USDA: Healthy food isn't really more expensive
May 17th, 2012
09:32 AM ET

USDA: Healthy food isn't really more expensive

We have many excuses for not eating healthy: I’m too busy. I don’t live near a grocery store. I can’t afford healthy food. I don’t know how to cook.

A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service is taking one of those excuses off the table.

Previous studies have shown that eating junk food is cheaper than eating healthy food. But Andrea Carlson, lead author for the USDA study, said the way those researchers measured cost-effectiveness skewed the results.

Carlson and her team analyzed 4,439 foods in three different ways – price per calories (as previous studies had done), price per edible gram and price per average portion. Retail prices were based on Nielsen Homescan data. The average portion was determined from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The researchers found that when they used the price per calories analysis, fruits and vegetables appeared more expensive. “But this changes when you use other two,” Carlson said in a press call Wednesday.

For instance, take a chocolate glazed donut. Each donut is probably about 240 calories, and you could probably eat two or three of them with no problem (and just a teensy bit of guilt). Then take a banana with about 105 calories.

If these two cost the same, the banana is more expensive per each calorie eaten. But you’ll probably only eat one and feel a lot fuller afterward, Carlson said. That makes it cheaper per edible gram and per the average portion.

“Many have raised concerns that those of modest means … can’t afford a healthy diet,” said Kevin Concannon, the USDA under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. “The good news I take away from the study is that is not necessarily the case.”

Concannon said the study shows that carrots, onions, pinto beans and mashed potatoes are all less expensive per portion than ice cream, sweet rolls, pork chops and ground beef. In fact, protein foods and food high in saturated fat, added sugars and sodium were all more expensive than fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains based on these methods.

“This is great news for all getting by with a limited food budget,” he said. “You don’t have to compromise good nutrition.”

The bottom line, Carlson said, is that there is a range of prices for any type of food you buy. You can find expensive produce and inexpensive produce, as well as expensive and inexpensive junk food.

And while cost is a common excuse offered for not eating nutritionally, it’s not the only barrier. Food deserts make it difficult for some in the U.S. to access fresh produce, and others just don’t want to make the effort.

“Taste always is the first thing people consider when choosing food,” Carlson said.

The USDA offers tips for consumers on how to eat healthy on a budget. For meal plans and more, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov

soundoff (364 Responses)
  1. Charles Gilman

    How damn dumb is this article? Do you bozos honestly believe people are say, "Oh, I had no idea that the food which appears to cost more in EVERY STORE IN THE COUNTRY REALLY ISN'T MORE EXPENSIVE."?!!? "Inexpensive produce", where? Juice carrots maybe? Lettuce? Compare those to boxes of mac & cheese. Healthy food IS more expensive and EVERYONE knows it. Saying it isn't doesn't change a damn thing.

    May 17, 2012 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Heather Christena Schmidt

      THANK YOU! I couldn't agree more. Our grocery bill is off the charts most months because we eat healthy. If we didn't – ate Macaroni and Cheese and Pork and Beans all the time, it would be so much cheaper.

      And I think that this study is just as skewed or bias as the next. The example of the donuts versus the banana is the perfect one: someone that will pop two or three donuts in one sitting is NOT going to be filled up by eating just one banana by comparison. The point is that the person would have to eat probably two or three bananas, and since the bananas are still about half the calories of the donut it would still be considerably more expensive per calorie, not only because bananas are pricier than donuts but because they would have to eat even more of the pricier healthy snack than more of the cheap crap. Give me a break.

      May 17, 2012 at 10:38 | Report abuse |
    • John Doe

      If you eat Mac and Cheese as well as pork and beans everyday you will end up paying more in health care costs down the road. You might be "saving" money now but in the long run, your way of life will reek havoc on the health care system by your diet related illnesses, e.g. heart disease, obesity, diabetes (just to name the most prevalent ones). Then, when you are unable to pay your medical bills, the rest of the us will have to do it for you because you're too ignorant and hubris to take care of yourself.

      May 17, 2012 at 11:33 | Report abuse |
    • John Doe

      Eating a banana and getting less calories is better for you than eating a few donuts that is calorie rich (empty calories). At least the banana has essential nutrients your body needs. Plus, your body isn't designed to process the crap that's in donuts. It's all about instant gratification you get when you stuff your face with crap as opposed to eating just enough (portion control) to be content.

      May 17, 2012 at 11:39 | Report abuse |
    • NEDOC

      Unhealthy foods= calorically dense with low nutrition= persistent hunger secondary to minimal stomach distension and low nutritional value=intake of more unhealthy foods= more cost = obesity =medical problems = more cost+poor quality of life

      May 17, 2012 at 12:54 | Report abuse |
    • HumanistJohn

      John Doe said it right.

      May 17, 2012 at 13:12 | Report abuse |
    • KJC

      I don't know that I would call this article dumb, but I would say the fact that the article includes "protein" with the junk foods indicates that they didn't account for the price of meat in their estimates. It's not as if you replace a cheap mac & cheese dinner with a lettuce salad. Of course, just eating the vegetable could be less expensive in some instances. But no, you would actually replace the meal with a lean meat and a salad, which is healthier, but my guess is also more expensive.

      May 17, 2012 at 14:49 | Report abuse |
    • kmalesky

      CG you nailed it! They even say "carrots, onions, pinto beans and mashed potatoes" are cheaper than everything from ice cream to sweet rolls to beef. 4 items. I don't doubt plain costco sized oatmeal is cheaper than 75 different boxed cereals. I doubt I can convince my family to eat plain oatmeal every day then have a pinto bean, onion, carrot, mashed potato lunch.

      May 17, 2012 at 15:52 | Report abuse |
    • Robert Bradley

      We have to keep in mind the large number of us that live from paycheck to paycheck. If you have to decide whether to eat badly (and cheaply) so that you can pay your rent, utilities, etc., then you're going to eat badly as you have very little choice.

      May 17, 2012 at 15:53 | Report abuse |
    • dianawelsh

      They also aren't taking into account hungry teenagers. How much salad does it take to fill a teenage boy for lunch, *if* you can get them to eat the salad in the first place? And personally. I've never had a lot of confidence in vegan nutrition for growing kids. They need the proteins for bone and muscle growth. They need the fats for energy and brain development. Yes fruits and veggies are important, and they're also very expensive. A 3lb bag of apples will last my kids 2 days. A jar of Peanut butter and a jar of jelly will last 2 weeks (and yes I buy wheat bread, not white). PB&J is not only more filling, there's more food groups.

      May 17, 2012 at 18:53 | Report abuse |
    • wavejump1100

      my thoughts exactly

      May 17, 2012 at 21:52 | Report abuse |
    • Fifty

      I'm totally for healthy food, we eat lots of homemade healthy food.

      But healthy basic foods take time to prepare. This isn't insignificant. If one can do mac & cheese (maybe with some peas thrown in) and other quick prepared food after a long day at work or chores instead of cooking from scratch, it happens sometimes. Cooking from scratch, even making a salad, is a time consuming grind if you figure in doing it for lunch and dinner every day forever.

      And I'm saying this as someone that grows my own meat chickens and has bought part of a steer and a hog, both processed locally, not to mention I have a garden. If my teens want to make mac & cheese or hot pockets for lunch once in a while, or store bought cereal and sugared oatmeal packets for breakfast sometimes, I sure let them do it. Plus pizza is still a great Friday night treat.

      May 17, 2012 at 22:15 | Report abuse |
    • svann

      Ugh. Mac and cheese is gross.

      May 18, 2012 at 00:16 | Report abuse |
    • wolf

      AGREED !!! Do they think we don't see the difference in prices. Way to "talk/think-down" to the general public. what a jock.

      May 18, 2012 at 06:03 | Report abuse |
    • Sue

      This article is so stupid I couldn't even bring myself to respond. One of the last lines is talking about choosing your food for taste. Hello. I do think that if people chose their food for health we could do away with the FDA and the USDA and all the other government leaches.

      May 18, 2012 at 22:37 | Report abuse |
  2. Chad

    Considering the USDA is run by Monsanto and Corn Industry lobbyists it's no surprise that their data is spun this way. If this were truly the case I guess we can get rid of the corn subsidies.

    May 17, 2012 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • James Hawk III

      Didn't take long for the conspiracy theorists to show up, did it?

      May 17, 2012 at 12:18 | Report abuse |
    • sane

      Monsanto and the corn industry supply many ingredients that end up in junk food. And based on credible evidence, JFK was shot by a lone gunman.

      May 17, 2012 at 14:00 | Report abuse |
    • Annie

      GE food is banned from many countries. In USA is called Conspiracy Theory 😀
      I love the obese Americans!

      May 17, 2012 at 14:01 | Report abuse |
  3. James

    Here is the issue. I go to (Pick your favorite supermarket) and I grocery shop. I buy fresh fruits, vegetables, etc... to eat healthy, but there is no filler. I am not a vegan and neither is my son, so add in the meat for the meal. A healthy meal costs about $5 to $10 to make per day. Not a lot, but when I can make a meal (Hamburger Helper, for instance) it can cost about $5 as well, but I have leftovers for the next day's lunch at work. So I am paying about $2.50 per meal. Now I do realize that it isn't as healthy, and I do have to eat healthy, but you can cut your grocery bill way down by not eating healthy every single day.

    May 17, 2012 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Johnny

      James, that's not right. Next time you are in the store, instead of buying garbage like Hamburger Helper, buy some other filler to make the meal last longer – a carb. Whole wheat pasta, beans, brown rice.... then you can get the same mileage without any unhealthy ingredients.

      May 17, 2012 at 19:03 | Report abuse |
  4. LOL

    Processed foods re unhealthy foods are most definitely less expensive than non processed healthy foods. Produce is unbelievably priced and by the time it reaches the stores the shelf life is nil and you end up having to throw it away before you are able to eat it fresh.. a loaf of white bread is half the price of a loaf of whole grain low sodium bread.. Sugar cereal is less than a box of whole grain cereal.. The list goes on and on! And i dont know too many people that divide the cost into calories lolol such silliness.

    May 17, 2012 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Agreed

      This report was little puzzling to me too, due to the example you cited. White sliced breads are cheaper than their wheat counterparts from my experience. Although the wheat bread might be more dense fiber heavy so you'll feel fuller for longer, you're not going to give two of your kids one wheat bread to split because it's equivalent to the white bread – you still need two breads for a sandwich.

      I can see some of the reasoning, but as many discussed here, fresh produce expires quickly. Making batches and eating leftovers is the norm for a budgeting family so eating fresh salad everyday is not practical for many. Now I only buy fruits on sale, and they tend to be still $3-4 lbs even On Sale. Staples for children like milk, juices, bread. Someone mentioned bell peppers – I read a lot about the beneficial effects of bell peppers but I don't think I've ever seen any of them under $1 each.

      May 17, 2012 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
    • She-Ra

      You are so right!
      "price per calories (as previous studies had done), price per edible gram and price per average portion"
      Who the heck counts like that when grocery shopping?!!!
      People were actually paid to do this study. This is the stupidest study I've ever seen.

      May 17, 2012 at 22:25 | Report abuse |
  5. Dana

    Has USDA ever check how much fruits and veggies are? Or they just went to some coffee and donut shop to check these? I have to eat healthy, my health is in danger but I can't afford it. I can't live on lettuce and roma tomatos for the rest of my life. Did you see how much is tofu? Oranges? the pricey (and very healthy) blueberries and blackberries? Yogurt? How about USDA starts adding some money to my paycheck to I can afford the healthy food.

    May 17, 2012 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. unegen

    Oh for pity's sake. All you "wahh, it's more expensive" people stop complaining. I've lived on a $90/month grocery budget for sixteen years and never stooped to eat processed crap. I cook. I buy what's on sale, don't buy pre-chopped, and COOK. It's doable. You just have to quit whining first.

    May 17, 2012 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rev.spike

      Most people have no idea how to cook bc they were never taught how. Perhaps home economics should be mandatory? 🙂

      May 17, 2012 at 11:30 | Report abuse |
    • SB1790

      I actually spend a lot less eating fresh vegetables. My protein is mainly in the form of fish, eggs and dairy. I can eat on a few dollars a day by preparing my own meals. That is accomplished by buying organic products as well. I don't drink anything but coffee, tea and water. If you look at the cost per serving of healthy oatmeal versus boxed cereal, oatmeal usually wins unless you're talking about some really cheap cereal.

      What most people do not realize is the future costs of health problems associated with a bad diet. It's either pay now or pay later. How many people buy cheap unhealthy foods only to spend more in the long run on fad diets?

      May 17, 2012 at 11:36 | Report abuse |
    • ADJ

      rev.spike, "not knowing how to cook" is just an excuse. They can pick up a cookbook and learn!

      May 17, 2012 at 12:58 | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      As I used to tell my Boy Scouts who didn't like to cook, "Humans eat cooked food. You are humans. Learn to cook."

      May 17, 2012 at 14:41 | Report abuse |
    • Midwest Girl

      Wow, $90/month. I'm impressed. I'm single and spend about $100/week on groceries for myself. I buy lean meats, fresh produce, nuts, cheese, and gluten free bread along with some canned and frozen produce. Wish I could get by on your budget!

      May 17, 2012 at 17:17 | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      Unegen: Exactly right!

      May 17, 2012 at 19:06 | Report abuse |
  7. rev.spike

    A variable that is not being considered here is the long term health effects of eating 'cheaper' food. We were recently forced into eating gluten free, soy free, and basically processed-free diet by my son's allergies. I know that I feel like a new man (and I thought we ate healthy before). While a healthy diet does not guarantee a lifetime of health, it seems to be the case than an extra $150 or so a month on groceries is cheaper than long term health problems (i.e. Type 2 diabetes, heart trouble).

    However, CNN... sometimes I don't feel like you take your audience seriously.

    May 17, 2012 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dianawelsh

      The problem is, where do you get the extra $150 a month? For me, that's my electric bill. Can't take it from there, or the rent... if I take some from the bus pass, well then how do I get to work? Clothes for the kids who keep growing? I already buy second hand or collect hand me downs from relatives, can't cut that. My son's allergic to milk (allergic not lactose intolerant), so I already buy some more expensive foods for him, which then has to be contrasted with cheaper processed foods for the rest of us to some extent.

      May 17, 2012 at 18:40 | Report abuse |
  8. adh

    it is more expensive, but there are ways to cut costs. Buy frozen instead of fresh and there is less waste. Also, many stores are now offering their own organic brands which don't cost much more than the the non-organic brands. Dried beans are not that expensive, but they do take longer to prepare. When you do buy fresh produce, make sure they are foods that are in season, as they will be less expensive and taste better.

    Also, there are items that are just not necessary. For example, don't buy soda, and drink water instead (that should save money and calories). You can buy a filter and drink out of the tap and, in most cases, will be just as good as the bottled stuff anyway. For flavor, you can put a splash of fruit juice (the real stuff) the water.

    Besides, if you eat garbage, you're more likely to have health issues, which will probably undue any savings you may have had at the supermarket. Please stop making excuses, especially if you have children!

    May 17, 2012 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. T J Vinson

    This is flat out bald faced lie!

    May 17, 2012 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. lydia

    For my family of 2.5 (soon to be 3), I do spend about the same as my SIL for her family of 4. We are athletic, during our lunches, after work, on weekends. We burn through more fuel, so our grocery bill will be larger. Plus, I make every meal from scratch (short of date nights), and it IS more expensive to buy fresh organic fruits and vegetables (we simply don't have the option of a home garden) and whole grain breads etc. BUT, we are very healthy and productive. Our son will be very healthy and productive. My SIL? She feeds her family garbage. She's had 2 gastric bypasses, her husband has Type 2 diabetes (and no, they haven't changed their diets), and their 2 kids are just as dull and lazy. So, in the end, my husband and I probably spend a lot less.

    May 17, 2012 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Michelle

    If Michelle Obama really wants to fight obesity maybe they should implement a tax break or something on healthier food choices, because I don't care what this article says, in New England, healthier food is more expensive. Just last night I opted for the sugar-free oatmeal and I had to settle for a pack of 8 for the same price I was paying for a pack 10 of the regular! Then I thought we'd try baked Lays potato chips instead of the classic Lays potato chip and the price went from $4.40/lb to7.09/lb! The trend continued like this until I had exhausted my grocery budget with just over half the amount of food I usually get. If someones struggling to get by, there's no way they're going to opt for the "Nutrigrain Ego Waffles" when they got the regular butter milk kind sitting right next to it for 30 cents less, I'm sorry. If people had to spend just a few more cents to get the regular Coke instead of the diet Coke or the regular CHEEZ-IT instead of the reduced fat CHEEZ-IT, I'm sure things would be different.

    May 17, 2012 at 12:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kimberly

      Michelle, honey... cheezits, frozen waffles, and potato chips aren't healty food, LOL. I don't care if you get reduced fat or whole wheat or baked... it's still junk food. Try some fruits and veggies! The real problem here, is that Americans don't understand what healthy food really is.

      May 17, 2012 at 12:33 | Report abuse |
    • adh

      Your so-called healthier foods are still processed and are only labelled "healthy" by the companies who sell them. Here's a tip – buy foods that contain only 1 ingredient. Try the cylinder of oats vs. those single serve packets. Add nuts, fruit, etc.

      May 17, 2012 at 12:42 | Report abuse |
    • Megan

      It's even cheaper to buy plain oatmeal. Then you can control how much sugar (if any) you add.

      I agree that fruits and veggies should get a tax break.

      May 17, 2012 at 12:43 | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      Sugar-free doesn't mean healthier. Those are still processed foods. I don't buy sugar-free oatmeal, or regular in the packets. I buy rolled oats in bulk–much cheaper, and add a small amount of brown sugar, still cheaper and healthier. I don't buy frozen waffles, whole-wheat or otherwise. I make waffles from scratch, with whole wheat flour, baking soda, eggs (pitch one of the yoks), salt, and non-fat milk, cheaper than any alternative. Baked Lays vs. fried? I choose neither. For potatoes, I like sweet potatoes, sliced like fries and oven baked with a little olive oil and rosemary. Healthier and cheaper.

      May 17, 2012 at 13:37 | Report abuse |
    • Rins

      I'm sorry but if you are buying your oatmeal in packages you are doing it wrong. A big container of quick oats is going to be far cheaper and you only need to add a little water/milk and you can leave out the sugar if you want sugar free. Not to mention...while everything you mentioned is "healthier" it's still packaged/processed crap (chips, cheezits, waffles??).

      May 17, 2012 at 15:09 | Report abuse |
    • Fran182

      If you simply don't buy Lays or Cheez-its at all, regardless of reduced fat or not, you will save more. Those types of snacks are completely non-essential in a someone's diet.

      May 17, 2012 at 15:28 | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Tax break from Michelle Obama? You pay federal taxes on food? In my state healthy food has no sales tax, unlike junk and processed foods.

      May 17, 2012 at 22:50 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      I wouldn't consider those foods "healthy" either, but they are, for all intents and purposes of the word, "healthier" and more expensive options when compared to their original counterparts in terms of "price per calories, price per edible gram and price for average portion" as the article suggest. Obviously fruits and veggies are the healthiest option, and, when compared to food like "chocolate glazed doughnuts", the argument this article makes holds true, but a person can't live on carrots, onions and pinto beans alone, and, although I do enjoy my fruits and veggies, that still leaves everything else on the food pyramid unaccounted for. Obesity is a major issue in the U.S. and although "healthy" takes on many meanings other than low calorie or sugar free, sometimes small lifestyle changes can add up over time.. personally, I've been able to maintain a healthy weight by opting for diet alternative to most things. Anyway, my point is, the formula this study concocted wouldn't work for things like Lays Baked Potato Chip, which, when compared to Lays original Potato Chip, cost more for less calories AND has the same serving size, price per edible gram, what have you. Again, this may not hold true for all states, but where I come from, the trend tends to be: If you want to go reduced fat, lite, diet organic or whole grain on any product, your going to have to pay more for less and I think that's where the average American perseveres this financial disadvantage to dieting. Realistically, the majority of Americans don't have the luxury of making everything from scratch, therefore I thought some sort of price cut on "healthier" alternatives for some of the big brand grocery store products would help encourage the country to make "healthier choices" even its its just a few cents.

      May 22, 2012 at 17:31 | Report abuse |
  12. Melissa

    I'm sorry but it is not cheaper to buy processed food than healthy foods. Why would you buy a bag of chips over a bag of potatoes or carrots? They cost about the same, maybe the potatoes and carrots a little more, but they last sooo much longer. A bag of chips will be gone in a few days (if that long) while a bag of potatoes can be used in soups, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, fried potatoes, etc. A bag of carrots can be eaten raw, sauteed, made into mashed carrots, roasted, used in soups, etc. No, you may not be able to eat the most expensive fruit and vegetable out there but if you shop sales and what is in season it is so much cheaper. Ground turkey can be used like ground beef and is cheaper, beans are a great source of protein and are super cheap, especially when bought dry. I am dairy and gluten free and even while buying allergy free food my husband and I still only spend a couple hundred a month on groceries. I could really pare it down if I wanted to and we eat almost no processed foods. Even with things like mac and cheese or hamburger helper it is so much healthier and less expensive to buy the individual ingredients and prepare them from scratch. Easier? No but if you are wanting easy then do a little freezer cooking and thaw chili, soups, meatloaf, or other meals for those nights when you can't cook a complete meal. Or throw some stuff in a crock pot in the morning and it will be ready when you get home. It can be done.

    May 17, 2012 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Annie

      An apple costs more than 3 tuna cans/$ or 2 boxes of mac&cheese.

      May 17, 2012 at 14:11 | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      Then don't buy apples, Annie. Buy what is on sale. Guess people need to learn how to cook AND how to shop.

      May 17, 2012 at 19:11 | Report abuse |
    • DesertRat

      A SINGLE apple is more expensive? Could be, I guess, depending where you live, but where I live, apples are often $1/pound. Less than the equivalent in tuna or mac'n'cheese.

      May 19, 2012 at 18:19 | Report abuse |
  13. Portland tony

    Maybe get these so-called researchers out in the markets would help. It is one big lie to say that healthy high quality food is cheaper than filler food. Go to a farmer's market sometime. Buy for one person....then for six...This article is false and CNN just because the government says it's so doesn't make it so.

    May 17, 2012 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Megan

    I've found that healthy foods are cheap. I buy things in season. A huge watermelon can be as cheap as $3 or $4 during the Summer. The price jumps to $5-6 for a "personal" watermelon during the winter. Candy bars are expensive. 65 cents for a snack? I can snack on a banana for 12 cents!

    Store brand plain oatmeal costs MUCH less than Pop-Tarts. I can get a huge cannister of oatmeal for $2.50. For that same $2.50, I can buy a box with only 6 Pop-Tarts.

    I like to stock up during sales. I freeze some things, but I also go through phases where I might eat a whole lot of carrots in recipes for 2 weeks because the grocery store had a great sale.

    I grow my own food, too. I feel very fortunate to have a large, sunny yard. Some cities have community gardens with free lessons. Farmers markets are great places to go if you live in an area that has one. Their prices are cheaper than grocery stores.

    May 17, 2012 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. TNTexas

    OMG! People, really!?!?!? Both sides!!! Eating healty really is expensive, period. Most of the posts I am seeing here are not talking about a family, most I am seeing are saying "I". Yes, it saves you health issues in the long run, but you don't get help paying for the health bills now do you!?!? And let's face it how many people live in an area where they can have a home garden? I live in the city and believe me what little space I have is NOT big enought to allow for a garden to feed 4 grown people. So..... People who have been eating in the "unhealthy" part of the store, slowly start adding in the healthy stuff. Buying frozen veggies can be a great way to help save (they don't go bad like fresh and you can buy on sale). Most stores have $1 bags of frozen veggies. Buy whole wheat over white (this can be really hard for people who were raised on white or don't like the texture of wheat), there is also a White Wheat version of bread out now that is healthier than plain white. Also, the thing about beans... well has anyone looked at the carbs in a pinto bean? Good grief you can get the same amount of carbs in bread as you do a small bowl of beans (yes they are cheap, but have you looked at how the price of these beans are goin up and up and up?). So to sum up, shop the walls of the store not the center as much as possible. You will find that you really do eat more healthy that way, but don't expect it to be CHEAP!

    May 17, 2012 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Jerry

    I can buy oatmeal for 50 cents per pound at the bulk store. Microwave that with an handfull of dried cranberries and it makes a great breakfast. A box of processed cereal is nearly $5 now and get more nutrition by eating the cardboard box. Boneless chicken breast is $2 per pound on sale and a 5 pound bag of frozen veggies is $5.

    May 17, 2012 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Annie

      Where do you live? I've never seen such cheap foods in New England!

      May 17, 2012 at 14:20 | Report abuse |
    • KJC

      Annie, I previously lived in a well-off suburb in CT and now live in the Bay Area in CA. The Bay Area is much more expensive, but this poster is spot-on with the prices of chicken and frozen veggies. On sale chicken is frequently $1 – $2 per pound (and it's almost always on sale). It can be frozen if you buy enough while on sale. Also, the store-brand of frozen veggies is about $1 per pound. In CT, the prices were generally less. Maybe not in Manhattan, but in suburbs I would expect the same throughout New England. That said, a good ole' box of mac 'n' cheese may still make a cheaper meal. So I can see both sides of the issue.

      May 17, 2012 at 15:05 | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      Annie: Don't go to Shaw's. Go to Market Basket or something if you want the cheap stuff.

      May 17, 2012 at 19:14 | Report abuse |
  17. Denise Mailo

    yes, this article is indeed full of baloney. Any mom with kids and a family to feed knows that healthy food is indeed more expensive. Consider that 1 red pepper (healthy food) costs $1 ON SALE! Fish? Out of sight! Lean cuts of beef or lamb? Unaffordable. You will certainly pay a higher price for olive oil (healthy choice) than for corn oil or "vegetable" oil. Maybe we can all live on canned pork and beans, oh, wait a minute, those have gone up too! I have had a vegetable garden for the last 21 years and in the summer I get most of my fresh produce from there. I also can and pickle any extra left over so I can have it in the winter. A rousing Bronx cheer to the people behind this article!

    May 17, 2012 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jennifer McGuire

      So don't eat the expensive beef, lamb, fish, and imported red peppers; eat chicken, ground turkey, eggs, beans, and fruit & vegetables in season and/or frozen ... all far cheaper and quite healthy.

      May 17, 2012 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
    • Midwest Girl

      Last time I compared them, ground turkey had a higher fat content than lean beef. Ground turkey may be cheaper, but it's got more fat & calories.

      May 17, 2012 at 17:23 | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      You can also just buy an entire bag of (frozen) peppers for like a buck (for those who do NOT have vegetable gardens). Buy frozen beans–bagged or in bulk–for way, WAYYYYY less money than canned. Buy chicken instead of beef (or buy cheap cuts of beef and cook them in the crockpot). There are lots of ways to save money while eating healthily.

      May 19, 2012 at 17:51 | Report abuse |
  18. Eric

    I have had the same bread machine for 21 years now, with a blade replacement of $40 about 10 years ago. Most loaves cost less than 25 cents to make, including the everyday whole wheat that takes about five minutes (of my time) to make.

    May 17, 2012 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. sane

    I long suspected this was the case. No excuses now?

    May 17, 2012 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Buttercup

    I agree with John Doe and Unegen, which I can easily live off of $90 dollars a month on groceries also. I can get a good grade 17 fluid ounce bottle of extra virgin olive oil for $2.99 and that bottle will last me 2 to 3 months. I don't drink soda pop or juices.....I drink just plain water and my morning coffee (black). My breakfast consist of oatmeal with fresh blueberries and cinnamon....no sugar. I have been eating oatmeal for breakfast since I was a kid. I eat fresh or frozen vegetables/fruits and No processed crap. I eat salmon, tilapia and chicken breasts for my protein. I am 55 years old, weigh 115 pounds and I am absolutely on NO medications. I just had my yearly physical at the first of this month and all my numbers including blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol came back with flying colors. The article was right on target.....so you people stop complaining about food being too expensive. You can eat healthy.............if I can eat on $90 dollars a month, 2 people can eat on less than $150. The article was right on target..

    May 17, 2012 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dianawelsh

      Ok, but can you feed a family of 4, including a teenage boy on $300 a month, and have them full and healthy with a balanced diet that they will eat? Because serving food a child won't eat doesn't do anyone any good. And no, you can't just make them eat it anyway, that just causes problems, especially if, say they are autistic and don't tolerate certain foods due to texture issues or allergies. And no, it's not a matter of lack of exposure to such foods at an early age, I raised both my kids the same, with the same exposure, my 9 year old will eat pretty much anything except peppers, my 16 year old autistic doesn't or can't eat a LOT of things everyone else eats on a regular bases.

      May 17, 2012 at 20:15 | Report abuse |
    • dianawelsh

      Oh, and for the record, they already drink a lot of water, and only very rarely get soda, sweets, etc. Most of the time if they want a snack, they have cheese, fruit, or a sandwich. I don't keep either salty snacks or sugary snacks in the house except for special occasions.

      May 17, 2012 at 20:17 | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      @dianawelsh Kids will eat what they're taught to eat. Children raised to eat even, say, insects, or other foods westerners find disgusting, will do so. What you feed them early matters, as tastes are formed very early. A child with allergies is in a different category, and does not really relate to the subject of this article (it's not like the allergic child could just eat junk food anyway, right?? I mean, he's allergic!)

      May 19, 2012 at 17:55 | Report abuse |
  21. Annie

    Is any way that money for these type of Research can be moved to lower the prices of healthy foods? If the junk food is not sold in the market, yes, the Government should control it, than people will end up buying what is in the market, healthy food. It makes our life easier not to argue with our kids and our kids teachers, school lunches, school parties, birthday party hostess, etc. Junk food is everywhere, everywhere our kids are offered junk food! Please STOP IT!

    May 17, 2012 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Buttercup

    I agree Annie............lets get rid of the processed foods along with the junk food. My grandmother taught me the basics of cooking a good simple meal. We don't need the sodas, chips, packaged pastries, packaged box dinners, boxed cereals, frozen dinners and such. Our country went down Hill when processed foods came along. I bet if they took away all the processed foods, this country would be in b etter health and I would not have to pay for someone else's stupid food choices when they end up with diabetes or other health issues.

    May 17, 2012 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. heroicslugtest

    Hey look, a government agency is significantly and comically out of touch with the real world!

    I bet next they'll decide to *This text redacted by the ministry of free expression*

    I'm serious.

    May 17, 2012 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. adh

    People are up in arms about taxing junk food. Do you honestly believe the so-called food industry will allow it to be banned?

    May 17, 2012 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Bob B

    I wish the USDA was right. I don't think they've been to the store lately. I have health problems and I try to buy fresh fruit ,veggies,fish, good quality chicken and lean meat. It's not cheap in the northeast. It might be cheaper in other parts of the country, but not here.

    May 17, 2012 at 15:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. JonfromLI

    Ok show of hands: how many people clicked into this article with the serious assumption that they were going to show clear evidence that ORGANIC FOOD ON STORE SHELVES COSTS CHEAPER THAN NON-ORGANIC? Anybody? Beuller?...Ferris Beuller? (crickets chirping). Wow, what a surprise. Scientists are suggesting that healthy food costs less in the long run, but you'll still pay more out of pocket.

    "Price per calorie". I'm sure just about every consumer thinks about that as they're grocery shopping. Bananas are good, but I'll have a banana with a bagel or cereal. On the other hand, I'll have a doughnut on it's own for breakfast.

    May 17, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jennifer

      Um, "Organic" does not necessarily mean "healthy." An non-organic foods are not necessarily UN-healthy. Foods like apples, celery, lettuce, potatoes, brown rice, etc etc etc are all healthy whether they are "organic" or not. However, organic foods CAN sometimes be found as cheaply as non-organic. Check out local farmers markets if you're really interested in cheap and organic veggies.

      May 19, 2012 at 18:01 | Report abuse |
  27. Vickie Chance

    This has not been my experience with organic food. It is always at least 10% higher than non-organic

    May 17, 2012 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Mel L

    Only issue I have with this article is the statement below that seems to lump "protein foods" – which are BY FAR the MOST important food group – in with fats and sugars as being bad... Protein and fats are good for you! Sugar (even natural sugars in fruits & veggies) is evil – and even dairy and grains are converted into 'sugar' when consumed..

    So she actually is saying that YES, healthy proteins are MORE expensive and less likely to be affordable to those on a restricted budget...

    "In fact, protein foods and food high in saturated fat, added sugars and sodium were all more expensive than fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains based on these methods.

    “This is great news for all getting by with a limited food budget,” he said. “You don’t have to compromise good nutrition.”"

    May 17, 2012 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Duffey

    I do the shopping in our home. We recently decided to focus on less meat and more fresh fruits and vegatables. I was figuring I would actually save money by pulling red meat out of our diets and putting a greater focus on fish, poultry,fruits and veggies. My grocery bills are up 15-20% mostly due to fresh fruits and veggies. It's easy to spin the numbers and in my opinion this was spun to get folks to focus on better nutrition. People are not dumb. After a few times @ the check out this artical will be debunked by the buying public.

    May 17, 2012 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Charline

    I live in South Orange County in CA, obviously everything's expensive here. I can't afford to shop at most of the stores around me or the farmer's markets. I can still find cheap produce, only what's in season and not always organic, but it is possible. I go to the swap meet or small, ethnic shops. My health is worth the effort it takes to find the stuff I can afford.

    I spend way more time preparing meals and sometimes am tempted by processed foods and feel deprived. This is all just resistance to a lifetime of addiction of cheap, easy food. Thankfully, I've realized this and have begun to change my life. I feel sad reading all these comments by people still caught up in this cycle of addiction to cheap, easy, unhealthy food, I used to believe these things too...my hope is that we can all find the truth and take our health into our own hands.

    May 17, 2012 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RJ

      Hang in there, Charline. Remember every time you fork over money for a box of Rice-a-roni or the like, you're feeding someone's pockets. Just as simple to make your own. I've become somewhat of a fanatic recently – make my own frozen fries and hashbrowns, can my own jams, jellies, syrups, applesauces, beans, etc. It's work, but at least I know my kiddos won't be eating "reprocessed" applesauce and getting sick or stuffing themselves with *natural flavorings* and Monsantos GMO corn syrup items....Skip the packages of Jello Pudding, corn tortilla chips, salsa, or even a bottle of salad dressing and make your own.

      May 17, 2012 at 17:02 | Report abuse |
  31. RJ

    I'd like to see a list of what they consider *healthy food products* to be. To me, *healthy* food is non-processed, non-GMO, organic food items. Do you know what a half gallon of organic milk costs? Or a dozen organic eggs? And let's not EVEN get into meat! OH! (slaps forehead) – I do know the USDA considers "Pink Sime" healthy – but thank you very much, no.

    May 17, 2012 at 16:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jennifer

      Since when is ANY milk necessary for an adult's diet? And "organic" milk has the same fats, etc, that regular milk does!

      May 19, 2012 at 18:03 | Report abuse |
  32. The trouble with "studies"...

    "... the way those researchers measured cost-effectiveness skewed the results."

    Torture numbers long enough and they'll confess to anything.

    May 17, 2012 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Johnny

    From the opening sentence of the article: "We have many excuses for not eating healthy: I’m too busy. I don’t live near a grocery store. I can’t afford healthy food. I don’t know how to cook."

    All code for "I"m too lazy to do anything about my health."

    Forget complicated calorie bases systems to determine if healthy food is more expensive. All you need to do is go to the grocery store and buy the *raw ingredients* of everything you want to eat. You then make that food and it is far FAR less expensive than pre-made and pre-packaged food. It's also better for you.

    People who complain about healthy food as quoted in the first line of this article are nothing but lazy and/or complacent about their diet.

    May 17, 2012 at 18:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. SM

    I am amazed at the haughty tone of several comments on this article regarding what is considered healthy food. I am intelligent and well educated. I go to a full-time 42 hour a week job, as well as attending school full time for my second degree. My husband also works full time. We do not have the ability to cook everything from scratch, but that does not mean that I am lazy. I am far from lazy. I am also well-versed in the proper food requirements for an adult. I believe that it is possible to get fresh foods for less, but not as cheaply as this article would suggest. What I do know is that for the way that I live, and the hamster-wheel that I run on every day, wherein I do not have a SINGLE MOMENT extra, I am lucky if I can prepare any food at all by the time I get home at night. When I do, if it happens to be boxed macaroni and cheese, I will not be ashamed of myself. I will be glad that it cost less than a dollar to make, because I have to pay for my mortgage and car payment and insurance and all the other things that I must pay for to maintain the lifestyle to which I have attributed enough value to keep attempting to do so. I am happy to report that even though I have eaten these foods, I am not dying of anything. I don't have heart disease or Type II Diabetes. Will I get them? Possibly. I might get cancer, too, from the variety of carcinogens I come in contact with every day. I will find out later. For now, I must regrettably purchase a bag of apples for close to $5, and "manager's special" meats, and the occasional box of macaroni and cheese. I understand that those of you who have felt gratified to discover the benefits of eating well are anxious to make us all understand the "truth," but the tone with which many have taken suggest that I, and others like me, should somehow be ashamed. Please come to my house and cook everything out of "raw ingredients" (and make sure you spend exactly as much as I would have spent; I can't afford more) and then we can talk about how superior your lifestyle is to mine.

    May 17, 2012 at 19:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jennifer

      Personally, I buy lots of unhealthy foods, just because I like them. However, if you're interested in making healthier foods very quickly, I recommend buying a Crockpot. It makes cooking a breeze...just dump in some meat, veggies, potatoes, cooked (canned works fine) beans, or whatever else you want, and it'll all be cooked and delicious when you get home from work.

      May 19, 2012 at 18:15 | Report abuse |
  35. rftallent

    I found that I can save money by buying cheaper cuts of beef, trimming the fat, and slow cooking with carrots, potatoes and onions. A pot roast is much cheaper to feed a family than individual pieces of meat. Another good way to stretch the dollar is to make healthy casseroles. A bell pepper might cost $1.00, but it will serve two people when it is cut in half and stuff with a healthy mix of brown rice, beans, and diced onions and carrots. It takes planning, but eating healthy on a limited budget is possible. When a recipe calls for 1 lb. of meat, and cut it to 1/2 lb. and increase the vegetables. It works great with things like chili and tomato sauce. I also use ground turkey instead of ground beef, or at least cut it half and half.

    May 17, 2012 at 20:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. imuneek

    I don't understand the way this study is done. You can't compare a banana with a donut! Compare apples to apples, not to oranges. Whole grain bread and pasta are more expensive than their white counterparts. Fresh veggies are more expensive than tinned. Fresh fruit is off the charts unless it's falling off the tree that week. Lean meats cost more per pound than bologna, sausage, or high-fat ground beef.
    If you check fast food menus, you'll notice an even steeper trend. A burger costs $1-4. A salad costs $5-6. Go to your local gas station, a greasy breakfast sandwich costs $1.99, whereas a wrap costs $4-5. You do the math.

    May 17, 2012 at 20:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. June Park

    Hold on a minute..GMO fruits and vegetables ARE cheaper but healthy, meaning organic non-GMO foods, are NOT. In general non-GMO foods are harder to find and often must be shipped which costs money plus the cost of taking time to get the land certified organic, years of soil testing usually, and also using non mutated plants means smaller fruits and vegetables. Organic IS healthier as is non-GMO but unfortunatey they are not readily available nor are they the norm in the USA.

    May 17, 2012 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • someone on the internet

      Non-GMO fruits and vegetables are readily available in any grocery store or farmer's market in the US because very few GMO fruits and vegetables are even grown here. Some papayas are transgenic (for virus resistance), some squash are, possibly some sweet corn. Others have been developed and are under research, but they are not grown commercially (yet). You couldn't find a GM carrot if you searched every grocery store in America.

      May 18, 2012 at 15:29 | Report abuse |
  38. GKK

    I invite you to visit the web site for FamilyGreenSurvival and go to the EatingRightWhenBudget'sTight page and look at a large number of nutritious recipes with cost per serving breakdown; very affordable and high nutrition. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack for a day around $6. Download is free.

    May 17, 2012 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. thinquer

    USDA: if you care about our health, enforce LABELING

    May 17, 2012 at 21:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. thinquer

    USDA: Mandate labeling of dangerous genetically modified foods. We can eat all the "cheaper" fruit and veggies the GMOs give us, but we will continue deteriorate physically because they are hazardous to our health, babies and elderly especially.

    When the USDA eliminates harmful GMO and bovine growth hormone foods from our USA food markets, I will take their advice on eating healthily. -Thinking Mother

    May 17, 2012 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Esther

    Reblogged this on Aha! Food and commented:
    What do you guys think about this article from CNN?

    May 17, 2012 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. wavejump1100

    not only is healthy food more expensive but it tends to rot or spoil quicker meaning more waste and or more trips to the grocery store casting more money for gas wear and tear on your car and your time.
    i can stock up on mac and cheese and spaghettios and corned beef in a can. stuff like this lasts forever, tastes better and is cheaper.

    May 17, 2012 at 21:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pyamusb

      Mac and cheese and spaghettios and corned beef in a can? Pasta is one of the cheapest foods and healthy too. The same with rice. Why not have pasta with a nice pasta sauce instead of mac and cheese or spaghettios (whatever they are). Cheese, like any form of animal protein, is always going to be more expensive than pulses (especially yellow split peas). So no need for expensive cheese and beef. If you get most of your calories from pasta and rice, and most of your protein from pulses, and your vitamins and minerals from frozen vegetables then that is the cheapest way of eating and healthy too.

      June 17, 2014 at 09:38 | Report abuse |
  43. Dawn

    okay prove it go on food stamps and see if you can even buy good healthy food
    you can't

    May 17, 2012 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. rftallent

    Why does CNN keep deleting my posts when I mention CSA?

    May 17, 2012 at 22:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. jboogie

    I agree. I have been using this program and and take a healthy diet for a little under a year. I started at 224 pounds and I am only about 20 pounds from my goal weight of 125. This program really works. I got my friends hooked on it also and all of them have had success…..


    May 18, 2012 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Ryan

    Reblogged this on Om Nom Nom and commented:
    A new study by the USDA says that healthy food is actually cheaper than junk food. Say whaaat?

    May 24, 2012 at 15:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Have these people been grocery shopping????

    Seven months ago I completely changed my diet. I went from what I would consider a 'normal' low budget diet, to a mostly whole foods plant based diet (I still eat meat a couple times a week).

    I spend a lot more on food than I used to. Prior to the new diet, many of my meals consisted of $1 frozen dinners and pasta dishes. $1 doesn't go very far in the produce department. Since many of my meals now consist of fresh fruits and vegetables, $4-5 per meal is not uncommon.

    I spend more on food now than I ever used to, and I eat out much less than I used to. I definitely couldn't have afforded this back when I was laid off from my job. Even now the extra money is kind of a hardship, but my health needs to be a priority.

    May 27, 2012 at 22:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. fresh healthy vending scam

    Fresh Healthry Vending Workplace Wellness Programs.The epidemic of obesity among children and adults is placing the need for more accessible healthy choices. Linking this surge in weight gain to vending machines has prompted a market for health vending choices.

    July 12, 2012 at 01:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. форекс

    Its like you learn my mind! You seem to grasp a lot about this, like you wrote the ebook in it or something. I feel that you can do with a few % to pressure the message home a little bit, however other than that, this is fantastic blog. A great read. I will certainly be back.

    July 28, 2012 at 09:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Healthy food

    Thanks to know that healthy food is not expensive. I want to take it.

    August 9, 2012 at 08:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.