Many of us simply assume that junk food costs less than fruit and veg. Seven quid might get you an organic kale juice with extra chia seeds but for £2.99, the local chicken shop will do a wings-and-chips meal deal and throw in a can of Coke. Even top doctors have said that eating the recommended five-a-day is not financially achievable for low-income families and poverty has been consistently linked to high junk food consumption.
But a new study from the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) challenges the idea that following a healthy diet is expensive. In a report released yesterday, researchers state that fruit and vegetables are cheaper than processed foods when cost is measured by edible weight.
Maybe you can have your ten-portions-a-day and eat them, after all.
The IEA research compared the prices of 78 common food and drink products—including ready meals, pizza, pasta, rice, fruits and vegetables—using data from Tesco and ASDA. The findings showed that when measured by edible weight, the cheapest ready meals, pizzas, and sugary breakfast cereals cost more than £2 per kilogram, while most fruit and veg clocked in at less than £2 per kilogram. For example, £1 spent on a cheeseburger would get you a kilo of sweet potatoes, two kilos of carrots, two and a half kilos of pasta, or ten apples. The IEA estimates that 30p would cover the Government's daily recommendation of fruit and veg.
So, why hasn't the true cost of healthy eating been revealed before?
The IEA argues that previous reports on the issue focused on the cost per calorie of food, rather than cost of edible weight, so the methodology is inherently biased towards making low-calorie food appear more expensive. Even if a low-calorie yogurt and a high-calorie yogurt cost the same at a supermarket, the low-calorie yogurt would be reported as more expensive.
The IEA's assertion that processed foods cost more than healthy options undermines the belief that wealth is the main barrier to a good diet. This could impact schemes like the tax on sugary products currently being drawn up by the Government to deter people from buying junk food.
Christopher Snowdon, co-author of the IEA report and head of lifestyle economics at the IEA, argued in a press release that people are willing to pay more for convenience foods, so taxing junk food won't push them to make healthier choices.
He said: "The idea that poor nutrition is caused by the high cost of healthy food is simply wrong. People are prepared to pay a premium for taste and convenience. A nutritious diet that meets Government recommendations is more affordable than ever. Given the relatively high cost of junk food, it is unlikely that taxing unhealthy food or subsidising healthy food would change people's eating habits."
The battle to resist the allure of "bargain" fried chicken continues.