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Eating healthy really is more expensive — but maybe not by as much as we thought. A study by Harvard researchers concluded that a healthier diet will cost consumers an additional $1.50 per day (provided people have access to healthy foods)Do healthier food and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta analysis. Rao, M., Afshin, A., Singh, G., et all. Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. BMJ Open 2013;3:e004277. For a family of four, the cost of eating healthier adds up to $2,016 extra for an entire year. Singles pay $548 extra.

For many people, the additional cost may be no big deal; for others, the cost to replace processed foods with lean meats, vegetables, and nuts (a “healthier diet,” according to the scientists) represents a significant financial burden. But poor eating habits aren’t just a problem for low-income communities. As the authors of the study note, “Americans at all income levels allocate too little of their food budgets towards healthy foods.”

No matter our income level, there’s strong evidence convincing us to place a higher value on healthy eating. The cumulative cost of eating a little healthier every day is often far smaller than the long-term costs associated with unhealthy eating. High body mass index (BMI) is one of the leading causes of disability in the U.S.; in fact the Harvard researchers say 14 percent of disabilities are a consequence of poor dietary choicesThe state of US health, 1990-2010: burden of diseases, injuries, and risk factors. US Burden of Disease Collaborators. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2013 Aug 14; 310(6):591-608.

Still, it isn’t always easy to make healthier food choices. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to make nutritious eating an enjoyable, affordable experience that keeps us healthy today and 50 years down the line.

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