The price of healthy eating: $1.50 extra a day
December 6th, 2013
11:30 AM ET
Share this on:

Eating nutritious foods is one of the best ways to reduce obesity. But following a healthy diet isn't always easy, especially for lower socioeconomic groups.

One of the biggest barriers to buying good food is the cost, many experts say. Now researchers at Harvard School of Public Health have put a dollar amount on the price of healthy eating. By reviewing 27 studies on the cost of healthy vs. unhealthy foods, they've estimated the daily cost of eating better. Their results are published in the British Medical Journal.

"Conventional wisdom has been that healthier foods cost more, but it's never been clear if that's actually true or exactly how much more healthier foods might cost," said lead study author Mayuree Rao. "We found that the healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day, and that's less than we might have expected."

Read - Healthy eating costs you $1.50 more a day

How do you stretch your food dollars?
How to feed your family from a food bank
The food stamp challenge results: eating on $30 a week
Could you live on $30 a week?
5 Shocking statistics about hunger
Witnesses to Hunger: A portrait of food insecurity in America
Childhood malnutrition has long lasting effects

Posted by:
Filed under: Eating Habits • Health News • Shopping

soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. rachiti

    This has not been my experience at all. I went from living on frozen diet meals to eating fresh and cooking from scratch. My food cost quadrupled. Why? I can buy frozen dinners for a fraction of the price of real food with sales and coupons. If I want a real chicken breast...that single breast will cost me – on sale – more than an entire frozen dinner. Also, those foods don't keep as well as ones full of preservatives. So not only am I paying $2.50 per pound for tomatos in the winter, but I have to pay for gas to grocery shop more frequently so the fresh veg. doesn't spoil. Even bread costs more – even when I make it from scratch. I would love to invite those Harvard students and professors to try to make those claims after seeing how much it costs me....fresh foods may go on sale but only garbage foods have coupons to boot.

    January 4, 2014 at 3:26 am |
  2. shawn l

    I'd like to see their data. Somehow I find this hard to swallow.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:24 am |
  3. Albert Leo

    $1.50 a day. Isn't that just about how much the Republicans just cut food stamps?

    December 7, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  4. Farmer in the Dell

    what about environmental cost of prepared foods?

    December 7, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  5. Farmer in the Dell

    Gubmint gives me money to grow cows and frankencorn, its why its cheeper

    December 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  6. GiGi Eats Celebrities

    While I couldn't agree more that healthy eating is pretty expensive, think about all the medical bills one would have to pay down the road thanks to YEARS OF UNHEALTHY EATING! So I am going to keep on eating healthfully. I will continue to invest in my health. It's probably the best investment anyone could ever make.

    December 7, 2013 at 12:42 am |
  7. Sherm Shermanov

    Still cheaper than a years worth of diabetes and blood pressure medications.

    December 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • Zetadogg

      Great point. People tend to be short-sighted when it comes to their diets. Avoiding illness in the long-term makes good food cost effective. I find living without pain and illness worth $1.50 a day. Knowing how to grow my own produce and cook bulk food increases the net gain.

      December 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  8. Jakob Stagg

    I agree that eating healthier is a bit more expensive. The first obstacle seems to be no matter what someone eats, someone else is critical of it. That contributes to confusion about eating. What is a "good" food? Going to a grocery store adds to the confusion. If a shopper has any concerns about cost, they have difficult task in selection. It is getting harder each week to find nutritious food or healthy ingredients. Almost everything in a box or envelope is loaded with fat, salt, and refined carbs. Few of us have unlimited time or money. For some of us, having a store close enough, we can get to daily may not be an option.

    December 6, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  9. Name* Margaret Barr

    Eating from scratch doesnt have to be difficult.
    Invest in a multicooker which is around a 100 dollars or so. Buy fresh or een Frozen produceand make up lots of stews and soups and freeze them. Multi cookers can be steamers and pressure cookers and slow cookers thus helping cut down on time and even prep....

    December 6, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  10. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Food is really cheap when you steal it.

    December 6, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • ∞ Weeds ∞

      Dumpster diving FTW

      December 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  11. Penny Wright

    The government subsidizes high fructose corn syrup, the most unhealthy food there is.

    Why doesn't the government subsidize healthy food?

    Because Iowa is a swing state.

    This is why our Constitution should be amended.

    December 6, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • ∞ Weeds ∞

      I thought Iowa was a conservative state. I didn't know it swings both ways.

      December 6, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • VladT

      Could we get a link to a peer-reviewed study website stating that HFCS is "the most unhealthy food out there" or whatever.
      I ingest foods with HFCS, and seem to be pretty healthy. That is not proof to all the readers, but it is still more evidence then you provided in your statement

      December 7, 2013 at 4:46 am |
      • Tim in San Diego

        Harvard Gazette article say it's published 12/5/13 in BMJ. See:

        I think this is the link:

        December 7, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  12. whunterknight

    What about the opportunity cost? In order to prepare healthier meals, I'm presuming the preparation time is also higher, which takes away from either working an extra hour, or searching for a job/better job.

    December 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • ∞ Weeds ∞

      Ways to manage the little time one has to cook:
      Crock pot
      pre-cook meals and reheat
      stir fry
      raw i.e. salad
      bake- and do something else, like get baked, until the time is up.
      put it all in a blender and make s smoothy

      December 6, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
      • The Witty One@Weeds

        Sounds about right to me!

        December 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        The truth has been spoken. Praise be unto Allah

        December 6, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
      • Mary

        Exactly!! Minestrone for 6, costs about the same as frozen pizza for 3.

        December 7, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  13. Karl Davis

    That sounds like about the right cost, given the same size of diet. I started taking care of my health in early 2011, and it matches my experience. Except... if you are at a restaurant and pick water instead of Coke, you've just saved your entire $1.50 back for that day. I was also spending about $3 per day on copays for medicine for essentially metabolic syndrome, and that's down to almost nothing. If you play it right it can be a net win.

    I also agree with the commenter who said that all you have to do to eat healthier is eat less. I find a lot of foods, like low calorie vegetables and fiber, amount to eating nothing, and an inexpensive equivalent is to just eat less.

    December 6, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  14. Steve

    The real cost is time. It takes much longer to make frequent trips to the market, clean, cut, and steam, bake, or sautée something healthy vs just throw a package from the freezer to microwave.

    December 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • ∞ Weeds ∞

      Are you worried cooking will cut in to your gym time?

      December 6, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  15. Carl

    This article is confusing healthy food with healthy weight. Non-refined bread and fresh fruit cost more than white bread and Hi-C.

    But reducing obesity doesn't cost ANYTHING. All you have to do is eat less. All of the phony health cranks with BS diets to sell you make up these claims that eating just the right kind of food is the only way to lose weight. That lets them sell books and pills to people who aren't educated enough to add calories.

    December 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Steve

      It's much easier in terms of hunger to eat less calories when you have a huge plate of low calorie veggies and lean meat vs a small, calorie dense food like fries.

      In the real world it's not just calories. You need a sustainable diet.

      December 6, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
      • Jakob Stagg

        I agree sustainability has a component of being able to have a family garden. More and more places are forcing people to NOT have a garden, even when they have had it for years. Many places prohibit rain harvesting. It may be a part of the master plan to destroy any self sufficiency and make us totally dependent on a government that is not interested in making our lives better.

        December 6, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • ScottInNH

      I'm not sure if what you mean is that all "diets" (or nutritional documentation) are phoney. Certainly many are self-proportional junk, but the danger of absolutes is, well, absolutes.

      I grew up exposed to the concept of healthy eating and exercise. I was also fortunate enough to learn this in school. So I assumed everyone knew what was good eating habits (even if they did not demonstrate it) and this must be an issue of "common sense". But this sadly is not the case. Among the chaf, there are "wheat" documentation sources which fill this need.

      "Eating less" is one of those absolutes which don't convey much meaning, and is about as dangerous as saying "calories are calories".

      When people learn to "hear" their food cravings (fat, protein, carbs) and answer them directly, they do better. If you're starving for protein and you answer it with soda and fried chips, you will almost immediately be hungry again (about right when the glycemic shock tapers down).

      If you answered that craving with avacado, bun-less hot dog or even beans and rice you correctly answered the request. Also, protein will stick with you longer so it will take longer for hunger to return.

      (Case in point about diet fads: "paleo" is considered a fad. I don't know anyone who sticks with it 100%. But if you take away even 50% of it, you are better off, particularly since this regimen requires you to eat whole cooked foods).

      December 6, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  16. Jon O'Donnell

    For a family of 5, that is $225 per month more. That is more than most families can add to already stretched budgets. Poor families can not just "choose" to eat healthier.

    December 6, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • ∞ Weeds ∞

      You are wrong with that blanket statement.
      A family of five is buying in bulk, especially if they are on a tight budget. We all know fresh foods can be much cheaper than processed or pre-cooked foods so that should be built in to the short budget too. If you really want to, there are ways of eating healthy and cheap.
      By the way, please read the article this article was referring to. It is enlightening.

      December 6, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  17. John

    This article is so misleading. How about stop snacking and eating less? You would actually save money. Stop looking for others to blame for being fat.

    December 6, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • ∞ Weeds ∞

      Where was the paragraph about obesity and over weight issues?

      December 6, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
      • Carl

        The very first sentence talks about reducing obesity (falsely describing it as a matter of "nutritious" foods).

        December 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
        • ∞ Weeds ∞

          Thanks for correcting my mistake.
          Good thing there wasn't a test.

          December 6, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
  18. Moonglowalso

    For some reason, fresh fruits and vegetables are equated with healthy eating. Having grown up in the 50's before fresh produce was available year round, I can assure you that canned items provide excellent nutrition and healthy eating at a lower price.

    December 6, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • AleeD®

      I concur. Fresh is better than frozen is better than canned. Words to eat by.

      December 6, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
      • Karl Davis

        What you said did not "concur." Concur means agree and you disagreed with the post to replied to.

        December 6, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
        • whunterknight


          December 6, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
      • AleeD®@KD & wk

        Crap, you're right. Derp.

        December 6, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  19. calisunrise

    Just grow your own food. Problem solved.

    December 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • JaylikeBird

      So you can enjoy the magic if $10 each carrots, or $5 per eggs, if you really have some time to kill.

      December 6, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
      • Jason R

        If you spend that much growing a single vegetable or to get an egg, I am afraid you are doing it very very wrong. Permaculture techniques can eliminate many costs.

        December 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • The Witty One

      I went out and tried to do that but my apartment complex got all mad when I started digging up the parking lot :( I decided to switch to hydroponic growing systems but when I bought everything, I got raided by the DEA and they broke it all.

      December 6, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  20. Eddie

    The problem with this theory is that healthy food normally doesn't have as long a shelf life so it goes bad faster creating more wasted food, this will in turn increase the cost per day. Unless you live in city or within walking distance, buying smaller amounts so as to limit the amount of waste will only result in you having to make additional trips to the market each week thus increasing the cost as well. There is no way around the fact that trying to eat healthy foods does cost more than just a $1.50 extra per day.

    December 6, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
    • Jason R

      There is a way around it, grow your own food. Even with very limited space you can grow lots of your own food for very cheap (pots, wall hangers, the list goes on). Seed exchanges or reusing seed found at a farmers market or ordering them online for very cheap. Permaculture is the way of the future.

      December 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
      • jen

        There are restrictions on this....I live in a region where many normals fruits and veggies don't grow, hawaii. So my family's healthy eating, cooking from scratch, costs us a large amount of our monthly budget. Produce is at a premium here, so it depends on where you live. We adjust for the extra cost, because we are military and healthy eating is not only important for our health, but is mandatory for our income.

        December 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  21. Lawrence DeVore

    Roughly the cost of 5 cigarettes.

    December 6, 2013 at 11:55 am |
    • tctwins

      Quit smoking + eat healthier = save $8 a day. Wondering what people's excuse will be for chugging down soda, pounding cheeseburgers, and smoking a pack a day.

      December 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
      • The Witty One

        My excuse is that I eat a salad once a week.

        December 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  22. sdgf


    December 6, 2013 at 11:52 am |
| Part of