Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price

Authors: Andrea Carlson and Elizabeth Frazão

An Agriculture Department study recently released found that most fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods cost less than foods high in fat, sugar and salt. That counters a common perception among some consumers that it’s cheaper to eat junk food than a nutritionally balanced meal.

Most Americans consume diets that do not meet Federal dietary recommendations. A common explanation is that healthier foods are more expensive than less healthy foods. To investigate this assumption, the authors compare prices of healthy and less healthy foods using three different price metrics: the price of food energy ($/calorie), the price of edible weight ($/100 edible grams), and the price of an average portion ($/average portion). They also calculate the cost of meeting the recommendations for each food group. For all metrics except the price of food energy, the authors find that healthy foods cost less than less healthy foods (defined for this study as foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugar, and/or sodium, or that contribute little to meeting dietary recommendations).

Access the full report from the Economic Research Service.