Eating cheaply has never been more expensive.

Eating Healthy on a Budget—Claims to Overlook and Ones to Grab!

Marketing advertisers are hard at work trying to get you to buy their product. The truth is many of these claims have no backing. This includes claims of “all natural”, “dairy-free”, and “wheat-free”.

No, it’s not natural. Yes, it does have dairy in it, and yeah, totally has gluten.

 Instead, here are some claims you should be looking for: 

  • Non-GMO
  • Gluten-free (if you have a problem with gluten)
  • Organic
  • No added sugar (but check the label to make sure they didn’t put fake sugar in there)
  • Local (is it, though?) 

And here are some labels you should ignore: free-range (they’re not), good source of fiber (it’s…not), fat-free (that’s a bad thing?) and zero trans-fat (the FDA dictates 0.5 grams or less actually means “zero”).

Here are the top budget-friendly healthy foods you can buy:

  1. Bananas
  2. Broccoli
  3. Kale
  4. Wild-caught fish
  5. Beans
  6. Nuts and seeds (think chia, flax, and walnuts)
  7. Brown rice
  8. Oats
  9. Russet potatoes
  10. Spinach

Broccoli, kale, and spinach are big cancer fighters, while healthy fats like wild-caught fish, nuts, and seeds will boost brain function! Whole grains like brown rice and oats help keep you full. Potatoes and beans pair great with many different meals and are excellent to have around.

Buy in bulk for even cheaper prices and reap the benefits of these healthy foods! Obviously, I would recommend you buy organic for the most benefits. While these foods may seem expensive at first glance, consider: you'll eat less of them, feel better, and invest in your health.

Now that we’ve seen the true cost of eating healthier—lower risk of illness, decreased healthcare costs, and ultimately more savings—we can put to rest the myth that eating healthier is actually more expensive. The $1.56 you save per day when buying unhealthy food will come back to bite you as your health is impacted by these cheaper foods.

What’s your health worth, after all?

1/31/2023 5:00:00 AM
Jenn Ryan
Written by Jenn Ryan
Jenn Ryan is a health and wellness extraordinaire who's fascinated by secret truths. She was last photographed at a tea shop in Washington DC wearing way too much glitter.
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When was this article written? Her so-called budget friendly products are NOT!
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