The cost of being healthy

by | Jan 8, 2014 | Nutrition, Research | 5 comments

An interesting article was published in the BMJ late last year, looking at the cost (as in, affect on our wallets) of healthy diet and lifestyle patterns. The article’s lead author explained: “people often say that healthier foods are more expensive and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits.”

So… does it cost more to live well and, if so, by how much?

To answer this question, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 27 studies, from 10 different countries, which included information on price for individual foods and healthier versus less healthy diets. What they found was that healthier diets – rich in vegetables, fruits, fish and nuts – cost significantly more than unhealthy diets, rich in processed foods and refined grains. Averaged out, the healthiest diet patterns cost around $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.


Now that doesn’t sound like much, does it – and for many of us it really isn’t. But for many others, it really is. $1.50 per person, per day, adds up. Particularly if you have a large family. Particularly if you don’t have much money. Often compounded by lack of choice and inadequate understand of what ‘healthy’ actually is (food marketing does an excellent job at bamboozling most people in this regard).

The researchers suggest the reason for this cost difference includes food subsidies and policies that favour the production of “inexpensive, high volume” foods over their healthier counterparts. In other words, we don’t have the infrastructure to support the widespread production and distribution of healthier foods. That’s certainly a factor.

Education and ready access to quality food is another one. Sometimes people don’t realise that the simplest changes will have profound effects on their immediate and long term health. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the information fed to us by food companies (food shouldn’t have to tell you it’s healthy FYI), family members, news articles, health blogs (yeah yeah, I know)… there’s a lot out there and messages can be mixed.

Although I will happily overhaul your diet and lifestyle, encourage avid consumption of leafy greens, espouse the virtues of chia and and get you to down some herbs if I can; it doesn’t have to be that, shall we say, radical. Cut down the amount of fizzy drinks you consume in favour of water, add a handful of veggies to just one meal each day, swap white bread out of your diet, eat one piece of fresh fruit daily… Seemingly small changes such as these can have big effects. ‘Being healthy’ can be quite simple, really. Start small, learn a few recipes, don’t be afraid to try new things and choose what you (and your family) like.

I’ve sort of gone off on a tangent from my original article discussion, but it is related. I suppose what I’m trying to say is: although healthy eating doesn’t have to cost the earth, it can be a very real stretch for some folk. Regardless, do what you can. If that means coconut water, organic veggies and meat, go nuts! Or if it’s frozen veggies and non-processed cheese, go nuts! Just do your best. You’ve got one life and one body to carry you through it, so look after it the best you possibly can.

farmers markets

some lovely produce at the orange grove markets

Reference: BMJ Open. 2013 Dec 5;3(12):e004277