Could your diet use some improvement? Well, you're not alone. Only 29% of Canadians eat their recommended amount of vegetables every day.
Luckily, you can improve your diet for a lot cheaper than you think. Let's talk about the importance of getting unhealthy food out of your diet and the effect it will have on your diet.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Eating Habits
We won't go too much into detail about why eating healthy is so important. If you want to live a long and healthy life, changing what you put into your body will go a long way and is something that is entirely under your control.
Instead, we are going to talk about the cost of eating healthy or unhealthy foods. There is a common misconception that healthy foods are always more expensive, but that is far from the case. In fact, studies show that in North America, the average cost of a healthy diet is an increase of only $1.50 per day.
However, there is plenty of room to bring those numbers lower. Let's talk about that.
Why Do People Choose Unhealthy Foods?
Again, unhealthy foods tend to be cheaper on average, which is one of the primary motivators. Also, they come with a certain level of convenience.
For example, if you want to bring a healthy vegetable soup to work for lunch, you may not have the option to heat it up if you work on the road, have a busy schedule, or are attending a meeting. Unfortunately, you will always have the opportunity to open a bag of potato chips.
Lastly, it's no secret that many unhealthy foods taste good. We evolved to enjoy the sweet nectar of fruits and the fats from plants and animals, so it's easy for food companies to hijack our senses and make us crave ever-sweeter and ever-fattier foods.
Yes, many healthy foods are delicious. However, many people enjoy the consistency of ultra-processed foods. Some apples won't be as tasty as others, but highly processed Oreos will always taste the same.
Unfortunately, this leads to many people choosing to consume ultra-processed and unhealthy foods as regular staples in their diets. Let's talk about some of those foods.
What Are the Most Unhealthy Foods?
There are thousands of unhealthy foods out there, and any food becomes unhealthy when you eat too much of it. However, we're going to talk primarily about some of the most common offenders when it comes to unhealthy foods. Here are some key examples.
Processed grains and heavy amounts of cheese are what makes pizza so unhealthy. Pizza is okay in moderation but overall, it's a very calorie-dense food with low nutritional value.
However, pizza is often very affordable, especially if you buy it frozen from the store, and it's also a convenient and affordable meal to feed multiple people on a budget. Often, you can get enough pizza to feed two or three people for under $15 when ordering out.
Your teeth, your pancreas, and your brain take major hits with excessive sugar. Sugary beverages like iced teas, sodas, and sports drinks are cheap and easy ways to enjoy something sweet, and you can usually get a 12-pack of soda for just $3 or $4.
Fruit juice gets its own category separate from sugary beverages only because of some common misconceptions that it is healthier. While it is true that you will get some nutritional value out of certain fruit juices, whole fruits offer much more nutrition with no added sugar.
The added sugar and the decrease in nutrition in fruit juice do not make it a healthy alternative to other sugary beverages, and it should generally be avoided. However, fruit juice can often be found for as little as $3 per large bottle, which offers up to 12 servings.
Ultra-processed grains remove nearly all of the nutritional value without removing the dense calories. White bread is essentially junk to your system that your body quickly breaks down into sugar. This puts you at risk for blood sugar spikes which can lead to chronic health conditions such as diabetes.
Unfortunately, white bread is often cheaper than its whole-grain equivalent that offers far more nutritional value.
When you get fast food like fried chicken, French fries, and similar food items, you're adding a lot of empty calories and unhealthy fats. However, these are often used as a cheap "going out" or "on-the-go" meal that can fill you up for as little as $5 in many cases.
Cookies, Cakes, and Pastries
Baked goods are entirely fat, simple carbohydrates, and sugar. All of these are linked to heart disease, circulatory issues, and diabetes. However, you will find delicious baked goods at cafes for under $2, and sometimes doughnuts for as little as $1.
Bacon and Sausage
These are two of the most well-known offenders when it comes to heart disease, especially when it comes to American bacon. Bacon and sausage are almost entirely made of saturated fat with little to no protein or nutritional value. Although, they tend to come with many fast-food meals for no additional charge or addition of as little as $0.75.
Cereal companies market themselves for their "fortified products" that have plenty of micronutrients. However, these nutrients work best when absorbed through whole foods, especially without the cost of the excess sugar found in most cereal products.
Constantly chewing sugary cereals, especially in the morning right after brushing your teeth, will lead to tooth decay and other health conditions. However, these foods can be found for under $3 for a box with up to 8 servings.
Energy drinks come with a wide variety of chemicals, high amounts of caffeine, and more sugar in your beverages. Energy drinks should always be avoided and replaced with black coffee or tea, which tend to be cheaper, especially when made at home.
Typical Cost of an Unhealthy Lifestyle in Canada
Overall, an unhealthy diet will cost the average Canadian around $214 per month in groceries. However, these numbers increase dramatically when you are eating out regularly or choosing expensive foods like fatty beef or others.
Remember, if you spend $20 on eating out twice a week, you can add $160 to your monthly expenses. Do the math and find out how much you're spending!
However, you should keep in mind that there are other costs associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. If you require specialized medical treatment or insurance, it could cost you financially. Chronic illnesses like obesity and diabetes can even cost you your life.
What Are the Healthiest Foods?
The updated healthy food guidelines suggest that eating a wide variety of whole foods is the best way to ensure you are getting the highest-quality nutritional value out of your diet. Here are some examples of superfoods that you should incorporate into your diet, along with an estimate of how much they cost!
Kale, spinach, collard greens, and similar greens are nutritional powerhouses, as they offer a wide variety of micronutrients including vitamins and minerals.
Many leafy greens even offer small amounts of protein, which is a much-needed boost for many of us. A pound of spinach or kale will usually be found for around $5 but could last for several meals.
Berries offer a wide variety of micronutrients with the added benefit of their antioxidant portfolio, which helps prevent cancer and other ailments. Berries vary widely on price depending on the season, but you can usually find multiple servings of one or another for under $4.
While all berries are very healthy, blueberries tend to have the highest antioxidant and nutritional portfolio out of the popular types.
Fish, especially fatty fish, offers complete protein, a wide variety of micronutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are critical to our survival but our bodies cannot produce them on their own, so we need to get them from our food.
However, fish does tend to be expensive. Depending on the time of year, you should expect to pay between $9 and $12 per pound for salmon, and that's if you live near the coast! Although, some whitefish like pollock or tilapia can be found for as little as $4 per pound throughout the year!
Grains have plenty of nutritional value, including their complex carbohydrates and fiber that help keep you full throughout the day. Eating them in their unrefined form is highly recommended, and it should only cost a little more than white bread, usually only an extra $1 per loaf at most.
Switching to whole grains is arguably the easiest change that you can make for a healthier diet.
Nuts are nutritional powerhouses and (barring an allergy) should be incorporated into everybody's daily diet. Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, and cashews are some of the best options for nutritional value.
Most nuts offer calcium, protein, and quality omega-3 fats. Studies suggest that eating nuts daily is directly linked to a longer lifespan, and each serving should cost under $1.
Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt or Icelandic skyr, is full of complete proteins and probiotics, which help with gut health. Quality yogurt should be found for around $1 per serving or less.
Legumes like lentils and beans are almost entirely made up of fiber and protein, making them excellent for helping you feel full throughout the day.
Lentils and beans are also very versatile for your meals, making great additions to soups, salads, and even enjoying on their own.
If you're worried about price, don't be. If you're switching from beef or pork, you'll save a lot of money, as a can of beans or a pound of lentils could sell for only $1 and offer multiple servings!
Olive oil is full of omega-9 fatty acids and it is a delicious addition to salads as well as cooked foods, and it is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. While a bottle of olive oil will likely cost between $10 and $15, it should last for months at a time!
Eggs have a controversial reputation, but when they are used in the appropriate amount, they are an excellent source of complete proteins and several micronutrients. Luckily, they are also extremely cheap, as they only cost between $1.50 and $4 per dozen.
Turkey and chicken breasts are the cheapest lean meats and they offer very high amounts of protein as well as iron and vitamin B12. Depending on the time and store, you could pay between $0.99 and $4 per pound.
Typical Costs of a Healthy Lifestyle in Canada
Keep in mind, these costs vary widely from month to month, as foods need to be in season. Also, your area will play a major role in the cost. For example, a person living in Alberta will spend more on fish than someone in Halifax.
However, the average cost of a healthy lifestyle in Canada should yield a bill of around $246 per month per person, which is not much higher than the average for unhealthy eaters.
Keep in mind, a healthy lifestyle will also save you money on long-term health care and even your health insurance rates. All in all, a healthy lifestyle is worth the small investment.
Maintain Your Health
Eating healthy doesn't have to be difficult, or even more expensive than unhealthy food. It just has to become a habit. Stay on the outside of the grocery store as much as possible, look for healthy alternatives, and find recipes you enjoy! Stay up to date with our latest news and read our disclaimer for more information!