Who says healthy foods are more expensive than normal foods?

Definitions of terms

There is a perception that "health" foods are more expensive than "normal" foods. It's easy to see why people think that if they just take a casual stroll down the aisles of Wild Oats. If you do a straight across the board comparison, say "normal" tortilla chips vs. "health food" tortilla chips, then the "health food" version is clearly more expensive. Bit I would like to make a distinction between "health foods" and "healthy foods." And I also have to state from the get-go that there is absolutely nothing "normal" about so-called "normal" foods. And finally, the answer I will give may surprise you: Truly healthy eating is cheaper than what you may regard as "normal."

You call this normal?

This is normal?
This is normal?

Hot Dog Factory

"Normal" foods? Hardly

Let's take a sample of "normal" foods that you might see anywhere -- let's say a hot dog, yellow mustard, a white bread bun, a coca cola, and some tater tots. Every one of these items is an extremely commonly consumed item. Every one of these items is manufactured in a factory and shipped to the store where you buy it. The companies that build those things are in business to make money.

How do you make money on a grocery item? Cut costs, and sell a lot. How do you cut costs? Eliminate waste (spoilage), get economy of scale, and cut the cost of ingredients. How do you sell a lot? Make it appealing to smell, look at, and taste, and convince people that it is cool and normal to eat it. Food scientists spend their careers testing to get the cheapest possible ingredients and processes and still have the food taste "good" to a large number of people. Marketers and advertisers spend their careers creating an image of fun/good times/coolness around food items to distract people from how crappy they really are. What would certain brands of candy be without the clever packaging? Just sweet glop, as far as I can tell.

In all this business, the idea of what the product actually does inside the human body is not even a consideration, unless it makes you consume more. The manufacturers want you to buy it, and since it is a food item they hope for repeat business. They want you to eat as much of it as possible and like it so you'll go back and buy more. It is rumored that certain foods contain additives specifically for the purpose of stimulating you to eat more of it, but I can't verify that. It is well documented that if they can substitute High Fructose Corn Syrup for sugar they'll make a few cents more per box of cereal. If they can substitute a high temperature process that alters the chemical composition of the fat and increases the shelf life, they'll have less waste, hence more money. Multiply this by a few billion people who consume the product and you are talking massive differences in profit on commodity items, where margins tend to be slim anyway.

So a question I put to you is What the hell is NORMAL about this? This so called normal "food" is optimized for money, not for human beings.

Voila, "health" foods

People have always been fascinated by the effect of a food on the body. Some things are said to bolster strength, some improve mood, some stick to the ribs, some make you sleep, some make you poop, etc. And so consumers are demanding foods that are "better for you" or that have a specific effect. And the food business sees a new market opening up.

For me, "health" foods fall into three categories:

  • pseudo health foods -- products that try to claim they're healthy but really they're not,
  • higher quality product -- foods made with higher quality processes and better ingredients and attempting to be free of toxins
  • all whole natural grains, beans, fruits and vegetables

Pseudo-health foods

These foods are not healthy at all, but they try to convince you that they are. For example, "lite" products made with less fat, but that still have gobs of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and refined carbs, products such as granola that think they can throw in a few nuts and some raisins and call it healthy, Diet soda--don't even get me started on that! These are just made by the cynical food industry trying to capitalize on people's desire to eat more healthy, without really making any fundamental paradigm shift the way they think about food. These products tend to be marginally more expensive, because the manufacturers think the market can bear it.

Higher quality and better processes

Some companies actually do use organic ingredients or more pure processes, with varying degree of success. For example "organic" snacks definitelly have exotic and more expensive ingredients and taste better. These packaged products are indeed more expensive and if you live on them you will spend a lot on food and probably not get as healthy as you want.

Truly healthy food

The best food is home made, minimally processed, and made from ingredients that are close to nature and as close as possible home. But people don't like this idea, because you can't just slice open a package and munch.

Home Cooking

A food experiment

When I was in college I lived in a cooperative housing situation. A young man in the house named Bo was studying to open a vegetarian restaurant. We were all trying to economize on expenses and Bo put forth that he could save 30% on our food expenditures if we would put him in charge of the menus. We agreed to let him do it as a test for two weeks. My house chore at that time was food shopper. I remember seeing a lot less packaging coming in and going out of the house.

Once Bo's food started appearing at meals, I was flabbergasted. He more than delivered on his promise to cut the food budget; his food was fresh and appealing, and what's more, I felt better on it. For example, a traditional house dinner was pasta with meat sauce and salad. After eating that or any similar heavy fare, I would often feel too sleepy to study. But Bo gave us fresh home-made yogurt and Indian vegetable dishes that he specifically designed to stimulate the study glands. After two weeks Bo compared receipts and proved that he had saved over 30%. Despite that, they voted Bo out as menumeister, because the majority of the residents felt that his food was "too weird."

Healthy Eating Wins

Healthy eating is about more than just what you eat. If you preserve your health, it is hoped that you will need less prescription meds, less doctor bills, and thus you will save money in the bigger picture. When you go for home-cooked whole foods, you get to decide what the portion size is. The food industry wants to supersize everything, of course, because they make more money that way. With a meal of brown rice, a green and a yellow curried vegetable, some yogurt, and a big glass of water or hot tea, you will not be as tempted to eat gigantic portions, because the food takes longer to chew and satisfies more than a tiny (but very fatty) hot dog and some tots.

If you want to save money on food, have a short specific shopping list, know what is in season and buy it when it is, learn or re-learn to cook. The internet is screaming with recipe sites and blogs. Happy saving and happy eating.

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Comments 26 comments

mulder profile image

mulder 8 years ago from Warnbro Western Australia

Thank you for answering my request In Australia all the healthy foods are expensive even organic food are expensive like low fat milk is dearer then normal mlk and good margine that is good for you cost more then the crap stuff if the goverment of Australia were serious about our health this kind of foods should be cheaper and the bad food should be expensive but its not . I love the way you presented this hub it shows well done and thank you again .


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 8 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

It's the same in the USA. Like anything, quality staples costs more, and it would be awesome if the governments would subsidize quality. I don't know about Australia but our government is way too busy lining corporate pockets and f**king the regular people. I don't look for any help from the government any time soon. Is home gardening an option for you? What I try to do in my small way I just try to eat less of higher quality and help local producers achieve parity, and cook instead of use prepped foods. My point was that normal American food is nutritionally bankrupt and if it's cheap it's because it's cheap crap and you end up eating more of it than you admit. I am going to your country next year looking forward to sampling the local cuisine.


futonfraggle profile image

futonfraggle 7 years ago

Great hub, Hot Dorkage. Thanks for pointing out the difference between pseudo-healthy food and truly healthy food. I'm always amazed when people tell me that diet soda is a healthy choice. Uh, no. It's not, people!


burning spear 7 years ago

While this an attempt to answer the question, it still does not explain the justification of why health food stores charge more for their products. When you consider that organic products claim to have none of the harmful ingredients found in non-organic products, how is it that they cost more. It would seem that they would naturally be more inexpensive since they have not incurred the expenses of preservatives, pesticides, coloring, etc.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 7 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Thank you for bringing that up, but you are 100% wrong burning spear. Pesticides & bad fertilizers cost money of course but they increase yield, uniformity, color etc. High yield drives production cost per unit DOWN, and product uniformity makes it easier for sorting machines to work. The farmers can charge low prices and still make money. Think about it. Would farmers bother with that stuff if they drove costs/prices UP? Organic is more expensive to produce because they get lower yield, less uniform product, and have to do expensive things like hand weed, hand pick bugs, or apply expensive organic crop products. Preservatives and coloring are applied after harvest, and they boost profits by giving the product a longer shelf life and deceiving the consumer into thinking that it is fresher than it really is so there is less waste. Unsold produce is not good for the stores. Organic ones don't do this. Your typical organic produce is as it is in nature -- not perfectly factory uniform in color, and sometimes is not as appealing to the consumer trained to expect everything to look factory perfect.

That's not to deny that some "health food" stores also price gouge, knowing that their clientele is mostly yuppies who don't care what it costs. Our local health food store does both. It sells really expensive organic and "natural" processed foods because it would go out of business if it only sold rice, beans and local produce. People *want* the processed shit (both "natural" and "conventional") and they are willing to pay top dollar. It makes money for the store so they can realize their real mission, which is to sell healthy food to people who want it. But they also do sell local organic produce and bulk staples as cheaply as they possibly can. It is possible to eat very healthy, very cheap if you buy fresh daily and eat fresh and have your own garden. Processed food (organic or otherwise) is never a good buy, and in the long run you pay for it with doctor bills and you also pay personally by feeling crappy all the time.


bob 6 years ago

:@ this int helpful :@


Melanie Munn 6 years ago

You might spend more money on organic foods, but if everyone starts buying them the price will dramatically decrease. Also, it will be better for your health in the long term. This means less doctor visits, medical bills, etc.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 6 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

You are 100% spot on, Melanie, it's not gonna be an overnight thing, but more and more people are already demanding high quality food, and it is bringing the price closer to parity bit by bit. Since I wrote this hub food has gone through the roof, both here and in Australia, but organic hasn't gone up as much. And I am a walking example of what you said. I am over 50 and I spend practically zero on prescription drugs. I do not take any prescription meds long term, so I can take that savings and spend it on good food, which is much more enjoyable than popping pills!


leatherfootball profile image

leatherfootball 5 years ago

This is a great hub hot dorkage. I especially like the "foods that try to be healthy" section because that is so true. One thing that has always bothered me is when products claim to be "all-natural" because anything can be 100% natural. Matter of fact, a piece of cardboard can be all natural. Just thought I'd bring that up.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 5 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Yeah I'm really loving "all natural dehydrated cane juice" these days. It's effing sugar, a turd by any other name (all natural fecal extract??)is still the same turd. I have a letter I send to companies who list dehydrated cane juice that says, Hey don't try to fool me I know it's just sugar. Stop using the deceptive euphemism and just call it sugar. Then MAYBE MAYBE I might buy it, as long as it not too much sugar.


Acw 5 years ago

i wish i didn't live in the middle of nowhere.... even though i live in east texas, there isn't a farmers market within a reasonable distance. sigh. or anything *like* a farmers market for that matter. or maybe i'm just brainwashed into thinking fresh food is expensive because every time i request we buy only fresh fruit and veggies to cook with, my mother gets an attitude about it and doesn't want to buy it cause "its expensive and goes to waste"

ugh. so sick of her crap.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 5 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Well Acw if I were you I would DO something to make sure it doesn't go to waste. I would start small and say plan 3 recipes a week and only buy just exactly the fresh food you need for them. Then make sure you use it all and cook your recipes up either alongside your mom or when she is not cooking (depending on how well you get along). There won't be any waste. When you have mastered that, escalate to 4 recipes a week. Then the advanced version is doing a couple of entire meals a week. Maybe after a while of that your mom will notice that she feels better and has more energy and she will get on board with you.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 5 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

Pat writes: About 18 months ago Tricia (the other Patricia) persuaded me to subscribe to a weekly vegetable box scheme. I have a box of organic fruit & veg delivered to my house every week. Since then I buy organic meat from the same company - but not much, because it is expensive. We are lucky to live near a fishing port, with a fishers' cooperative shop where I buy fish - this is much less expensive in shops. I use my veg, fruit, meat and fish to make meals and buy as little else as possible. Although my basic ingredients are not the cheapest available, my overall spend on food is less than it was a few years ago, despite inflation, and the quality of the meals in my house is better. The whole process is quicker than it was in the beginning as I have become more efficient.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 5 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Good point, Pat. For people who are used to ripping open packages every time they need to eat, it can be an adjustment to cook with fresh ingredients. If somebody just drops a huge load of kale on your doorstep and you haven't a clue what to do with it, it will turn yellow and go bad unless you make a point of using it.

And I can't emphasize enough that people who eat fresh food just feel better. And my how food prices have skyrocketed across the board in the 2 years since I wrote this hub!


loves2cook profile image

loves2cook 5 years ago from Portland, OR

This was an absolutely fascinating hub -- thanks for posting! Hearing your first-hand experience was great, that it really IS possible to save money and eat better. I'll admit I'm often in the position of wondering how to save money and eat a more healthy, organic diet at the same time. Some of that may have to do with local grocery prices and availability of organic produce. Every now & then I luck out, though -- I watch grocery sales like a hawk and can sometimes find organic produce for less, even though it means I'm shopping at 3 different stores that week. I do notice a difference; I have more energy, the food tastes better, and the knowledge that I'm putting good fuel into my body is the icing on the cake.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 5 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Thanks loves2cook. I gotta admit this is one of my favorite of the hubs I wrote. I'm very passionate about this subject. People JUST DON'T THINK, and anything I can do to make people engage a little grey matter is good.

Please use the sharing features of hub pages to send this link to people who might be interested in hearing the message of this


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks

Hot Dorkage, an apple is a normal but not processed food that we can just rip into with our teeth, no cooking required. Apples, bananas and grapes, staples foods for my household, do fluctuate in price, depending on the season.

We cook our frozen cornish hens, though. If you eat the chicken bones, then it's less wasteful. One of the reasons hot dogs are so popular is that the good ones make parts of the animal we don't normally eat palatable. (The bad ones have corn syrup and cereal filler added in.)

I agree with most of what you said. Much of the food people consider "normal" today is very odd, from the perspective of true nutrition.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 5 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

I'm all for natural raw food we can just rip into with our teeth. That would fall under "minimally processed." I'm down on packaged preserved crap,

I don't think the fact that hot dogs are made from "unpalatable" parts of the animal is what directly makes them popular. That helps make them CHEAP. Hot dogs are popular because they are easy and inexpensive, and because they are full of fat and salt, both quick triggers.


marimccants profile image

marimccants 5 years ago

Informative article, Thanks for sharing.


most expensive dog today 5 years ago

I believe some food are quite affordable and of quality. I heard that the owner of the most expensive dog today only specially choose the proper diet for his dog which include just chicken and beef.


how-to-make profile image

how-to-make 4 years ago from India

Its very true that health foods passes through different levels of testing and process which increases the cost of manufacturing and thus makes them expensive.


strkngfang profile image

strkngfang 4 years ago

Excellent hub. I've been seeing a nutritionist for my IBS-D and have learned so much about how most food is practically "poison" for you. The "diet" foods always crack me up too. Less fat but more salt & sugar etc or the other way around.


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 4 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Thanks strkngfang. Sugar, simple carbs, and some oils previously thought to be healthy are now starting to be recognized as slow poison for the arteries. People always want to BUY some packaged nutrition solution but it looks like the best thing to do may be to hunt gather and prepare your own.


??? 4 years ago

great stuff here i knew that in the long run healthy food will pay off. I think whats really going on is that our values are inverted. The healthy alternatives are in truth not expensive. Whats expensive is our lifestyles. But i tell you this simplifying your life as much as possible is the true way to live. I mean look at Jesus for example. He did the most simple acts of healing and teaching any one can understand it if willing. People arent willing to see the truth. They are so comfortable with what they were taught.

Great article keep it up

^___^


hot dorkage profile image

hot dorkage 4 years ago from Oregon, USA Author

Indeed the things our culture values are pretty perverted. But as individuals we don't have to embrace them. People will look at us funny, but that is OK, I'm used to it by now. I'm sure Jesus got more than his share of slightly annoyed disapproving glances in his day.


rbm profile image

rbm 4 years ago

Great, hub, and totally agree. These days I'm trying to grow my own veggies as much as possible - they taste better, are better for my health, and I save money too.

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