“I would eat healthier if only I could afford it.” That’s what one commenter said on the Buzzfeed Food Facebook page. Posts like that are common on a page curated for college-aged millennials, beneath gluttonously indulgent pictures of Oreo-stuffed bagels.
The “eating healthy is prohibitively expensive” attitude is pervasive. After all, organic fresh squeezed juices can run $9.00 at trendy coffee shops, and wild caught salmon is rarely the cheapest thing on the menu. Eating from the $1 menu isn’t ideal (especially the near-guaranteed bellyache that follows), but if you’re trying to survive on a shoestring budget…
So is it true? Is eating healthy really more expensive than eating a diet of junk food?
The answer: kind of, but definitely much less than you’d think. A study conducted by Harvard researchers and published in the British Medical Journal is the first comprehensive effort to find the price differences between the healthiest diet versus the unhealthiest one. They found that it costs about $1.50 more per day, or $550 more per year, to eat the healthiest diet. That means a diet of fish, nuts, fruits, and vegetables is barely more expensive than one comprised of McDoubles and ramen.
The extra money definitely adds up for impoverished families, but the study’s researchers note that it is nothing compared to the costs saved in the long run on healthcare. A healthy diet is one of the best safeguards against chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. In other words, if you can afford the extra $1.50 a day, you should.
But what about those who can’t afford it? With so many Americans living at the poverty line, this does make a difference. Part of the reason processed foods are cheaper is because there is a whole infrastructure to support them. Subsidies and lobbyists make it so much cheaper, perpetuating the cycle of poor diet and poverty.
More people (including all of us at HFR!) are demanding healthier options, so the gap between healthy and unhealthy should diminish as more infrastructure is setup for eating healthy.