The high cost of eating healthy
As you prepare to make your resolutions for the New Year—resolutions that may include eating healthier after indulging in a festive holiday season—you may want to consider that you may be paying a price, literally.
According to the results of a new survey, Americans pay, on average, nearly $1.50 a day—or $550 a year—to eat foods meeting guidelines for a healthier lifestyle.
The new study, conducted by researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health and published last week in the medical journal BMJ Open, involved the analysis of 27 studies from 10 high-income countries. The researchers compared pricing for individual foods meeting recommendations for a healthy diet—diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts—versus foods that don’t meet the suggested criteria, based primarily on calorie counts. Healthy diets are recommended to fight obesity and the accompanying risks to heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
The researchers report the largest price difference was in meats and proteins, where healthier options cost $0.29 more per serving than higher-calorie choices. The price difference for snacks and sweets was found to be $0.12, the grains category showed a $0.03 difference and dairy was closest, with a $0.004 difference in cost.
“People often say that healthier foods are more expensive, and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits,” said the study’s lead author, Mayuree Rao of the Harvard School of Public Health, in a statement. “But, until now, the scientific evidence for this idea has not been systematically evaluated, nor have the actual differences in cost been characterized.”
Though the price of eating healthy may be a bit higher than feasting on fast food daily, the investment in health is something that has long-term benefits, says Dr. Paul Ringel of Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.
“The benefits far outweigh the added costs,” Dr. Ringel says. “If you think of it in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, the cost of eating healthy is minimal compared to the cost of a heart attack, stroke or cancer.”
If you’re looking to save some money, Dr. Ringel suggests eating in rather than dining out.
“Fresh foods prepared at home can help with a tight budget,” he says. “It’s cheaper and healthier to prepare your own foods.”
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