Healthy Food Costs Vs. Unhealthy Food Costs

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People often cite high costs as a reason for choosing unhealthy foods over nutritious meals. Eating well improves your overall health and reduces the risk for chronic disease, but the increased cost of eating a healthy diet can be a burden for many families. If you're considering switching to a healthier diet, though, it might not cost as much as you think.

The Cost of Healthy Eating

Researchers set out to determine the cost of healthy food compared to less healthy options. They conducted a meta-analysis of data from 2000 to 2011, including studies that reported dietary patterns and retail prices for food. They found that on a 2,000-calorie diet, it costs about $1.50 more per day to eat healthy foods compared to unhealthy options. This comes out to roughly $550 per person each year. For a family of four, that's a difference of more than $2,000. The study was published in the December 2013 issue of the journal "BMJ Open."

Saving Money on Protein

Protein, particularly chicken, followed by beef, showed the largest price difference when comparing healthy to unhealthy options, according to the "BMJ Open" study. You can overcome this by choosing nutritious yet affordable protein sources such as dry beans and soy foods. Dry beans are economical, rich in nutrients such as fiber and low in sodium and fat. Use beans or soy foods in place of chicken and beef twice a week so you can eat healthy on a budget.

Dairy: Equal or More Affordable

Surprisingly, researchers found that healthy dairy foods cost the same or are even more economical than unhealthy dairy options, according to the "BMJ Open" study. This suggests an area of your diet that you can improve without affecting your pocketbook. Swap out unhealthy dairy options for low-fat yogurt, cheeses made with skim milk, reduced-fat cottage cheese, low-fat sour cream and 1 percent or fat-free milk.

Rethinking Your Sweets and Snacks

The "BMJ Open" study found that unhealthy sweets and snacks were slightly more expensive than healthy options, with only a small price difference. This means you can improve your snacking without adding a huge cost difference to your monthly budget. For example, instead of getting a carton of ice cream, choose all-natural frozen-fruit bars, or instead of getting a pack of cookies, pick up sugar-free gelatin or applesauce with no sugar added.