Monday, March 31, 2008

Is Thin too Expensive?

I realize that at first glance, that may look like an odd question.

Recent research however, suggests that it might not be.

A recent study, by Pablo Monsivais and Adam Drewnowski published in the December 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Organization, looked at the relative cost per calorie of 372 "low energy dense" foods and "high energy dense" foods between 2004 and 2006.

Low energy dense foods would be foods that gram per gram have fewer calories. Fruits and vegetables would be the staples of the low-energy dense shopper.

High energy dense foods gram per gram have more calories and tend to therefore be foods high in fat and/or sugar. This is often the realm of junk food.

Ready for the important and even somewhat surprising results?

Low energy dense foods are much more expensive than high energy dense foods, and while that may not surprise you, the difference in cost may: The least energy dense foods cost $18.16/1,000 kcal as compared to only $1.76/1,000 kcal for foods that were the most energy dense.

Also incredibly important to note, inflation affected low energy dense and high energy dense foods very differently with the 2-year price change for the low energy dense foods being +19.5%, whereas the price change for the high energy dense foods being −1.8%.

So in summary, not only are low energy dense foods far more expensive, their comparative inflation rate over the course of the past two years was 400% higher than the general rate of food inflation and more than 2000% higher than the junkiest of foods.

Put another way, based on a 2,000 Calorie per day diet, if you choose primarily high energy dense foods your Calories will cost you $3.52 a day as compared with a diet consisting primarily of low energy dense foods that will cost you $36.32 a day.

Any wonder why we're getting bigger?

Wanna guess how long it'll be before the government steps in and subsidizes our health food baskets?


We're in really big trouble.

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  1. Anonymous8:05 am

    I'm not following this. From what you wrote, it's substantially cheaper to stay thin with high energy dense foods. So cheap is thin -- as long as you stop at 2,000 calories, or whatever it is you need for the day.

    Your title should be, "Is Healthy and Nutritious Expensive?," not is thin expensive.

  2. I wonder how much of the obesity problem can be attributed to the idea that fewer and fewer people are actually cooking their meals from scratch ... and just replacing their dinners with the processed stuff.

  3. I think anonymous above is confused.
    It makes perfect sense to me and my budget/bank statements will reflect the same. I just don't do the math to know the percentages.

  4. Anonymous - He is highlighting the current issue in North America - obesity is growing in poorer areas due to inability to maintain as low energy dense lifestyle - it's seen as more cost effective to go to McDonald's with your family than to go to the store and by fresh vegetables, a protein and some fruit to serve your family.

    And yes while it is a calories in vs. calories out equation about weight loss and gain - when McDonald's Select Chicken strips have 670 calories - never mind the other added elements you're going to run out of your 2,000 calories quickly. And in the process you've denied your body vitamins and minerals and fiber.

    This post is about caloric density - how much can you consume for X number of calories - a glass of skim milk vs. a glass of diet coke. The same number of calories, but one has calcium and the other will leach it from your bones. Unfortunately the pop is cheaper.

  5. I was not at all surprised by the title of the post or the content. Here in the middle of North America fresh locally grown produce is only availabe for a very short time period. The rest of the time we are forced to buy expensive, truck-ripened, fruits and veggies, and do it quickly before they rot on the store shelves. Brown rice is more expensive, as are other whole grain products, than their bleached out cousins. It is hard to be frugal and eat healthily at the same time.

  6. No surprise there at all. I live in New Zealand, and I've been finding a healthy diet to be much more expensive than living on junk food or the 'student' diet of spuds, cheap meat and sugary crap. Vegetables and lean meat are getting more expensive all the time.

  7. Anonymous8:41 pm

    But it is cheaper in other ways- I'm not getting colds much anymore now that I live mostly on fruits and veggies (and I haven't had my annual spring bronchitis in years). My husband does not have to take high blood pressure medication. And we wear our clothes until they wear out instead of wearing them until we "outgrow" them! So we indulge in veggies and save on other things. I cook a lot (saves money over eating out) and garden, and buy in season as much as possible, and that helps, too. $0.29/lb cabbage is too good to pass up.

  8. This is fab. Have just lost 16 pounds and reading this, have found a faster way to fit in to the tight tee:-)

  9. So how can we lower the prices? Aside from growing our own food?

  10. Just to clarify, the phosphoric acid in pop prevents calcium from being absorbed, it doesn't actually leach it from your bones. So you just need to find another source of calcium.

    And don't get Dr. Freedhoff started on milk, lol.

  11. I think it's a bogus study. If you eat in season, cook, use whole grains, use meat sparingly, it's cheaper than fast food. Oh, nothing is cheaper than living on just Ramen,but that isn't the issue. You can't tell me that a bowl of oatmeal costs more than some sugary cereal.
    Also I know it's not popular but frozen produce is a good alternative to fresh. What about sprouts? Or beans, lentils and other pulses? If brown rice is too expensive what about wheat berries?
    Didn't Chowhound do a eat healthy on $3 a day blog? it was pretty impressive.

  12. Aha! I found the Chowhound series the summary can be found here


  13. Thanks Theresa,

    It wasn't a bogus study, but you're right, planning, thought and combing through weekly fliers can certainly allow cheaper healthy eating (even the $3/day of Chowhound).

    My wife and I often marvel at how cheap foods can get when on special and I know our dietitian at our clinic keeps a spreadsheet at home to try to remember what the best prices are on various items.

    I wonder what percentage of folks flyer surf vs. simply go to the same store week after week without paying much attention to sales?


  14. Okay, bogus was probably a poor choice of words.
    I worked in retail for many years, and one of the reasons that we would move the merchandise around, is so the customer would have to look around, rather than head for the same brand of jeans in the same corner.
    Understandably, if you live in a poor neighborhood, and have no transportation, your food choices can be limited. In an ideal world the food bank would also have the personnel, funding and equiptment to teach what used to be called home economics. Unfortunately, so many people are ignorant of the basics of cooking let alone nutritional information.
    What I find annoying are the articles that claim that eating out is less expensive that cooking at home. How can that be?

  15. Anonymous4:35 am

    With the fuel prices these days it is not very cost effective to be shopping around. Personally if I had to go to 2 or 3 different stores to save a little I would just be putting it back in the gas tank.

  16. Yep. As I put gas in my car this morning (screams of anguish aside), I saw a sign above the gas tank, advertising the special available inside: a hot dog and large soda for US$1.49. This is typical of what you find at convenience stores and groceries here. Salad veggies, tofu, fruit, whole grain bread and so on are sadly far more expensive.