Healthy Eating: Is it Too Expensive?

Many people claim that they can’t afford to eat healthy but are healthy foods really more expensive? A new report from the USDA Economic Research Service had some interesting findings.

The Study

In this study, the researchers compared the prices of foods three ways. They compared:

  • the price per calorie ($/kcal)
  • the price per edible weight ($/edible grams)
  • and the price per average portion ($/average portion).

They compared healthy foods (those that contain one of the major food groups and only moderate amounts of saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium) to moderation foods (those high in saturated fat, added sugar, or sodium, or those that have little nutritional value.


What they found is that healthy foods actually cost less than less healthy foods when you look at the price by weight and price per average portion. Moderation foods cost less per calorie, meaning you get more weight gain for your buck. Got it? Let me explain:

Foods low in calories for a given weight seem more expensive when the price is measured per calorie. For example, vegetables and fruits, which are low in calories, tend to be a relatively expensive way to buy calories. So if you have $1 and are absolutely starving, vegetables and fruits aren’t going to be your best choice. Moderation foods tend to be high in calories and to have a low price per calorie.

When measured by edible weight or average portion size, grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy foods are less expensive than most protein foods and moderation foods. Grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy also tend to have a lower percentage of calories per weight compared to protein foods and less healthy foods because they typically contain more water and are lower in fat.

This figure is one of many from the report

What You Need to Know

So what does this all mean to you? Well, it is less costly to meet the MyPlate recommendations for grains, dairy, and fruit than it is for vegetables or protein foods. If you want to throw in a few extra calories of moderation food, that shouldn’t be too costly either. If you want to eat healthy and not take in more calories than you need, it will actually be less costly overall to choose the healthy foods more often than moderation foods.

And if you don’t believe a single word I said, you can read the full report here.

Leave a comment


  1. Katherine Norling

     /  November 10, 2012

    Healthy eating is really necessary so that we can live longer.

  1. Eat Right on a Budget | ProjectEatMe

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