Whole foods provide a variety of benefits, most notably substantially better nutrition, when compared to junk foods. A common misconception is that healthy food is more expensive than junk food; however, research shows that healthy foods can actually be cheaper options than junk foods. The single disadvantage of health foods is their lack of convenience when compared to fast foods and prepackaged junk foods in grocery stores.
Empty Calories Versus Nutrient-rich Foods
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk of a variety of diseases, including heart attack and stroke. ChooseMyPlate.gov also notes that eating produce regularly can protect against certain cancers and decrease the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. In addition, most vegetables are low-calorie foods that contain high levels of many vitamins and minerals and fiber, all of which can improve overall health. Junk foods are often the exact opposite of healthy foods -- they are high in calories and low in nutrients.
Junk foods not only lack nutrients, but they often contain ingredients that can damage your health. Trans fats are often used in many fast food restaurants and in many prepackaged foods such as cookies, margarine, cakes and crackers. These man-made fats raise bad cholesterol while simultaneously lowering good cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, eating trans fats can increase your chances of developing heart disease and stroke. Because healthy foods are often left in their whole unprocessed form, they very rarely contain any of the processed ingredients that have damaging health effects.
Pricey Fast Food
A paper published in 2010 in "Society of Teachers of Family Medicine" studied the costs of a diet based on fast foods versus a whole-foods based diet. The study found that the average daily cost for healthy food was $7.48, while unhealthy fast foods came in at $15.30 per day. By shopping at grocery stores and choosing whole foods, including dairy, lean meats, fruits, vegetables and grains, total monthly food costs were less than half of a diet composed of fast foods.
Saving on Grocery Store Junk Foods
While eating out is usually more expensive than buying healthy foods, another type of junk food is actually cheaper -- processed and packaged grocery store foods. Barry Popkin, nutritionist and economist at the University of North Carolina, explained on NPR radio that the reason you end up paying more for fruits or vegetables than for a product like macaroni and cheese, is because the food industry prioritizes processed and packaged foods and therefore produces them more efficiently, which brings costs down for consumers. In addition, the transport of fresh foods is more expensive than packaged foods, which use preservatives that allow them to to travel without refrigeration or urgency.
The Convenience Factor
Junk foods sold at grocery stores are often in their ready-to-eat state, while fast foods can be purchased on the go for families or individuals with little time to spare on cooking or preparing foods. In addition, according to a 2001 paper published in the "Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics," fast food chains have found ways to make their products more accessible. According to the authors, increases in fast food restaurants directly increases the amount of fast food consumed. As fast food companies continue to increase the availability of their products, fast food consumption is expected to steadily rise.
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: Why Is it Important to Eat Vegetables?
- American Heart Association: Trans Fats
- Society of Teachers of Family Medicine: Cost of Eating: Whole Foods Versus Convenience Foods in a Low-income Model
- Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics: Convenience, Accessibility, and the Demand for Fast Food
- National Public Radio: Why Processed Food Is Cheaper Than Healthier Options