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Week 7: The “High Cost of Eating Healthy” MYTH

Contrary to the common belief (or excuse), it does NOT HAVE TO cost more to eat healthy.

We so often hear arguments like these: “It’s so expensive to eat well.  My grocery store charges outrageous prices for the individually polished apples, pre-cut broccoli spears, and fresh caught seafood and grass fed meats.”  But what people really mean is: “The more appealing, conveniently prepared, higher end foods are more expensive than the boring, inconvenient, tasteless versions of those same items.”

Adding fuel to the “high cost of healthy eating” fire are the numerous premium grocery stores that have popped up in recent years that tout their “natural, organic, free-range, imported, etc.” goods. Not only do many Americans feel they cannot afford to shop at these stores, often they don’t have easy access to them (The reality is, however, public transportation can usually offer access to a choice of these grocery stores).

Although it is important to keep in mind that almost all “levels” of grocery stores carry different price points of food items. At most places you can find pre-washed, ready-to-eat carrots, a variety of individual, pre-washed and polished apples, free-range boneless chicken (maybe even grilled fresh at the hot foods section), sashimi grade ahi tuna, filet mignon, and a multitude of rare rice varieties and multi-grain organic oats.  However, the same store will likely carry the simpler options: a 2 lb bag of whole carrots, a 3 lb. bag of apples, a 3 lb. family package of boneless chicken breast, a 1 lb. can of tuna, a 2 lb. package of 93% lean ground round, a 2 lb bag of brown rice, and a 42 oz. container of oats…all healthy foods at a fraction of the cost of the aforementioned.

While the latter options may not sound nearly as appetizing, convenient, or desirable, they still offer a similar nutrition profile (though some will argue the latter is clearly inferior to the premium options). Regardless, eating the simpler choices may require more of your own prep work, but what you prepare is pretty darn healthy… and is actually significantly cheaper.

Take a look and this comparison chart:

*Prices are based on averages from local Pittsburgh grocery stores.

So, sticking to a clean and nutritious approach to shopping (as shown in the second column) can be cost efficient and done at almost any market: from the premium organic markets to the strip mall chain grocery store.  And even at locally owned smaller neighborhood markets, while the higher end items may not be available, certainly the cost-efficient options are.  And yes, the cost-efficient options are often a little costlier here at these smaller neighborhood markets, but you’re paying for the convenience of a “convenience store,” so expect to pay a little more.

Let’s Break it Down Even Further

Take a trip to the local, strip mall, chain grocery store and buy the following “non-premium” whole foods: oats, eggs, natural peanut butter, fresh strawberries (to be used for breakfast); brown rice, tuna, carrots, olive oil (to be used for lunch); and ground beef, sweet potatoes, frozen green beans and almonds (to be used for dinner).

Check out the charts below to see how these healthy foods stack up.

Note: prices in all three charts above are based on 2018 averages from local Pittsburgh grocery stores.

So, with your purchases, you can create three nutritious meals (for several days) of approximately 500 calories each: “Low cost and nutritious at every meal.”

And one last note on shopping at grocery stores. As we’ve mentioned, premium cuts of beef, seafood, poultry, etc. can be pricey (and we now know there are cheaper alternatives). But exotic and/or out-of-season fruits and vegetables can be pricey as well.

So, while those pricier options may look more appealing, stick to in-season foods as they will save you considerably.

Defining “Healthy” Food…What’s the Real Deal?

Whole grain cereals and breads, lunch meats, and tuna salad…just too expensive?

That box of low-fat honey coated, sugar frosted whole grain cereal is quite costly. The yummy tuna salad (loaded with mayo) and the honey glazed turkey lunch meat at the deli is very pricey. The yogurt covered cashews, the chocolate covered raisins, the chewy chocolate chip low fat granola bars are crushing the budget.

Yes, these made-to-sound healthy choices are expensive. But are they “healthy?”  Not really. The food industry has taken healthy foods or ingredients and packaged them up into sugary, sodium-packed, breaded and/or processed versions of their simpler selves.

And so once again we’ve convinced ourselves that eating healthy costs more.  But is this the truth or a rationalization?  Deep down inside we understand what is healthy, but as often is the case, this way of eating is boring and does not meet our heightened standards of salty, savory and sweet.

And Don’t Get Us Started on Fast Food…

Another flawed way of thinking for some folks is that breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner at a fast food chain is the cheapest way to get a meal, and the “healthy” options at these fast food restaurants are too expensive.

Cheapest way to get a meal? Refer to the above tables to dispel that excuse. “Healthy” options at fast food chains cost more? Yes, certainly the argument can be made that the “healthy” options at these places are more expensive, but is it the fast food chain’s responsibility to provide low cost “healthy” alternatives to their greasy, sugary, and or fried options that are their “bread and butter” money makers?

Let’s be honest about the real reason why we go to the fast food restaurant in the first place.  Is it truly a price issue, or is it that often we can’t pass up the convenience, comfort and our desires (aka: the taste)?

Pep Talk

Most people are not eating processed, polished and/or fast foods because it’s the most economical choice…most are eating them because they are more convenient, take less time, and taste better than shopping for, preparing and eating healthy, less expensive alternatives.

Week 7 Quiz:

1) Most grocery stores carry different price points of food items: a) True b) False

2) Most people are not eating processed, pre-packaged and fast foods because they are the most economical choice…most are eating them because they are more convenient, take less time, and taste better than shopping for, preparing and eating healthier choices: a) True b) False

3) The food industry has taken once clean and healthy items and packaged them up into sugary, sodium-packed, breaded and/or processed versions of their simpler selves: a) False b) True

4) The following items represent the COST-EFFICIENT versions of commonly purchased foods, except for: a) 2 lb bag of whole carrots b) canned tuna c) Ahi Tuna d) 2 lb bag of brown rice

Once you've taken the quiz, click here to see how you did.


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