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In the USA, the high cost of eating healthy food is often cited as an excuse for being overweight, especially by people who have lower incomes.

Pound for Pound, Broccoli Costs 75% Less than Cheeseburgers

In the USA, the high cost of eating healthy food is often cited as an excuse for being overweight, especially by people who have lower incomes. "Everybody knows" that a bag of chips costs less than a head of broccoli, and that it costs less to eat at McDonald's than it does to cook a meal at home.

If healthy food were just more readily available and more affordable, then it would be more reasonable to expect people to eat right and maintain the healthy weights that would reduce risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease, many people say. But a very quick look at prices at popular chain restaurants and in grocery stores belies this excuse.

  • A family of four can eat breakfast at McDonald's for $16, or about $20 if the adults order extra breakfast sandwiches. That same family of four can each enjoy a bowl of cereal, milk, and fruit, plus coffee and juice for about $7 at home.
  • A family of four can have burgers, fries, and soft drinks for lunch at Burger King for about $28. That same family could have chicken, rice, a steamed vegetable and a pudding for desert at home for $9.
  • The ads on American television tell us that a little angel carrying a skillet will bop you over the head if you don't go for the buffet at Golden Corral. Dinners of up to five and six thousand calories of every imaginable kind of highly processed defrosted food are available at most buffet eateries for about $50, exclusive of tips and tax. That same family of four could dine on steak or shrimp plus a potato and a salad for about $20 at home. Or if money is really the issue, four people could dine on rice and canned beans with bacon, onions, and peppers for about $8—less if they omit the bacon.

Most of the food served in chain restaurants, whether fast food restaurants or sit-down restaurants, is prepared in industrial kitchens and sent out to the restaurants flash-frozen. Chemists and food processing engineers maximize their use of government-subsidized raw ingredients—corn and soy are in nearly everything that Americans eat—and add flavors, aromas, and texturizers that appeal to all the senses.

Regular consumers of restaurant food get so used to the chemicals and additives in their food that they don't really enjoy natural food. They want the chemicals, especially vanilla (which is in nearly all processed foods in some form). They also get addicted to MSG, which is the third named ingredient on many of the food boxes you could find in the dumpsters behind your favorite chain eatery.

People get addicted to eating out—but they don't have to eat out because it's cheaper. It's actually not, assuming you shop at Safeway, Kroger, or HEB and not at Whole Foods and your local Zagat-rated deli. It's even possible to eat well on the $5 per day per person 50 million Americans receive from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (until recently known as food stamps), without ever buying free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, or imported mineral water.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Mark Bittman, "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?" New York Times, 24 September 2011.
  • Photo courtesy of Camilo Rueda López by Flickr : courtesy of floodkoff on Flickr: