Is it really worth the extra cost to lead a more healthy lifestyle? A recent Harvard study found that it costs about $1.50 more each day, or $550 more each year, to eat a “healthy” meal plan. This may seem like a lot if you are already on a tight budget. But if you compare it to the cost of being unhealthy, it may seem more like something you want to do.
The Harvard School of Public Health compared 27 recent studies into the costs of unhealthy versus healthy foods. For example, they looked at a plan rich in fruits and veggies versus a plan that lacks fruits and veggies, or lean meats versus fatty meats. The research team looked at the price for each serving of each food and the price of each 200 calories of each food. The study compared how much it would cost to eat 3 meals worth of the unhealthy foods versus the healthy foods. The standard 2,000 calorie plan was used as a way to measure a day of food.
Healthy meats cost 29 cents more than unhealthy meats per serving, and this was the highest price difference between the food groups. Grains, snacks, and dairy foods had very little price difference between healthy and unhealthy items. Overall, it cost $1.50 more each day for each person to eat a healthy meal plan, or $550 more each year.
The cost of being unhealthy
A Stanford University review found that medical insurance costs are much higher for overweight people—about $10,000 more over a lifetime. Recent news on insurance rates shows that people who smoke, or are obese, may pay from 30 to 50% more.
An American Diabetes Association report showed that having diabetes costs about $13,700 extra each year in additional medical costs. About $7,900 of that cost directly relates to diabetes. Costs include medicines, hospital stays, nursing center stays, and healthcare visits. The medical cost per year is 2 to 3 times higher than for those without diabetes.
So does it pay to eat healthy?
For some people, $1.50 per day could be equal to a cup of coffee a day. For others, though, $550 per year per person is hard to afford on a tight budget. Since food costs are a little higher when you try to eat healthier, use these tips to stretch your budget and reach your health goals at the same time:
- Plan meals ahead of time: Plan your meals each day, and see what items you have on hand to make those meals. Make a list of what you need so that you are not just throwing random items in your cart.
- Stick to your list: Once you have planned your meals, stick to your list and do not buy anything that is not on it. Buying things that are not your list can quickly add up to a sizable amount.
- Look for store brands, specials and coupons: Look at fliers to find the best deals on the foods on your list. Buy store-brand products when you can, and to save money, look for specially priced meats and produce that need to be sold within a week. Also, take a few minutes each weekend to cut coupons from your local paper, or find coupons on-line.
- Stock up on items you use often: Value packs of meats, frozen veggies and fruit, as well as dry goods such as beans and rice, can save you lots of money on your grocery bill.
- Choose mostly frozen veggies: Fresh is best, but when you are on a budget it is better to eat frozen veggies than to eat none at all. Also, frozen veggies can be stored in your freezer for weeks or months, so you can buy in bulk to save money over the long term.
- Limit eating out, frozen meals, and dessert treats: Eating out and buying pre-made meals can cost much more than making meals at home. It may take a little bit more time to prepare a meal, but no more than waiting in line to order and receive your food when eating out. Also, save treats for special events since they can be costly.
- Stick to healthy portion sizes: If you stick to healthy portion sizes such as ½ cup rice or starchy veggies, 1 cup non-starchy veggies, and 3-4 ounces of meat, you can keep food costs, and your weight, down.
- Go vegetarian a few days a week: You may think it costs more to eat a vegetarian meal plan, but replacing beef or chicken with rice and beans for a couple meals a week can actually save you money.
- Make soup a meal: Use leftover meats, diced baking potatoes or rice, and veggies such as freshly sliced onion, carrots, and celery to make a pot of healthy soup that can be eaten for a couple of dinners and/or lunches.
- Be creative with your meals: For variety, plan your meals around the foods on special offer for the week at your local store. Also, try new recipes to make the cheaper meats you eat often, like chicken, taste exciting and different.