Day 37 - Is 'Junk Food' really cheaper than 'Healthy Food'?
Many of us have either heard someone say, or have used the phrase, "Healthy food costs more than junk food!" Well, I came across an interesting article that I came across on the USDA blog. Healthy Foods Not Necessarily More Expensive Than Less Healthy Ones. The authors of the blog discuss the differing techniques to compare prices of food.
My ERS colleague Elizabeth Frazao and I wanted to look at other price measures as a beginning point in answering the question of whether price is a hurdle to making wiser food choices. We calculated price in three ways: price per calorie, price per edible weight, and price per average amount eaten. Price per edible weight is the price of the food after it is cooked, and the seeds, peels, skins, shells, and bones have been removed. Price per average amount is the price of the average amount consumed by adults who reported their food consumption in a national survey.
Their findings were actually quite surprising:
We found that the price measure used has a large effect on which foods are more expensive. If we use price per calorie, fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive than less healthy foods. In contrast, if we use price per edible weight or per average amount eaten, then grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy foods are less expensive than most protein foods and less healthy foods.
This is not necessarily all that surprising (to some) if you actually think about this from a logical standpoint and understand the basic principles of the foods being studied. Vegetables and fruits are made primarily of water. Along with their water content, they contain large amounts of nutritionally beneficial stuff for our bodies - you know, vitamins and nutrients.
On the other hand, most protein sources, as well as what the authors are calling 'less healthy foods' tend to be very dense calorie-wise. This, unfortunately, does not always mean that those calories are most beneficial. What I mean is that just because something is high in calories does not make it nutritionally useful (duh!) and can otherwise be called 'empty calories'.
This topic can be viewed from a couple different perspectives. On one hand, you can appreciate the fact that for your dollars spent, 'healthy foods', although somewhat expensive at times, give you more bang for your buck nutritionally. Not only can their water and fiber content keep you feeling 'full' for longer periods of time, they provide your body with the vital minerals and nutrients that it craves with fewer calories.
On the other hand, some might argue that they would much rather pay more to get more, and in this case, they feel as though getting more calories for each dollar spent, is much more worthwhile.
I don't really understand the logic of some folks. They 'pay a little more' for luxury items like cell phone data plans, decadent coffees, fancy clothes, and other cosmetic material items that have little overall value, yet complain that they may have to pay a little more for an apple rather than an apple fritter.
Priorities I guess...
Quote of the day:
"Opportunities are like sunrises. If you wait too long, you miss them."