Can You Really Afford to Eat Healthfully?

by | Mar 8, 2019 | Foods, Misc.

The snack-food industry has taken a couple hits (2012) with Disney’s strict nutritional standards for food advertised on its various outlets. And there is former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces. But millions across our nation are likely cheered along with former first lady Michelle Obama that childhood obesity may be diminishing with this era.

However, the research on nourishing food economics seems to be going in the opposite direction. A study conducted in 2004 and repeated in 2006 by University of Washington investigators comparing over 370 food and beverage items in three major Seattle supermarket chains, found that the average price of low-calorie, high-nutrient produce increased by 20%, and the cost of high-fat, calorie-laden fare dropped by 2% over the same two-year period. They also found that junk-food munchies cost an average of $3.52 per 2,000 calories as compared to nutrient-rich foods, which can cost up to $36.32 per 2,000 calories.

So what’s an individual to do with this not-so-good health news?

Don’t Despair

In a Nurses’ Health Study of over 78,000 women, it was found that the healthiest women spent 24% more on groceries but experienced the lowest rates of angina, high blood pressure, and type-2 diabetes. The researchers concluded, “Although spending more money was associated with a healthier diet, large improvements in diet may be achieved without increased spending.” Here are several tips:

Skip the Supermarket

If you are looking for fresh, as well as low-cost, vegetables and fruits, the best place to start is your local farmers’ markets or roadside stands. You will typically pay only half the price for local crops harvested in the last 24 hours (rather than produce picked days or weeks ago). A greater plus would be growing your own produce. Even a few pots with tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs can make a big difference in your food bill, with homegrown freshness as a bonus.

Check Out Your Own Groceries

Avoiding checkout lines can save you from impulse buying of up to 32%. Because both sides of checkout aisles are usually shelved with high-fat, low-nutrient snacks and beverages, avoiding the temptation can result in an annual weight loss of 3.1 pounds for men and 4.1 pounds for women.

Skip Convenience

Make bulk savings your goal. Oatmeal in single-serving pouches, for example, may cost as much as $4 for a box of 12. However, purchasing oatmeal in bulk can save you up to 75% over those individual packets. But be sure to think ahead, as any perishable purchased in bulk won’t bring much savings if not eaten before spoiling.

Forget the Fancy Labels

Store brands cost about 20-30% less than name brands. Some supermarket chains offer a money-back guarantee on their label (which is usually manufactured in the same factories as identical brand-name products).

Credit With Cash!

The shrewdest health move may be to pay for your groceries with cash rather than using a debit or credit card. In a recent series of studies in the Journal of Consumer Affairs, researchers from Cornell studied how payment methods affect food selection. In one study, individuals were asked to decide between 10 “vice” foods (such as sugary cookies) and 10 “virtue” foods (such as fruit), on a computer screen, and decide if they would place those items in their virtual shopping cart. Half were allotted cash; the other half were given credit cards. Interestingly, the half assigned credit cards chose the unhealthful foods. The reason? According to researchers, people purchase vice foods on impulse, and it is psychologically less painful to buy with a credit card because of its “abstract and emotionally inert nature.” Alternatively, “parting with a $100 bill is a very vivid and concrete action” that makes shoppers think twice about impulse purchases.

Know Your Ethnic Suppliers

Shop at ethnic markets in your neighborhood as food staples such as rice are often much less there than at your regular grocery store.

Become a Thrifty Thriver!

Most every supermarket or grocery store has weekly sales. If the sale is on produce, it is usually on items that are in abundance at that time of year. Take the opportunity provided by such seasonal sales to stock your freezer with items for later use. Here is one of the best tips I know: Most store sales typically follow a 3-month cycle. Therefore, with the right timing, you only have to stock up on regular items every 12 weeks when they’re on sale.

Dine Well!

Home-cooked meals are not only less expensive but often more healthful than restaurant fare. It’s also the safer way to go for individuals with specific dietary restrictions, allowing for personal control of the ingredients and preparation. “Fresh is best,” but frozen and canned foods are viable alternatives. For both health and cost, it’s best to do your own freezing and canning. But if you need to purchase canned or frozen foods, select wholesome, unprocessed varieties. Choose frozen over canned food whenever possible, as frozen foods retain more nutrients and are less likely to have added ingredients. If store-bought canned is the only option, be sure to rinse the food to reduce the added ingredients such as salt and sweeteners.

If you opt to eat out, don’t be afraid to ask for healthful options. When more and more customers began requesting healthier dining experiences, some restaurants began to listen. For instance, The Spaghetti Factory will, if requested, serve you nutritious, flavorful whole-wheat pasta. And P.F. Chang’s is now offering brown rice. When I asked a waiter what percentage of customers requested brown rice over white, he replied, “More than 50%.”

Change Your Priorities

Do you think a healthful, plant-based diet is expensive? Why not try skipping soda, chips, candy, and other processed foods? With the amount you save, see how many fresh fruits and veggies you can buy. From apples to zucchini, an abundant array of colors, flavors, and textures await you in the produce section!

Indeed, saving money is wise, but saving your health is wiser. And treating yourself to wholesome foods sure beats medical bills! The old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is more than a cute little rhyme.

Indeed, being a smart and healthy shopper not only provides quality of life today but can also reduce or even eliminate medical and pharmaceutical expenses later by helping avoid chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer.

So, yes, you can afford to eat healthfully. Actually, you can’t afford not to.

Works cited:

  1. Sources Can You Afford to Eat Right? Tufts University Health & Nutritional Letter, May 2008, pages 4 & 5
  2. Prices Keep Some from Eating Right, Tufts University Health & Nutritional Letter, August 2009, page 3
  3. When Paying with Cash Yields a Health Dividend, Berkeley Health Letter, March, 2011
  4. Savvy Grocery Shopping Methods, Debt-Proof Living, August 2011, page 4

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