Healthy vs. unhealthy diet costs only $1.50 more per day

The healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets, according to new research from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

“People often say that healthier foods are more expensive, and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits,” said lead author Mayuree Rao, a junior research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH. But until now, no one has figured out the actual differences in cost.

The researchers found that healthier diet patterns—for example, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts—cost more than unhealthy diets (for example, those rich in processed foods, meats and refined grains). But on average, a day's worth of the most healthy diet patterns cost only $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.

“While healthier diets did cost more, the difference was smaller than many people might have expected,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author and associate professor at HSPH and Harvard Medical School. “Over the course of a year, $1.50/day more for eating a healthy diet would increase food costs for one person by about $550 per year. This would represent a real burden for some families, and we need policies to help offset these costs. On the other hand, this price difference is very small in comparison to the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases, which would be dramatically reduced by healthy diets.”

Here is a link to the study published online in the British Medical Journal: http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/12/e004277.