This question is super-controversial, tackled by economists, nutritionists, and wellness coaches. The answer depends on the ways you measure food value. Here’s how wholesome food choices affect your finances in the long run.
In this post, I take a realistic approach to whether eating healthy is budget-friendly. You’ll see why a wholesome diet is worth every penny. Plus, I share several ways to slash your grocery bills, even while eating nutritiously!
Picture an Ideal Diet
To assess the worth of certain foods, think about what you gain by eating them. For instance, reflect on whether they help you feel:
Also, when dieticians urge us to eat healthfully, what exactly do they mean? To clarify, here are questions they often encounter, along with their insightful answers.
1. What constitutes a poor diet?
Nutritionists warn against a daily regimen of processed food.
Still, most of our food requires some commercial preparation or “processing.” There are two types — mechanical and chemical. Mechanical processing changes food size or texture without adding other ingredients. Think of frozen broccoli, cut from stalks into small florets. Another example is pure orange juice, squeezed from wholesome oranges.
Additionally, mechanical processing makes food safer. For instance, pasteurizing milk ensures that it’s free of illness-causing germs.
Conversely, chemically processed foods tend to have synthetic additives, such as dyes, preservatives, and artificial flavorings. These ingredients can be harmful. Studies show that chemical additives can provoke food allergies and asthma symptoms. Artificial food coloring can trigger hyperactivity in children.
Also, chemically doctored foods are typically high in salt, sugar, or saturated fat. Usually, grains are refined, stripped of their beneficial fiber.
When food undergoes a major overhaul, it’s called ultra-processed. Popular types are:
- sugary cereals
- canned soups
- deli meats, such as pastrami and salami
- frozen pizzas and burritos
- instant noodles
- crackers and potato chips
- soda and other sugary drinks
- cakes, cookies, and pastries
Ultra-processed food goes by many names — ready-to-eat, convenience, manufactured, ready-made, prepared, junk food, and fast food. Throughout this post, I use these terms. I also refer to ultra-processed fare as simply “processed.” Still, keep in mind that mechanically processed food can be nutritious.
2. What comprises a healthy diet?
I like the following definition by Margaret Marshall, a renowned weight loss and wellness coach.
Healthy eating is consuming satisfying food that’s good for you, in the right amount. The goal is obtaining all the nutrients and calories you need to feel your best.
So, what does this type of diet look like?
Foremost, it’s high in whole foods, including grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, beans, and nuts. It may include eggs and dairy products. It’s low in refined sugar and saturated fat, such as that in red meat.
3. Are organic foods more nutritious than conventional ones?
The Internet brims with clashing opinions. Organic foods may be fresher than those conventionally grown. However, this isn’t always the case. When organic food isn’t handled and stored properly, it quickly loses nutrients. Frequently, this occurs with fruits and vegetables.
Still, all health authorities agree that organically grown produce has lower pesticide residue than regular versions.
In the US, the Department of Agriculture certifies organic foods, maintaining strict regulations. Crops must be grown without:
- synthetic pesticides
- petroleum-based fertilizers
- fertilizers derived from sewage sludge
- altered genes (GMOs)
Furthermore, animals raised for organic eggs, meat, and dairy products can eat only organic feed. They cannot receive growth hormones, antibiotics, or animal by-products. Plus, the livestock must have free access to outdoor living quarters.
Some people allergic to additives find their symptoms resolve with organic versions of certain foods. If you’re sensitive to preservatives, food dyes, or other chemicals, you might be less symptomatic on an organic diet.
4. Should I be concerned about food grown with pesticides?
Pesticide harm is another controversial topic. Some consumer advocates say we shouldn’t eat produce with pesticide residues, due to possible health risks.
Even so, nutritionists exhort us to eat more fruits and vegetables, regardless of whether they’re organic. That’s because research proves that a diet rich in produce helps to prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
So, don’t let articles touting organic foods stop you from eating regular fruits and vegetables. Studies confirm that the health benefits override any possible pesticide issues.
5. Why are convenience foods cheaper than fresh produce?
Several factors account for the lower cost. First, food manufacturers use cheap raw materials. Then, to make processed food, they rely more on machines than human labor. Machinery is super-efficient at large-scale production. When food is abundant and widely distributed, it reaches more people, reducing marketing costs.
Conversely, fruit and vegetable cultivation takes longer than food manufacture. Also, the harvested yields are less than with mass food production.
Food longevity is another factor. Many processed foods contain preservatives, giving them a long shelf-life. On the other hand, fresh fruits and vegetables are perishable, living foods. Keeping them viable takes careful handling and refrigeration, increasing trucking expenses. Compared with produce, it costs less to pack, ship, and store convenience foods.
Still, you can save money on regular fresh fruits and vegetables! One way is to buy large quantities in-season, divide them into smaller portions, and freeze them.
Organic produce is pricier than conventional types for several reasons. Among them are the extra costs of labor, natural fertilizers, crop rotation, and government certification.
While processed food is cheap, overeating it can drain your funds. In this next section, we’ll explore why.
Hazards of a Poor Diet
1. Processed foods compel us to eat more of them!
That’s because they’re not satisfying like whole foods. Satiety is the sense of being pleasantly full from eating. This is most likely when food has ample nutrition and fiber.
Unlike whole foods, processed versions are low in roughage. Since they exit the stomach fast, they leave us wanting more food. Plus, processed fare doesn’t supply us with optimal vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Moreover, it has meager antioxidants, plant compounds that fight cancer and diseases of the brain, heart, and eyes.
“What about fortified processed foods?” you ask. Even when refined foods have added vitamins and minerals, they can’t equal whole food nutrition. In natural plant foods, the nutrients complement each other, working as a team. Manufactured food can’t duplicate such teamwork, called “food synergy.” For instance, regarding grains, we can’t absorb their antioxidants without grain fiber.
The Leptin Connection
Sugary foods sabotage fullness by raising triglycerides, a type of blood fat. When we don’t burn all our food calories, our body converts the surplus calories into triglycerides.
When we’re satiated, the hormone leptin tells our brain, and we stop eating. However, high levels of triglycerides block leptin from delivering the message. So, our brain doesn’t register fullness.
Artificial sweeteners, like those in diet sodas, also confuse our brain. While the soda tastes sweet, our body expects a corresponding surge of energy. When that doesn’t occur, our mind drives us to reach for something sugary.
So, eating lots of processed food makes us want more of it. Consequently, when grocery shopping, we’re tempted to load up on junk food. Surrendering our willpower leads to higher grocery bills.
2. A steady diet of convenience foods destroys our health.
Overdoing processed food makes us prone to many diseases, especially the following.
Daily consumption of red and processed meat raises our risk of bowel cancer.
Processed meats are treated with carcinogenic chemicals. Among them are nitrates, wood smoke, nitrites, and other preservatives. Popular processed meats are beef jerky, ham, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, corned beef, and deli meats, such as salami.
Scientists believe the saturated fat in red meat promotes cancer. Moreover, cooking meat at high temperatures yields cancer-causing compounds.
Red meats linked to colon cancer include pork chops, hamburgers, veal, and roast lamb.
Foods high in sugar overwhelm the pancreas. This organ releases insulin, a hormone that channels the sugar glucose into our cells. When the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin, our cells don’t get the glucose they need for energy. Additionally, sugar builds in the blood to dangerous levels.
If blood glucose stays high for long periods, the pancreas fails to work properly. Then, diabetes results, a continual state of vacillating glucose. A diet high in sugary fare makes the pancreas vulnerable to diabetes.
Too much salty food raises blood pressure. Furthermore, a high intake of saturated fat clogs our arteries, especially those serving the heart. Both high blood pressure and narrow arteries contribute to heart disease.
Certain food additives can damage the lining of our digestive tract. Top culprits are solvents, emulsifiers, concentrated salt, and preservatives. Normally, a protective membrane lines the intestines, keeping toxins, bacteria, and other germs from entering the bloodstream.
However, some additives weaken the intestinal wall, making it porous. The gaps let harmful substances travel through the blood, raising the chances of autoimmune disease. Common types are multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriasis.
Toxic agents can dupe and baffle immune cells, causing them to mistake healthy tissues for germs. Consequently, immune cells may attack normal nerves, joints, or skin. Habitual aggression creates an autoimmune disorder.
3. Ongoing illness taxes our income.
Think of all the medical appointments, treatments, and medications required to manage these chronic illnesses! In this way, a diet of processed fare raises our medical expenses.
Junk food can also render indigestion, heartburn, brain fog, and low productivity.
All these maladies can lead to unpaid sick days and time lost from work. Ultimately, a processed food diet can cost us our health and livelihood.
Budget-Friendly, Healthy Foods
Many natural foods are both wholesome and inexpensive. Here are several to stretch your food budget. The links take you to detailed information, including shopping tips.
Processed foods are often cheaper than healthy types. However, since junk foods lack fiber and compatible nutrients, they leave us hungry. Hence, we buy more, perpetuating our cravings and hiking our grocery bills.
With time, a daily diet of processed food robs our health, raising our medical costs. Ongoing illness can lead to unpaid sick days, job loss, and early retirement.
Conversely, wholesome food choices are a better value. They foster the gains mentioned above:
- mental clarity
Since plant fiber promotes fullness, you eat less food. As you trim sugar, salt, and fat from your diet, the cravings for them will fade. So, rather than yearning for convenience foods, you’ll want nutritious fare, fostering vibrant health. To profit from your beneficial food choices, here are 12 ways to lower your grocery bills.
Try to improve your diet gradually. Start by phasing out processed food you can part with relatively easily. Then, strive to eliminate more tempting fast food. With each progression in healthy eating, you’ll see how much better you feel. Meanwhile, you’ll save money by ignoring the junk food aisles at grocery stores.
Wholesome foods pay big dividends!