Monday, February 27, 2017

How much does a nutritious diet cost?

Jeremy Cherfas, host of Eat This Podcast, led this lively conversation about the cost of a nutritious diet:
Recently I’ve been involved in a couple of online discussions about the cost of a nutritious diet. The crucial issue is why poor people in rich countries seem to have such unhealthy diets. One argument is about the cost of food. Another is about everything other than cost: knowledge, equipment, time, conditions.
My own opinion is that given all those other things, the externalities, a nutritious diet is actually not that expensive. But that’s just an opinion, so I went looking for information, and found it in a paper entitled Using the Thrifty Food Plan to Assess the Cost of a Nutritious Diet, published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs in 2009. The very first sentence of that paper is:
How much does a nutritious diet cost?
Parke Wilde, author of that paper, is an agricultural economist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, and I really enjoyed talking to him for the podcast.


Anonymous said...

Heh, heh, heh, leave it to a Liberal Elite foodie, when one wants to know if a "healthy" or "nutritious" diet is more or less expensive than an ordinary (ie. implied "unhealthy" and "non-nutritious") diet, that one would know precisely where to look -- in a pop science editorial, of course!

Well now, the rest of us, the 'deplorables', usually just pay attention when grocery shopping to get a sense of the relative value of things. I highly recommend it.

And, it's my consistent experience that foods being hawked as "healthy" or "nutritious", and so forth, are, indeed more expensive. A lot more expensive than fundamentally comparable nutrition derived from ordinary abundant safe affordable foods.

But the point is moot really, isn't it? I mean when an Ivory Tower elite dines out or orders in a food kit to prepare at home "from scratch" the price is of consequence only to the extent it imparts a tone of conspicuous consumption and value signaling. So, thank goodness for those price disparities!

Parke Wilde said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. I appreciate your observation that foods marketed as "healthy" tend to be expensive, while one can find better prices for "fundamentally comparable nutrition derived from ordinary abundant safe affordable foods."

Taylor T. said...

As a scholar in the field of nutrition at Texas State University, I feel that it is important for everyone to know what their options are in regards to purchasing foods. Considering I am a college student, budget is critical in my day to day life. I see students who eat fast food everyday and think to myself, how can they afford that everyday? Secondly, do they understand how unhealthy that it? In my own discovery I have found that eating "healthy" is actually not as expensive as one might think. When purchasing fresh vegetables or meat you are getting more bang for your buck. These nutritious foods go further than other non-nutritious alternatives. More meals can be derived from healthy choices of foods.

Emily Rischard said...

I really enjoyed this podcast! As a nutrition scholar at Texas State University, I ultimately have to agree that a nutrient dense diet does not have to be expensive. It might not be as cheap as ramen noodles for every meal, but there are a lot of ways to eat healthy and affordable. Choosing seasonal fruits and veggies, bulk rice and legumes, and frozen fruits and veggies are just a few ways to save money on nutritious food. The problem is that this diet includes mainly plant-based protein, which is not usually the preference in the U.S. This diet also requires more planning and time than buying ready-made foods or fast food. While SNAP, WIC, and other food supplemental programs are helping, we still need more nutrition education. Many people do not know what is actually healthy, how to cook, or why eating healthy is so beneficial. Including nutrition education in the SNAP program would be a step in the right direction. This would allow recipients to better prepare meals and be more eager to buy healthy foods. Thank you for your thoughts and post on this topic!

Andres Manzanares said...

After listening to this podcast, one major question that comes to mind is how people receiving food assistance under SNAP are supposed to apply this "thrifty food plan" to their food choices? The USDA seems to think low-income families can consume a healthy diet with what they are given. That doesn't seem to be the case since there is still a large majority of these individuals who are still consuming highly processed foods. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, a healthy diet cost $1.50 more than an unhealthy diet. This apparently would amount to an increase of $550 in food cost a year, which I believe is not much compared to the health cost that may arise down the road from consuming an unhealthy diet. Yet this viewpoint might be very different coming from a food-insecure household.

So what are the factors effecting purchasing decisions of these individuals? I believe it boils down to how our food system has developed over the past half century, as well as the fast-pasted society that has come along with the conveniences we see today. This regards more than people receiving SNAP benefits since, as mentions in the podcast, the purchasing patterns of low-income families resembles that of middle and high-income families. From my experience, a lot more goes into purchasing healthier food options. They require the resources and time for preparation. Let’s not forget that whole foods may not taste very well, so the ability to make foods palatable might be an issue for some.

Though I may not agree with SNAP benefits being used to purchased highly processed food, high in sugar and additives, I completely understand the purchasing patterns we see today.

Carley Franklin said...

Yes, you will spend more money on foods generally known to be healthy, often labeled “Organic’ or “Non-GMO”…but the amount of money saved on costs related to health related diseases seems like a fair trade off. Statistics have shown that the amount of money spent on health related diseases is an increasing problem in the United States and easily preventable with the knowledge of obtaining a nutritious diet at a low budget cost (

I feel as if having a better quality of life is worth the extra cost compared to a life compromised by an unhealthy diet.