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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The High Cost of Eating Well

A recent conversation with a friend has caused me to revisit the question of whether healthy eating is truly more costly than unhealthy eating. The answer depends greatly on how you define “healthy.”

If “healthy” to you is low calories, high fiber, you can do quite well on a paltry budget budget by dining on meals rich in beans and legumes, whole grains and seasonal fresh/frozen/canned veggies and fruit. Your grocery dollars can go quite far if you’re not buying milk, butter, eggs and cheese. Dried beans and lentils are cheap. Brown rice is cheap. Oatmeal is cheap. Look in any grocery ad, and you’ll find some veggie or fruit on sale for 99 cents a pound or less.

Buying organic can increase your costs, but you’re still saving a hefty chunk of change compared to the carnivores of the world.

If, however, “healthy” for you is a high-protein, low-carb eating plan, adjustments have to be made.

You Get What You Pay For
I remember when I first had gastric bypass that people would often comment that I must save a ton of money on groceries. It sounds like a logical conclusion until you realize that quantity gives way to quality when your capacity for food is limited. The pantry had to be cleared of cereal, bread, crackers, pasta and rice. No more juice, milk or generic yogurt in the fridge. And definitely no ice cream in the freezer.

Instead, my pantry was stocked with protein powder ($40-$60 a canister) and ready-to-drink protein supplements ($3-$4 each). My fridge and freezer housed a combination of cheese ($4-$5/lb.), fish and seafood ($5-$8/lb), Greek-style plain yogurt ($5 for a large carton), chicken ($2/lb) and the like. Surprisingly, not only did my grocery bill not go down – in some cases, it increased.

My friend, who recently adopted a healthier way of eating that involved cutting sugar and refined carbs noticed the same trend at her house. A frequent fast food diner, she was amazed at how much more expensive her daily drive-through visits had become.

“Instead of spending 99 cents on a chicken sandwich, I’m ordering a $4.99 chicken salad – and it’s not even that good,” she lamented.

The flip side, though, is that she feels a lot better and has noticed other positive effect of her new way of eating, such as sleeping better at night, having more energy during the day and just a general sense of wellness.

And (pardon the pun) that’s what makes the juice worth the squeeze.