Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price

by Andrea Carlson and Elizabeth Frazão

Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-96) 50 pp, May 2012

Cover image for eib96 Most Americans consume diets that do not meet Federal dietary recommendations. A common explanation is that healthier foods are more expensive than less healthy foods. To investigate this assumption, the authors compare prices of healthy and less healthy foods using three different price metrics: the price of food energy ($/calorie), the price of edible weight ($/100 edible grams), and the price of an average portion ($/average portion). They also calculate the cost of meeting the recommendations for each food group. For all metrics except the price of food energy, the authors find that healthy foods cost less than less healthy foods (defined for this study as foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugar, and/or sodium, or that contribute little to meeting dietary recommendations).

Errata: On November 13, 2015, Table 2 on page 13 was updated to correct the labels in the 3rd column: Minimal cutoff. All > signs were corrected to be ≥ to reflect the true cutoff levels. In the box on page 14, 4 minor edits were made to reflect that these cutoffs are ≥. All calculations in the analysis were correct. Only the labels were updated, in order to correctly describe the cutoff levels.

Keywords: food prices, price metrics, NHANES, price of healthy foods

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Last updated: Friday, November 13, 2015

For more information contact: Andrea Carlson and Elizabeth Frazão

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