The Real Cost of Healthy Eating

Far and away one of the biggest barriers most people cite to eating healthy is price. The organic, non-gmo modified vegetables and fruits can be quite a bit more expensive than their regular counterparts (I hate having to label current farming practices as regular because prior to the last several decades or so everything was organic before big food corporations got involved). Pasture raised meats and wild game fetch a higher price than the feed lot fare at the meat counter. Low quality, low price chemical concoctions are in abundance in the aisles after aisles of packaged nonsense at the store.

As it turns out, chemicals are far cheaper than real, whole food, and that’s a shame. Many people are pinching pennies on a regular basis and having to make tough decisions on what to spend their hard earned money on. Often times, slicing the grocery budget is one of the first sacrifices to be made. Looking at it purely from a calorie/dollar perspective fresh whole foods are ignored for cheap carbohydrates that aren’t doing our health any favors. You or someone you know has probable spent some time on the Ramen noodle diet to save a dollar or two.

Unfortunately, looking at our food choices from a calories per dollar approach is sapping our health. Yeah, we can buy a lot of cheap food to feed ourselves and our families, but when we do that we are purchasing food that is virtually devoid of any nutrition, even though it may fill us up at the time. Convenient, cheap processed and packaged carbs can even over feed a family, but starve them of the nutrients necessary for good health.

Maybe when on a budget we should instead look at nutrients per dollar, rather than overall calories. This is truly getting the most out of your food. Let’s instead compare vitamin and mineral content, macronutrient breakdown, and quality of ingredients. Search out foods with a high phytonutrient content like fruits and veggies. Make sure you’re getting enough protein and healthy fats. Aim for quality cuts of meat, choose wild caught fish, and avoid industrial seed oils if at all possible.

Sure, you’ll be buying less food, and maybe taking in fewer calories, but the nutritional content of this food will far outweigh the cheap pastas, grains, and processed goods that offer very little in the way of nutrition. The quality protein and essential fats will keep you satiated and you just won’t need to eat as much. In the end your pocketbook takes about the same hit.

When it comes to the “cost” of healthy eating our minds are often preoccupied with our present situation. Hamburger Helper and get rent paid on time or, organic salad greens with salmon and avocado and miss the rent payment? Our choice has an immediate effect. What we don’t often consider is the long term effects of poor food choices. Outside of anaphylactic shock for severe food allergies, what we ingest does not give us an immediate indication of its effect on our health. Without that instant feedback it becomes easier to ignore the long term impact of our food choices.

The recently coined “lifestyle related illnesses,” like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers often take years to develop. While the incidence can appear acute, these are usually brought about by a lifetime of the choices we’ve made, such as staying mostly sedentary and ingesting the standard American low quality diet. Our chronic habits will catch up to us in the end, so if you want to live longer and enjoy more of those years left disease and pain free, then you need to start making better nutritional choices now. The cost of not doing so may include more hospital bills as you fight these diseases, lower quality of life, and even earlier mortality.

Nobody wants this, yet we continue to feed ourselves into an early grave. Whatever excuse we may come up with in our head, the truth is that someday down the road WILL eventually come. Just like you don’t retire without putting any money away and expect to sustain your standard of living without an income, you can’t someday assume that your health will be in tip top shape without making the nutritional investments now. The long term risks and benefits of your choices are very real. There is a future to prepare for, and it’s up to you to be ready from a health perspective.

Now I realize there are diseases outside of our control, but limiting the incidence of the lifestyle related ones just by regulating what we eat is a huge win. If someone were to package and sell you a supplement that delayed the onset of disease for you by 10-20 years and it cost you 100 bucks a week (a high end estimation of cost associated with eating by the healthy guidelines given above) that would really be something to consider and most people would probably jump at the chance. The sad thing is this miracle drug does exist, but it’s not a pill, it’s whole, unprocessed, traditionally raised food.

Eating this way for the long term just isn’t appealing to most people. We want results and we want them NOW! Six minute abs, 24 hour diets, ten day transformations. Whether it be fitness or health, we’ve come to expect instant gratification, and if that can’t be had then we turn to choices that satisfy us in the short term (grabbing a delicious doughnut brought into the office) rather than choosing what we want the most (health and longevity through solid nutritional choices).

There is a cost associated with satisfying our short term wants. We all want more money in our pockets right now, which is the choice we make when we choose a box of pop tarts over pasture raised eggs.  The couple of bucks saved is nice, but down the road we could be paying to treat the diseases caused by that choice, and it’s going to cost more than just a few dollars.

Sure, there is no perfect way to eat, and we can’t be expected to make the “right” choices all of the time. Indulging is part of human nature and part of what makes life enjoyable, but it pays to be aware of the decision. For most people making better choices eighty to ninety percent of the time is going to make a world of difference in their long term health.

It’s not all doom and gloom if your particular nutritional choices up to this point in your life have been less than stellar.  You can start making better ones right now and begin reversing the damage. Just focus on making one better choice at a time, knowing that each one moves the needle toward health and longevity. Start small. Ditch a soda and eat a vegetable. Ditch the vegetable and eat an organic vegetable. Ditch the organic vegetable and eat an organic, locally farmed vegetable. Each upgraded choice, each dollar spent on quality food is a solid investment.

And those investments will pay off in the future. That is the real cost of healthy eating: it’s not just money spent, it’s an investment toward extended health and longevity. By spending a little now you can lower your chances of massive hospital fees and a miserable quality of life later. If we simply look at the long term benefits versus the short term savings I’d say the choice is a no brainer. You may say you can’t afford to eat healthy food, but I would argue that you can’t afford not to eat healthy.

Kettlebell and Pullup "Fun"isher
Plyo Kettlebell Superset Ladder

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *