Using prices from two major stores, the Institute of Economic Affairs found that the average cost for a “wide range” of healthy foods was about £2 per kilogram (C$3.25), compared with £3 a kilogram (C$4.90) for less-healthy products such as processed and ready-made foods.
So what gives?
Convenience drives consumer habits more than prices, the U.K. study concluded.
“Taste and convenience often play a larger role in people’s food choices than price or nutritional quality.”
Regardless of your budget, reaching for packaged or easy “junk” foods is not the answer, experts say.
“Processed foods are extremely expensive, especially when it comes down to the nutrient value,” said Ciara Foy, a Toronto-based holistic nutritionist.
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Foy said some of the healthiest, most inexpensive foods aren’t so glamorous. Beans and legumes, especially when bought dry and in bulk, cost next to nothing. The catch? They take time and some know-how to prepare.
Instead, busy parents reach for the chicken nuggets.
“You might be getting something that has enough calories to fill you up but you’re actually not getting any nutrients, so your body’s going to keep wanting more and more food,” said Foy.
“And that’s why in North America we’re overfed and undernourished.”
On average, Canadians spent more than $6,000 on groceries in 2015, according to Statistics Canada.
“Our data is suggesting that consumers are more price-conscious than even a year ago,” said Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.
“They look at flyers even more, they will benchmark prices with competitors, so the focus has been much more on prices than before,” Charlebois said. “Is there a compromise on health? Depends on how you define health.”
One expensive mistake consumers looking to make healthier choices will make is buying into the latest food trend. Don’t be fooled by a buzz word slapped on a product.
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“Manufacturers tend to try to upsell their product based on perceived health benefits,” Charlebois said.
This can often jack up a product’s price, with little to no proven advantage.
“That’s why likely there is confusion at times with what is a healthy product and how much you should pay for those benefits.”
The most expensive items, healthy or not, are the ones that end up in the trash.
“A lot of people waste a lot of food,” Foy said.
It’s estimated that more than $30 billion of food is wasted in Canada every year.
Foy recommends taking a look in your fridge to see what needs to be used up when planning for the next day’s meals.