Is a healthy diet expensive?

Research indicates that healthy diets are cheaper than unhealthy diets, but public perception is that healthy food is more expensive. We’ve included some tips in the below article on how you can eat healthy and save money, including some items you can swap for cheaper ones.

Have a question about healthy eating? Ask us below.


It is definitely less expensive if you grow a fair bit of your own food :slight_smile:

I wondered about the pricing comparisons when I read that article in the printed version, as I buy organic cacao for less that what you have listed for non-organic, and when on special I buy it for $14.95/kg, a long way under the listed non-organic price of $21.60/kg.
I’d expect city pricing to be less than what I pay here in the country.


We also find it less expensive. I beleive the misconception arises from the time taken to prepare and cook healthy meals at home. But if one adds travel and waiting time, home cooked is quicker and just as convenient,…and one can also modify flavours added to suits ones own taste buds (e.g. extra or less garlic, chilli or other spices). We have a large dried spice and herb collection, to complement those grown in the garden. Spices and herbs can easily sexy up any relatively mundane meal into something which is tantalising.

When we eat out we can easily find healthy food options, such a Vietnamese noodle salad or stirfry which are cheaper per person that the conventional fast food restaurants and far tastier and satisfying.


A healthy diet will always be cheaper - once healthcare is taken into account of the cost of an unhealthy diet :slight_smile:


Preparation time is a key metric that I think is rarely given enough consideration in these types of articles. If you offering “tips” to eat healthier, you need to include the added preparation time, and include time for cleaning up, and also make note of the extra equipment needed (guess what yuppies, not everyone owns a slow cooker).
As a very general rule, higher preparation time equals a lower price tag, and vice versa. Additionally, convenience meals are generally less healthy, and the ones that are somewhat healthy tend to me the most expensive.
But before you dismiss people struggling to eat healthy if you’re not working 12-hour days, with over an hour of commuting each way, several kids to pick-up, feed, bathe, help with homework, and put to bed, plus fit in that 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise doctors recommend daily, then please, step off.


There was pushback toward the Consumers Union (predecessor name of Consumer Reports) in the USA. They were into the benefits and economic advantages of scratch made foods as compared to supermarket equivalents, as well as what many thought was akin to subsistence living (eg make your own, it will be better) from eating to cleaning and everything in between. Who could resist spending a day in the kitchen (or laundry or wherever) to save what was then still a small amount, or to bake a better product even though working families clearly did not have the ‘preparation time’ in their lives?

Many of their readership finally called them out on the implausibility of their recommendations as they related to modern life of the times, American style. However, passionate people will always remain passionate, and we are often better for their passions although their passions are best kept in perspective regarding others.


Prep time is a killer - and where I often fall off the cart. Full time job, sole parent, all sorts of commitments for kids and me … time is not always your friend … but it is still good to have knowledge on where you are and where you should be, and try to be there as often as you can …


“coconut oil, rice malt syrup and raw cacao are costly” not because they are staples but because they are fads.
Fresh fruit and veg, and staples such as grainy bread, brown rice, are not expensive in most cities. In rural and remote areas there may be a need to rely on dried, frozen or canned fruit and vegetables which often have a lot of added salt and or sugar.
Healthy meals are inexpensive if have the skills to cook and are not time poor - planning meals, shopping, storing, preparing, cooking, serving, and clean up do take time and some organisiation. Frequently busy parent/s prefer not to have to think about it all, especially if feel effort is not worth if have fussy children who eat little! It is worth the effort to ensure all family members eat nutritionally balanced meals. Also opportunity to introduce new flavours, role model healthy eating and include everyone in preparation and teach cooking.


Ah the power of advertising!

Healthy foods and drinks get virtually no advertising/publicity. When was the last time you saw an ad for tap water, or for a piece of fruit, etc?

Until such time as healthy foods/drinks get equal promotion to unhealthy ones, people who are influenced by advertising will opt for the advertised unhealthy options.


You raise a valid point, we know there are a lot of people out there struggling in the way you have described. When writing the article, we spoke to Professor Amanda Lee who is the senior advisor at the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre and she had this to say:

“The convenience and time-saving nature of discretionary choices can be important, and the ubiquitous advertising, promotion and availability of unhealthy products all drive consumption. Simply put, it’s easier to eat unhealthy profitable products. It’s what our whole food system is designed to make us do,” she says.

So what are the solutions, if any? I’ve heard about some local groups that do big batch cooking, such as Mamabake. I’m not suggesting that this will work for everyone though, so if anyone has any other ideas or tips for the time poor, they would be welcomed.

@meltam, good point, you don’t see it as often. Looks like they have some fun over on the Australian Bananas Facebook page, it’s a pretty good example of how healthy food could be advertised in a trendy way in my opinion.


One way to reduce costs in large centres is to use bulk buying groups that harness the price points of large orders and then share the cost and products amongst a group of users. This can also be done in smaller places but the co-ordination can be difficult because of varied diets and getting product transferred/transported to the group.


I find myself wondering how our recent habits of exporting fresh food to Asia at top prices affects the ability of the less well off to afford good food and so contributes to the obesity problem. When meat, stone fruit, mangoes, dairy products and various seafoods leave our shores are we left with the less saleable? Do our battlers have to compete with the well off middle class in Asia? I recall a few years ago the mangoes were rejected and suddenly they were affordable in Oz.

And as a secondary observation these exports are really exporting huge amounts of water… from the worlds driest continent… bar Antarctica.

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I did the CSIRO Total Well-being Diet which encourages healthy (less processed) foods. I find unprocessed foods cheaper and easier. Bag of frozen mixed veg in the microwave, meat in the pan - 15min and we are fed. I also do a large stew (while it is cooking I can do other things) and freeze portions for re-heat.

I did a free course on Future Learn - Food As Medicine - Monash Uni - very interesting. While treading a fine line, because some participants were very passionate about their Super Foods, they pointed out that some simple foods had more of the ‘miracle’ ingredient than the Super Food. Unless you have family like mine who will eat the same dish days running, you can add small sauces, garnishes, different meat or presentations to add variety. Govt occasionally does an advertising campaign to get us to eat fresh. Coles offered kids free small fruit in store, but it didn’t seem to be popular, I saw more kids eating sweets out of packets. We need to promote how easy, simple and cheap it is to eat healthy. Otherwise the advertising industry will have us believe we need expensive foods to keep healthy, supplements to lose weight and gyms & equipment to be fit.


An article regarding healthy diets.

And another regarding teh NSW Goverment’s Dine & Discover vouchers are mainly being spent on junk food.

What’s the ‘longevity’ diet, and will it really make you live longer?

The article talks about the benefits of a mainly vegetable, mainly fresh diet - all good stuff. It also dips into questions of using supplements and other faddish solutions. The SMH points out that this ‘longevity’ diet is consistent with Oz dietary guidelines, if a little more extreme than most of us would enjoy. There are similar articles to be found all over and not all are as balanced or sensible or doubtful of fads.

One side of this is that food porn images like this:

are common and many diets are very strong on eating a ‘rainbow’ of food. It is hard to say if such a variety is part of this system as the image appears to be stock and not endorsed by the proponent of this particular diet. There is some evidence that brightly coloured foods do contain beneficial substances but whether such wide variety is essential always is another matter.

So could we all live like this if we really want to? Some of us who have big budgets and/or the space, the time and skill to grow their own probably could. We also have the problem that a salad with nine or more beautifully fresh vegetables (that do not all produce in the same season) on the plate is dependant on the interstate or international supply chain. That may be a problem in itself as that chain does not always spit out freshness, in some particular cases never.

Then there is the question of cost. Unless you have a family that chews through this stuff and the chief cook and buyer is very organised, maintaining such a variety in the house and insisting on freshness is going to involve waste, possibly quite a lot. Speakers here talk about the problem of just having fresh celery for one person as bunches are so big and go stale before they are finished.

My conclusion is that if you are a small family (there are many one person households in Oz) that cannot grow their own and is not wealthy, a wide variety of fresh vegetables all the time is not possible.

For most of us some kind of compromise will be required. It might be better to focus on progressively getting rid of the worst parts of our eating habits and, as the article says, doing regular exercise, than chasing longevity or any of the other wonders offered by diet-merchants.

The CSIRO’s Total Wellbeing diet is based on research that underpins the national health guidelines. Basically - avoid processed foods, eat a balance of protein, dairy, veg, fruit etc. Eat a wide variety of foods. It does not restrict the type of protein, except to avoid processed meats (sausage, ham, salami etc). It includes exercise, the Longevity diet doesn’t.

Healthy doesn’t mean expensive. Fresh can be swapped for frozen, dried or canned. Canned or dried chickpea, lentils, or eggs are cheap protein sources. If a bunch is too much, you can put some in soup or stews. Mr Z asked if I could use iceberg lettuce in the stew as he wasn’t getting through it. Surprisingly it worked well.

I get annoyed at marketers pushing expensive fad foods and pills as the panacea for health. A healthy diet takes commitment, but not buckets of money.

As a one person household I can attest to this. Its just not reasonable to expect to have large quantities of fresh veg and have it all stay fresh. Especially as one’s fridge begins to age. I am quite limited in what I want to eat, top of the list is cauliflower and zucchini or yellow squash coming in a close second. I’m not supposed to eat high carb veg (frozen peas, potato) but I do. I think I am going to have to attempt to grow my own, sooner or later, if I can find a container on legs, because getting down to the ground is impossible for me. Frozen peas and beans are good value, but frozen cauli is pretty revolting. Don’t much like frozen carrots either. Or those mixed bags. Fresh is best… but it does cost!