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The cost of being healthy

An interesting article was published in the BMJ late last year, looking at the cost (as in, affect on our wallets) of healthy diet and lifestyle patterns. The article’s lead author explained: “people often say that healthier foods are more expensive and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits.”

So… does it cost more to live well and, if so, by how much?

To answer this question, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 27 studies, from 10 different countries, which included information on price for individual foods and healthier versus less healthy diets. What they found was that healthier diets – rich in vegetables, fruits, fish and nuts – cost significantly more than unhealthy diets, rich in processed foods and refined grains. Averaged out, the healthiest diet patterns cost around $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.


Now that doesn’t sound like much, does it – and for many of us it really isn’t. But for many others, it really is. $1.50 per person, per day, adds up. Particularly if you have a large family. Particularly if you don’t have much money. Often compounded by lack of choice and inadequate understand of what ‘healthy’ actually is (food marketing does an excellent job at bamboozling most people in this regard).

The researchers suggest the reason for this cost difference includes food subsidies and policies that favour the production of “inexpensive, high volume” foods over their healthier counterparts. In other words, we don’t have the infrastructure to support the widespread production and distribution of healthier foods. That’s certainly a factor.

Education and ready access to quality food is another one. Sometimes people don’t realise that the simplest changes will have profound effects on their immediate and long term health. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the information fed to us by food companies (food shouldn’t have to tell you it’s healthy FYI), family members, news articles, health blogs (yeah yeah, I know)… there’s a lot out there and messages can be mixed.

Although I will happily overhaul your diet and lifestyle, encourage avid consumption of leafy greens, espouse the virtues of chia and and get you to down some herbs if I can; it doesn’t have to be that, shall we say, radical. Cut down the amount of fizzy drinks you consume in favour of water, add a handful of veggies to just one meal each day, swap white bread out of your diet, eat one piece of fresh fruit daily… Seemingly small changes such as these can have big effects. ‘Being healthy’ can be quite simple, really. Start small, learn a few recipes, don’t be afraid to try new things and choose what you (and your family) like.

I’ve sort of gone off on a tangent from my original article discussion, but it is related. I suppose what I’m trying to say is: although healthy eating doesn’t have to cost the earth, it can be a very real stretch for some folk. Regardless, do what you can. If that means coconut water, organic veggies and meat, go nuts! Or if it’s frozen veggies and non-processed cheese, go nuts! Just do your best. You’ve got one life and one body to carry you through it, so look after it the best you possibly can.

farmers markets

some lovely produce at the orange grove markets

Reference: BMJ Open. 2013 Dec 5;3(12):e004277


About Kathleen Murphy

Australian naturopath and freelance writer, based in Sydney. I love working with people from all walks of life, helping them institute changes that can become life-long health habits. I can be found at Uclinic | 421 Bourke Street, Surry Hills | Ph: 02 9332 0400 |

7 responses »

  1. So very true. Healthy living CAN be more expensive, but I’ve found it to actually be much cheaper. We buy veggies from the markets, and don’t buy ‘trendy’ health food. We eat the best we can on our budget and avoid junk food. I am spending much less now than I used to on an standard diet, and I am eating much more!

  2. Wonderful article! That is the kind of information that are meant to be
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  3. I think it’s really a matter of go as organic as much as you can afford to. (does that make sense?) Choosing a healthier lifestyle and eating habits is exactly as you suggest…baby steps. Make one small change at a time, as fast as you are able or comfortable with 🙂 Great article (didn’t seem to me like you went off topic at all).

  4. Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Looking through tbis post reminds mme of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept talking about this. I most certainly will send this post to
    him. Fairly certain he’ll have a great read. Thanks for

  5. Totally agree with you, it depends what someone’s priorities are for example some people are happy to spend money on alcohol, cigarettes, dining out/take away, leisure etc etc but buy poor quality processed food.


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