In this day of healthy living, many kinds of food have come up that are considered "healthier options", from organic foods, to low-calorie, low-fat versions. Which is why many people are led to believe that eating healthier means more strain on the pocket. But is healthy eating really more costly?
To answer this question, researchers from Brown University in Rhode Island, USA, conducted a systematic review to compare the cost of "healthy food" to their less healthy counterparts. They reviewed mean retail price of foods or diet patterns stratified by healthfulness. Prices were adjusted for inflation and the World Bank purchasing power parity, and standardised to the international dollar (defined as US$1) in 2011. Then they used random effects models to quantify price differences of healthier versus less healthy options for specific food types and diet patterns.
Results from 27 studies from 10 countries were included in the analysis. They found that there were significant price differences between healthy foods and less healthy foods when analyzed according to food patterns (e.g. Mediterranean diet) and nutrient patterns (e.g. high-fat vs low-fat). They found that taken altogether, healthier food patterns cost $1.48 more per day than eating less healthy options.
In light of these findings, the researchers recommended that lowering the price of healthier diet patterns should be a goal of public health and policy efforts, as it forms a health disadvantage to those in low-income households.
Importantly, health professionals should take time to educate patients on how to choose healthy but inexpensive food options.