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Myth: Is Eating Healthy More Expensive?

While a trip to a natural foods markets can come at a heavy price, eating healthy doesn’t have to bust the bank.

It’s no secret that the urban landscape is cluttered with glowing fast food signs recognizable the world over, the electrified hues of McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell all clamoring for the attention of hungry, vulnerable motorists who know what they offer is so fast, so convenient—so cheap.

Sure, the number one killer in this country is heart disease and yeah, Americans are heavier than ever, but financial hardships are also on the rise, and dollar menu fries are so pleasing to the taste buds.

On the other hand, fruits and vegetables straight from the ground, vine, tree or bush, are often less expensive than meaty, cheesy and chemical-laden food products.  

So why is eating healthy considered unaffordable by so many?  

In a report released last month by the United States Department of Agriculture entitled, Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive?, authors Andrea Carlson and Elizabeth Frazão assert that “it depends on how you measure the price.”

Based on past studies focusing on cost per calorie, broccoli is considered to be more expensive than a doughnut because it has fewer calories, meaning less bang for the buck.  

By introducing two additional factors, cost per edible gram and cost per average portion, the study found that compared to conventional mainstays, purchasing produce, grains and dairy is more economical than high calorie sugar and starch-based foods.

 “When measured on the basis of edible weight or average portion size, grains, vegetables, fruit and dairy foods are less expensive than most protein foods and foods high in saturated fat, added sugars, and/or sodium,” Carlson and Frazão stated as one of the study’s major findings.   

Perhaps future analysis will take into account phytonutrients, cancer-fighting antioxidants and other benefits of wholesome foods. But studies lacking sufficient criteria aren’t the only culprit in a vast misunderstanding of what’s at cost. Natural items sometimes get supernatural price tags once placed on shelves of shops offering new age elixirs and eats.  

On the surface, American society has become so divorced from nature that the average individual recognizes fewer than 10 native plant species but can identify more than 1000 corporate logos. But for the last two or three decades a revolution has been quietly unfolding in juice bars, co-ops and local farmers markets across the nation, bringing organic into the mainstream and making conscientious consumerism  a multi-million dollar business.   

Just like the neighborhood supermarket, many natural food markets now offer a generic store brand.

A nationwide grocery chain that’s been called “Whole Paycheck and “porn for food lovers”, Whole Foods Market has their own economical line of products—the 365 brand. The value label for staples such as peanut butter, pasta sauce and coffee, 365 prices are often on par with conventional counterparts, but lack possibly harmful additives and fillers.

The hard part is averting one’s eyes from piles $14 blocks of Valrhona chocolate and escaping without blowing dough on cheap, tasty thrills.

Stores like Trader Joe’s sell “alternative” food at even more modest prices but unlike places like Whole Foods, not all of their products are strictly natural.  

are also notorious for jacked-up prices but depending on the market, some local items are super cheap, such as oranges, and way tastier. And for those in the right place at the right time, good deals abound. One key is to check out all the vendors before making a choice.

The old adage, “the early bird gets the worm” may be true but the late bird gets the cheap worm. The terminally tardy may find that their penchant for fashionably late entrances often translates to last minute deals from farmers eager to unload the last of their produce.  

Farmers markets have also been credited for providing public space considered vital to a healthy community by the United States Agriculture Department.

Being healthy is a comprehensive effort embodying a variety of factors. From expensive eateries to strolling through open air markets to creating a backyard garden, healthy eating can range in price and may require more effort.  

But in not doing so, we may pay the biggest price of all--our own lives.

Donna Evans June 03, 2012 at 08:27 PM
We popped into Whole Paycheck yesterday before our picnic at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (Cinespia), and two bags worth of almonds, kale salad, organic fruit, popcorn and two bottles of $14 wine totaled $104. I've never paid $7.99 for a pound of cherries before, and grimaced this time. Then we did a taste test at the picnic against my friends' cheaper Ralphs cherries. Ours tasted like sweet, flavorful cherries, theirs tasted like, well, nothing. BUT if we hadn't had the Whole Foods ones to compare them to, would we have thought any less of them?
Natalie Ragus June 04, 2012 at 05:03 PM
I love Whole Foods, but, I agree with you, Donna, it's way too expensive. That said, if you eat fresh and in-season, you can eat cheap (shipping oranges from Chile during our winter is expensive. And they won't even taste that good). For example, SP Editor Kristen and I went wine tasting a few months ago, and we stopped by the $.99 Store to stock up on some delicious grapes, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries for $4.15 or so. TOTAL. Last week, I bought an entire bag of carrots for $.79. I had to peel and cut them myself, but that beat $2.29 for the bag of pre-cut carrots. The jar of natural peanut butter (no preservatives — just peanuts and salt) I regularly buy at Trader Joe's cost just $1.79. Trader Joe's bananas cost $.19 a pop (for the non-organic kind. But you don't need to go organic with bananas because the peel protects the fruit from pesticides). That means you can get SIX bananas for about the same price as a junky, over-sized bag of Cheetos at the convenience store. In short, it's entirely easy to eat healthy on the cheap, just not maybe the super-fancy Whole Foods way.
Jessica Hamlin June 04, 2012 at 05:45 PM
I used to shop more regularly at Whole Foods but was delighted when I came across Sprouts, which charges significantly less for organic produce and organic items I regularly buy. Trader Joe's is good for cheaper organic produce too, though it's not always stocked as well. My personal belief is I'd rather spend the extra money now on healthier food and products not ridden with pesticides and harsh chemicals, then possibly spend extra money, time and grief later at the doctor for a health condition.
Cassandra Morris June 04, 2012 at 06:24 PM
I'm all about Farmer's Markets. Most of the produce I get (avocados, brussel sprouts, oranges, lettuce) cheaper and tastier when compared to grocery stores. The more expensive stuff (cherries, spreads, yogurt, bread) is usually worth it for me because it tastes better, there's more variety, and I think it's important to support farmers directly. Plus, I like the whole experience & atmosphere of shopping outdoors... and all the free taste tests I get along the way!
Natalie Ragus June 04, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Natalie Ragus 12:03 pm on Monday, June 4, 2012 My one beef with Trader Joe's is that they tend to package things in bulk. For instance, bell peppers only come in packages of 4 there. I live by myself, so the food ends up going bad before I can eat it. It's really hard (and expensive) to shop and cook for 1 person. I usually just scramble some eggs, order take out, or heat up a Fresh and Easy prepared meal. Sometimes, I have pita chips and hummus for dinner while watching The Biggest Loser. There's something about that show that just makes you want to snack. Admittedly, I (like most people) could do better in the healthy eating department. But, I do Ok.

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