Judging by Whole Foods' stock price over the last year (it's down by half), you'd think that people have had it with what some consider overpriced food. A recent survey found that just 24 percent of consumers think that the higher-priced organic products at Whole Foods are clearly better than those available at other grocery stores.
But there's good news for the $11-smoothie set and those who tend to spend more on what they eat: One study found that the more money you spend on food, the healthier you are. Whole Foods and other premium grocery stores and food sellers may have been onto something all along.
A study carried out by researchers at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona followed 2,181 Spanish men between the ages of 25 and 74 and found that increased spending on food leads to a better diet with more fruit and vegetables. The better diet led to a subsequent decrease in rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular illness and overall better physical and mental health.
It's perhaps not too surprising. Cheap, ready-to-eat food is usually pretty unhealthy—we're talking fast food here—and buying up all the ingredients to live by the Mediterranean diet will cost you more than what you'd pay for a value meal. But even just a small amount of extra cash leads to a healthier diet.
"We have seen that a €1.4 increase in average spending on food is associated with the consumption of 74 grams more vegetables and 52 grams more fruit per person per day," said Helmut Schröder, one of the study's researchers. "Conversely, a reduction of €0.06 in average spending is linked to a decrease of 121 grams of vegetables and 94 grams of fruit, as well as increased consumption of foodstuffs like fast food and baked goods."
Researchers think that this kind of data can help public health officials better understand how to craft policies that will promote healthy diets across the economic spectrum. The idea that a healthy diet is also an expensive one has been a sticking point for decades, and the poor are particularly at risk for health issues like obesity and diabetes. But if a $2 difference can lead to healthier eating, perhaps that's something to work with—just avoid doing your shopping at Dean & Deluca.