Often when I talk to people about improving their diet and eating more healthily, I get the response: “Oh, I would love to, but healthy food is just so expensive!” But is it really? We’ve looked into it:

If you look at the raw price (see what I did there? hehe), then most junk food will be cheaper per calorie than vegetables and fruit, especially if they’re organic. But that’s a fairly outdated way of looking at food, isn’t it? I mean, in the nineteenth century, food was looked at as a pure energy resource, meaning the more calories something had, the more energy it gave you, hence the better it was for you. So foods like sugar, which has a high amount of calories per weight, were seen as good. However, today we know that food isn’t just made up from calories, but vitamins, minerals, and other good and healthy things. So the old way of looking at food isn’t really adequate anymore, is it?

But how should we look at food? The answer is: We look at a food’s nutritional value. If you look at a certain food and combine all of its nutritional value, which is made up of macro-nutrients like carbohydrates, fats and protein, and micro-nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, you will quickly see which foods are not only good for you, but also have a good cost-per-value (or cost-per-nutrition) basis.

For example, an average serving of vegetables may cost 4 times more than an average serving of fast food, but this serving of vegetables has a twenty-four times higher nutritional value. So if we look at it from a cost-per-nutrition point of view, vegetables offer six times more nutrition per pound compared to highly processed foods. Bread is another example. While you will likely pay more for a loaf of wholegrain bread than a loaf of white bread, you will feel hungry again much more quickly after eating the processed, white bread and therefore eat more of it. In the end, while you might have paid a bit more for the wholegrain option, it will have filled you up with more nutrients and you only needed one, while the white bread is so empty of nutrients that you are likely to have to buy two or even three loaves to get the same feeling of satiety as from one wholegrain bread.

Another thing to consider is that when you eat more foods with a higher nutritional value is that you might reduce your risk of dying. A study from 2012 showed that spending only 40 pence more on vegetables a day will decrease your risk of death by 16%!* Sounds like a pretty good investment, right?

Imagine a drug that could reduce your risk of death by the same amount and only had good side effects. Do you think the pharmaceutical companies would charge you just 40p for it?

In summary, if you look at the problem a bit more closely, you can quickly see that fresh and non-processed foods have a much higher nutritional value than processed foods and while they might cost more per calorie, they have a better cost-per-nutrition value. Not only will you get more nutrients, but because of this you will also need to buy less and therefore be likely to spend less in the long run.

With that said, enjoy your next visit at the farmers market (or the fresh produce aisle) and have fun choosing all those great fresh, non-processed vegetables!

*Yo LT et al, Spending on vegetable and fruit consumption could reduce all-cause mortality among older adults. Nutr J. 2012: 148-153