What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity

(Update: I thought this popular article would be worth bumping back up due my #BelowTheLine eating challenge. There have been some good comments about the fact that caloric content does not equate to nutrition. Very true, I am actually planning to buy relatively little of the “cheap” junk food items on this list like donuts, white bread, chips, and candy. Instead, I’m buying rice, lentils, beans, eggs, and a few fruits. The economics of obesity should also acknowledge the important factors of convenience and taste. Fast food tastes good and arrives instantly. I have to soak my dry lentils and beans and cook them for over an hour. Planning ahead can save a lot of money, but it’s not clear how to convince more people to do so.)

WiseGeek has an interesting article on What Does 200 Calories Look Like?, where it photographs the portions of several foods that equal 200 calories and sorts them by weight. Here’s broccoli next to peanut butter on the same plate:

200 Calories Of Broccoli and Peanut Butter: WiseGeek.com

I thought it would be neat to extend this idea and see what 200 calories costs. So I extended my usual grocery trip by finding out the price per weight for each of the food items they selected. The results are below, grouped by price per 200 calories. Image credits go to WiseGeek.com. Please go there for the full versions, these are just thumbnails for reference.

Cost of 200 Calories: Less than 50 cents
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Canola Oil
$0.07
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Wheat flour
$0.07
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Brown Sugar
$0.10
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Peanut Butter
$0.17
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Cornmeal
$0.20
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Uncooked Pasta
$0.21
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Glazed Donut
$0.23
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Butter
$0.24
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Salted Pretzels
$0.24
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Wheat Dinner Rolls
$0.23
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French Sandwich Roll
$0.24
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Smarties Candy
$0.24

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Saltines
$0.31
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Whole Milk
$0.31
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Potato Chips
$0.33
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Werthers Original Candy
$0.37
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Cheetos
$0.37
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Hershey Kisses
$0.38
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Doritos
$0.39
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Sesame Seed Bagel
$0.39
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M&Ms
$0.39
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Medium Cheddar Cheese
$0.40
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Gummy Bears
$0.40
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Tootsie Pops
$0.40
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Snickers
$0.40
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Canned Black Beans
$0.42
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Canned Pork and Beans
$0.46
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Canned Tuna in Oil
$0.47
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Flax Bread
$0.40
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Hot Dogs
$0.42
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Coca Cola
$0.46
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Jack-in-the-Box Chicken Sandwich
$0.47

.

Cost of 200 Calories: $0.50 to $0.99
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Eggs
$0.50
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Fruit Loops
$0.54
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Cooked Pasta
$0.54
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Jack in the Box Cheesburger
$0.57
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Lowfat Strawberry Yogurt
$0.58
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Peanut Butter Crackers
$0.58
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Blackberry Pie
$0.65
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Ketchup
$0.66
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Cranberry Crunch Cereal
$0.66
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Corn Bran Cereal
$0.68
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Jack in the Box Fries
$0.73
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Jelly Belly Jelly Beans
$0.75
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Canned Chili Con Carne
$0.79
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Salted Mixed Nuts
$0.81
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Marshmallow Treat
$0.83
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Canned Sweet Corn
$0.89
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Avocado
$0.99

.

Cost of 200 Calories: Over $1.00
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Sliced Toasted Almonds
$1.11
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Bailey’s Irish Cream
$1.20
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Canned Green Peas
$1.33
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Red Onions
$1.35
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Apples
$1.43
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Peanut Butter PowerBar
$1.52
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Fried Bacon
$1.65
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Kiwi Fruit
$1.93
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Broccoli
$1.93
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Splenda Artificial Sweetener
$2.01
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Honeydew Melon
$2.18
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Dried Apricots
$2.19
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Baby Carrots
$2.50
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Grapes
$2.55
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Celery
$3.11
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Balsamic Vinegar
$3.14
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Sliced Smoked Turkey
$3.19
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Peppers
$3.23

I know there are seasonal and regional differences in prices, so these are from the Pacific Northwest during winter. I chose the full retail price, regardless if there was a sale or coupons available. Since brand names were mentioned, I went for the brand name versions of each product in what I felt was the most popular container size for a grocery store. For example, for potato chips I chose Lay’s in the 13.75 ounce size.

Food Is Cheap
My first observation is that calories are cheap, starting at a retail price of about 1/10th of a cent per calorie. If the average human needs to consume about 2,000 calories, that’s just $2 a day. If you bought in bulk or on sale it would even lower. Obviously there is more to nutrition than just calories, but still. Some would argue that this all starts with cheap government-subsidized corn, which leads to cheap fats (corn oils), sweeteners (corn syrup), and animal feed.

We Are Getting Fat
You can really see the differences in prices as you go down the tables. The cheapest calories are from very basic items like flour, sugar, and oil. The next items are primarily processed snack foods – potato chips, candy, cheetos, and crackers. The most expensive calories include all the fresh fruits and vegetables.

How does this affect us? An estimated 30% of adults over the age of 20 are obese, and that number is rising. On top of that, the poor tend to be more overweight than the rich. Is this because we like to buy the cheaper (and more calorie-dense) food, with the poor even more so than the rich? I certainly ate my share of $2.99 Value Meals in high school because I could afford it. If you’re hungry and broke, you just want something that’s cheap and filling. Donuts and chips sound much better than white bread.

Maybe the less affluent are not as well educated about nutrition. On one hand, I can’t see how people can confuse a Burger King Stacker for health food. On the other, I think if there was a huge calorie label painted in food coloring on every single thing we ate, including eating out, it would definitely change my behavior.

Labeled Food

This Wall Street Journal article titled Cheap Food, Societal Norms, And the Economics of Obesity tried to answer some of these questions using both economics and social behavior. One new suggestion was that being obese has less stigma in certain demographics, so they are less likely to watch what they eat.

Convenience More Than Price?
But wait, a plate full of broccoli should fill me up a lot better than a spoonful of peanut butter, even if it is 11 times more expensive. In my case, I think it’s more about laziness in combination with the price. I could buy a whole bunch of fresh vegetables, clean them, peel them, chop them, cook them, and then clean a sinkful of dishes…. or I could buy a cheeseburger for 99 cents and throw it all away. With everyone so busy these days, which do you choose?

Then there’s the supply-and-demand argument. Are we eating junk food because it’s cheap? Or is it cheap because we demand it so much that there is more competition and economies of scale? Give me my 17 types of tortilla chips! On the hopeful side, organic food is getting cheaper too.

Finally, the biggest problem with all this talk about food is that now I’m hungry again! You wanna go grab some food?

Comments

  1. I’ve thought of “diets” in economic terms for a long time, although I assess the economy a bit differently, in calories or fat rather than dollars. Two years ago, my doctor told me that I should eat less fat to improve my cholesterol numbers. I eat at University, so this was actually pretty easy for me to do. Almost all of the foods I purchase there are prominently labeled for nutritional content, and I simply resolved to eat no more than 10g of fat at lunch each day.

    Ok, sometimes I eat more that 10g of fat, but I simply consider it an economics question. I now know how much fat is in a food, and I know how much I want it. Sometimes I want it and I accept the fat, but other times I don’t.

    For example, one day they had manicotti as a selection. I slightly preferred it to some of the other dishes until I looked and it had some huge amount, like 80g of fat. Well, there’s no way I wanted it that much, so I just got something different.

    I don’t feel deprived, because I eat what I want. It is simply tempered by fat content. I’ve lost 20 lbs (dare I say 10kg) as well, although that was not the point.

    By the way, a book that does a nice job of getting the economy of calories across visually (so you can choose what you like to eat based on a sensible assessment) is Dr. Shapiro’s Picture Perfect Weight Loss: The Visual Program for Permanent Weight Loss.

  2. Boy I’m sorry if my previous post sounded like a big plug for that book. I liked the book and stand by my assessment of it, but I didn’t intend for it to come across that way.

  3. Great article. Very thought provoking. I would put emotional distress into the mix as well. If you’re poor, you’re probably stressed. If the only pleasure you can afford is a 99 cent bacon cheeseburger, you’re going for it. A lot.

  4. great post. the different perspective helps….

  5. This a topic I, too, find very interesting (I’m a dietitian / doctoral student in nutrition and my husband is an economist!)

    Check out these papers for more info:
    Food Choices and Diet Costs: An Economic Analysis
    http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/reprint/135/4/900

    The economics of obesity: dietary energy density and energy cost
    http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/82/1/265S

    In particular, I think you’ll find the graphs very interesting.

  6. Gavin Peters says:

    You said: “Some would argue that this all starts with cheap government-subsidized corn, which leads to cheap fats (corn oils), sweeteners (corn syrup), and animal feed.”

    This isn’t true. Food is much cheaper in other nations. Coming from expensive Canada, I saw a substantial jump in the costs of many groceries when I moved here. The US has large tarriff barriers on the import of sugar from other nations. Perhaps corn is subsidized, but not enough to make corn sourced calories cheaper than just buying sugar from Cuba or Brazil. Sadly, in its wisdom, the US government has decided not to allow this.

    The impact is particularly pernicious on poor families. Food is a larger percentage of the budget of lower income families than higher income, so you can think of agricultural policy as in part a system that transfers money from poor inner city families to middle class rural communities.

    • You comment dripping with nastiness. Food is more expensive in almost every nation on Earth! And you comment “transfers money from poor inner city families to middle class rural communities” is absurd. Don’t worry, those inner city families will have money transferred to them from the middle class rural communities. Sadly, in its wisdom, the US government has decided to allow this.

  7. Gavin Peters says:

    Also: you should add lard to your chart. It’s cheaper than canola oil in most areas.

    The full nutritional version of this problem is called “The Diet Problem”, and it’s a normal sort of linear programming exercise for undergraduates. A good text on this is at http://www2.informs.org/Press/Gass06.html and it contains the solution respecting RDAs.

  8. I think it is a matter of convenience. I know that I can get convenience food that is similar to what I would make at home but if you look at the ingredients there are added chemicals and preservatives. I prefer to make my own meals and eat the leftovers afterwards for both lunch and dinner. My favorite thing right now it to make soup and freeze it so I have something in the freezer when I don’t have something to make or am too lazy. The cost of the soup is actually less then what I would pay for a good soup in a can. You can get healthier convenience items but those items are expensive (at least for me) if purchased on a regular basis.

    I also noticed that you had peanut butter listed twice ($0.17 and $0.58).

  9. Well, one problem with choosing the broccoli over the peanut butter is that we’re pretty hard-wired to want fat + salt + sugar over leafy greens. (And I’ve heard that PB is good for us for so long – I’m always shocked at how many calories it contains. It’s good for *emergency rations*, where you want high calories in low bulk. Must remind myself of that.)

    My current problem is that my office is always freezing. When I get to the cafeteria, I want *hot* comfort food, even though I know I should be heading for the (very nice) salad bar. My body is telling me that cold food won’t do, and since it has to get me through the rest of the day without hypothermia, how about some nice meat and cheese to power it?

    I think it’s time to go bother Facilities to turn up the heat again.

  10. Wow i never knew how much i was eating…damn!!

  11. In my opinion at some point in time the government is going to need to get into the business of setting up incentives to eat healthier. If the goverment gets involved in universal healthcare – then the case should be made that they should do things to keep healthcare costs down and pay for the program. I believe a tax on unhealthy food implemented over a series of years could be the mechanism to address this problem. A tax on unhealthy food would make healthy food much more affordable since corproations would would want to maximize profit not have a portion of the sale go to taxes. Currently its much cheaper to eat junk for lunch than to eat healthy – that trend would change if all of the fast food restaurants started adding healthy choices that costed less (which they would do if this tax existed).

    Additionally if people ate healthier it would reduce obesity, diabedes, cancer, cholesterol and many more problems that eat up healthcare costs.

  12. I’ll have to check out that Shapiro book. If it allows you to easily calculate the amount of calories in any given food, that would be great.

    Thanks for the links 3bean. Is there a “fat tax” on anything yet? I don’t know if that would help, but I do think it’s interesting to discuss.

    Peanut butter sandwiches are my cheap PowerBars :) That and Snickers :(

    The .58 peanut butter should have been peanut butter crackers, not just peanut butter. Thanks for pointing that out.

  13. The key is learning to read nutrition labels and gradually giving up processed food. You are what you eat, and your money should be spent accordingly.

    As a single person, there are some challenges in food buying and preparation. Here’s my salad preparation breakdown: I buy vegetables for a week, at about $10 (mostly organic). I make a salad twice a week, eating one half immediately, and saving the other for the next day (condiments added before eating). Each portion fills about two cups, twice the FDA recommended daily amount. The next day I eat the other half. In total: I’ve covered 4 days-worth of vegetables in two days. I wait another day, then prepare the next salad, and again eat it over two days. Total, more than enough vegetables for a week.

    With some practice and forethought, it now takes me about 15 minutes to prepare 2 full bowls of salad with a variety of vegetables. This comes to 7.5 minutes a day, and $2.5 for meeting the recommended daily amount of vegetables averaged over a week. I plan and shop weekly because it’s the common limit of shelf life of vegetables.

    I also pack food to work. I usually cook a big pot once or twice a week and eat it daily with various small additions each day that don’t require much preparation, like sandwiches.

    Just going somewhere everyday to grab a bite would take much longer, cost more and will be of dubious value in comparison.

    What’s the downside? I don’t cook gourmet daily and I make do with less variety over the week, but the ingredients are top quality. This keeps things simple, healthy and manageable. The meals I make are better tasting and have caused me to be much more discerning when I do eat out.

  14. Regarding the issue of “Fat tax”– some states, including NY and MD (I believe) tax junk foods like candy and soda at the normal sales tax rate, but other grocery products, like milk or cereal, are exempt from sales tax. Unfortunately, the generated monies go back into the general fund. I’d like to see them earmarked for nutrition education. Excess tax, like what you see on cigarettes, has been discussed, but as you can imagine, encounters a lot of resistance.

    Voluntary pricing policies at high school cafeterias and vending machines are starting to catch on, and some schools are upping the price of less healthy options to subsidize the costs of more healthful choices. It’s encouraging to note that students have been sensitive to the changes in prices and will opt for the healthier options when they are competitively priced. Here’s a link to the paper that started the ball rolling: link

    I think we really need to start acknowledging how environment (including pricing) effects food choice and put less emphasis on personal responsibility. Being healthy is NOT impossible, but we’ve created an environment that makes poor choices much easier than healthful ones.

  15. Oh, I see that eating vegetables only costs less than $1.5 daily on average. Even better!

  16. The link to the vending machine study doesn’t work,. Use this instead: link

  17. Great post. I agree with morf. We are trained to want fat + salt + sugar over leafy greens. It took lots of time to retrain myself to want veggies and fruits rather than bad foods. And to fill me up, I have to eat a larger portions of veggies and fruits (with lots of water) in comparison to than other foods.

  18. The less processed a food is generally the better it is for you. Especially when talking about carbohydrates. Processing generally removes most of the fiber in a food and adds caloric density. The less fiber, the faster the digestion of the food due to the lack of fiber, etc. You take in more calories (food density) and the satiety factor doesn’t kick in like it does with less calorie dense foods. Think potato chips versus apples.

  19. In response to your comment on the “huge calorie label” on everything we eat: I visited McDonald’s last week, and noticed that they are now printing nutrition labels on their fry cartons. I couldn’t enjoy them as much knowing the real numbers!

  20. I do agree with a lot of the comments on this site. I was just saying to my mother the other day how it is cheaper to buy the snacks for my kids then the fruits and vegetables. I try to buy both and my kids do like both fruits/vegetables and of course they’re kids so they like cookies and sweets. But I bought some grapes at the market and it cost me 2.99 a pound and I bought a few pounds. Then I bought some little debbie snacks to satisfy their sweet tooth and it’s only about 1.19 a box for those. And unfortunately we are on a strict budget in our house and i have to say sometimes it can get expensive to buy salads and vegetables. I do opt to buy the frozen vegetables for they are cheaper. But I do think it does come down to money and convience. When both parents work and you don’t get out till 5:00 have to get the kids go home and make dinner quick it can get tough five days a week so it is much easier to stop and pick up something quick or order in. But I do think not having the money is also a problem. People and children look up to so many stars and famous people but let’s face it someone like Oprah has the money to have a personal chef and many other people to help her as do many others. The average hard working family is really left on their own to try to provide what they need for their children. I think if the government was so concerned with obese children then they would do more. But most politicians have money also and don’t realize what it’s like to live like the average person.

  21. Glomer1163 says:

    Splenda listed as having 200 calories? The information on Splenda’s website states that it is a non-caloric sweetener. Even with 200 packets, the sweetener shouldn’t appear under the 200 calorie heading.

  22. OK… As far as I am aware, the caloric food theory is basically worthless. the amount of calories is determined by how much energy is given off by BURNING the food to ash. Hence Calories (the caloric theory of heat, which was also discovered to be wrong, is the source of this term). and in case you didn’t know this, we don’t use fire to digest food. we don’t have wood burning intestines. the glycemic index, and glycemic load are far more meaningful in terms of nutrition. Calories do not take in to account how our bodies absorb food. for instance fiber. fiber contributes to calories (although not as much) but is not absorbed by our bodies. Our bodies absorb starches and sugars Extremely fast, and hence convert them to fat faster, where as fat needs to be converted into a substance that can be RE converted into fat, which takes more energy to do.

  23. If you are not as concerned about money, the economy you should look for in selecting foods is nutrition per calorie. You want to maximize nutrition, and minimize calories. I’m leaving nutrition vaguely defined because that’s a whole can of worms, but I’m explictly omitting caloric nutrition (the need for calories) and focusing only on things like vitamins, phytochemicals, good fats, etc.

    Specifically trying to minimize fat is oversold and recently suggested to be a bad idea, as there are good fats and essential fatty acids. If you minimize calories per nutrition, though, this will have the side effect of keeping fat consumption relatively low, while not knocking it out too far. Nuts have good nutrition, but still a lot of calories… but much better than butter or cheese.

    Getting back to calories per dollar… if you feed the world on the cheapest of foods (those shown above less than $0.50), in order to get enough vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals from these nutritionally bare foods, they will have to eat a whole lot of them. And they will eat way too many calories as a consequence.

    The sad thing is, this Earth cannot support 6 billion people all eating healthily. Maybe 2-3 billion max. We are in a position where somebody must have poor nutrition, or die, because there’s just not enough resources for this many people. We have enough calories… and that’s the big thing, that’s what is keeping 6 billion people alive. About 3 billion people owe their lives to Norman Borlaug for bringing about so many high yielding foods. But there are just not enough vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients for everyone.

  24. That’s amazing. I’m eating more broccoli and less peanut butter.

  25. Americans are getting fatter and fatter. Look at the workers at fast food restaurants. Most are obese.

    The worst meal of the day to eat is breakfast. Don’t eat it.

    Also, if the world needs an appetite suppresant, look no further than the apple.

    Do this tomorrow: let the first thing that you eat be an apple. Make it a Granny Smith. At first light you’ll have no interest in this wonderfull fruit. But, wait till 11:00 am comes along and you’ll be more interested, and it will be tasty. However if you wait till 1:00 PM you will attack it and it will be wonderful. The French say: “Hunger is the greatest sauce.”

    And so here will be an ordinary day in which the normal 800 calorie breakfast will be avoided and a 75 calorie treat will be your reward.

    Do a BMI check on yourself and you might find that you are obese.

    Don’t eat anything associated with a label. Fast food is poision. Salt kills. Fruit is good and good for you.

    Do this: look at a high school annual from the sixties. Look for fat kids. You’ll only find a small percentage. Fat kids are everywhere today. I feel sorry for them.

    Detox your home. Get rid of everything in a box (there are exceptions: oats and raisins come to mind). Get rid of all the sugar and junk. No chips. No sugary cereal.

    When I was growing up in the fifties and my mother wanted me and my three siblings to have a treat, she’d cut an apple into fourths and give each one of us a piece. 1/4th an apple.

    I saw a cartoon the other day in which a small child said: “Instead of fruit couldn’t I have something fruit-flavored?”

    This says it all.

    Bill

  26. In response to Bill’s post- he said “don’t eat breakfast.” DON’T LISTEN TO HIM! Those who skip breakfast are 4 times more likely to become OBESE. You must eat a healthy breakfast to kickstart your metabolism for the day.

  27. The important word in Emily’s post is of course ‘healthy’. A breakfast that consists of bacon, eggs and sausages is not healthy, especially not if you have more fats and meats in your later meals. Have some fruit. I lived for years on a breakfast of banana smoothies: add some orange juice to a banana, blend with a hand blender, drink. Add berries or pineapple every so often for variation. I used to have colds 3 time each winter, but had none at all while having this breakfast.

    My personal question for every meal is “Where are the vitamins and the fiber?” I find that if you look for those, you cut out a lot of crap (providing you don’t buy the fibersure additives and vitamin pills for cheating, of course).

    And read the labels! Words you don’t understand means junk, anything with more than 8 ingredients contains junk. It makes choosing a brand so much easier after a while – look for the peanut butter with only peanuts and salt, usually you’ll find only one.

  28. The ‘cost’ of food is deceiving when you only look at the grocery store price. The argument that government subsidies for corn, etc influence the costs is only the beginning. What the government actually does is enhance the profitability of the processors through tax laws, permitting, health code training (“everything a farmer wants to do to make money is illegal”-Joel Salatin), oil wars, highway systems to enhance transportation, concentrated feed operations which subsidise the corn market and allow suburban sprawl by concentrating animals on less land, immigration policies that look the other way on cheap labor for corporations that own the government, and state laws that discourage individuals from producing value-added products through complex labeling, testing, and certification processes.
    When all is added up, the cost of non-local, processed foods is MUCH higher than the vegetables. Especially when you consider that the System of Systems is going to kill billlions of people in the next century through global warming, oil depletion, wars, and pollution.
    The truly unhealthy situation for the poor is not that they go to work and buy cheap food for lunch: it is that they are driving to work at jobs that don’t do anything useful for the planet, yet they enable us all to overconsume. The education system doesn’t help, teaching our children that success is measured in money, college, and Credentials.
    As a species, we are coming up on a solid rock wall with one little hole in it called “The Post Oil Economy”. Highly processed foods, wasteful transportation, and Agritainment aren’t going to fit through that hole into the future.
    If you want Change, keep it in your pocket. Your dollar always votes for the other dollars. The next Revolution won’t be televised, it will be suffered.

  29. I thought the concept was interesting, if but a little shallow. I like what Linna said. After what autigrav says, I guess I should just go shoot myself and save everybody else the trouble. Talk about a bitter hippie attitude. Blame it on the military-industrial complex. But, did you stop to think that you are using a computer to spout off your chicken little BS??? Just turn off the infernal machine and go smoke a joint. Actually you do have some valid points, but the presentaion is such a “turn off man”.

  30. One thing about junk food being cheaper is that most junk foods have a much longer shelf life. Consider how long a jar of peanut butter stays good compared to those fruits and vegetables. It’s easy to keep a stock of food with far-distant expiration dates than constantly wilting veggies.

  31. This was a very interesting article. I hope the prices of fruits and veggies go down soon! Actually last night (In Georgia) I got 15 cent bananas! They were perfectly ripe, nothing wrong with them, just 15 cents. A homeless person could buy that with money they got from the street! Lets get America healthy!
    ~Jamie

  32. Mike is right about the population thing. food is already really expensive. Since when did a carton of eggs go from 79 cents to $2.79? This happened in the last 7 years, not the last 50. When India and China become more industrialized, food will become even more scarce and expensive. Only the wealthy will be able to afford nutritious food. The message: stop populating the earth!

  33. Tom Miller says:

    “One thing about junk food being cheaper is that most junk foods have a much longer shelf life. Consider how long a jar of peanut butter stays good compared to those fruits and vegetables. It?s easy to keep a stock of food with far-distant expiration dates than constantly wilting veggies.”

    If your veggies are wilting, then eat them faster, or do not purchase more than you can eat in one week. Eating healthier and planning out your meals will save you time and money. My wife and I used to just go to the grocery store without a plan in mind. We would just purchase the processed foods that looked and sounded good. For the two of use, we used to spend on average $100-150 per week! Now that we meal plan and only purchase what we need for the week, we average about $50 – 100 per week.

    I have always been told to shop the outer isles of the grocery stores. This is where the fresh ingredients are. Stay away from the main isles, as this is where most of the processed foods are located. I suggest you check out a TV program called “You are what you eat”. It is on BBC America and it is a real eye opener! Dr. Gillian McKeith is the host and author of a book of the same title. Check it out!

  34. Samuel Diamond says:

    Yea, I was reading this and the comments above and I see that you forgot bananas. Great article btw.

  35. Great piece! I was looking EXACTLY for this — so thanks for creating it! I had been wondering about the cost of proteins versus fats and carbs.

    But now here’s another question — what is the value of those calories? We know that junk food will kill you — but other than that — is there someway to figure out how healthy is 200 cals of olive oil versus brown rice versus broccoli versus lean meat?

  36. Gaia, I could say “you’re comparing apples to oranges” and in this case, it would not even be a metaphor!

    Mankind cannot answer the question yet. It will be a few hundred more years at least. There are just too many independant and dependant variables to control for, and massive research to conduct.

  37. Brandon says:

    Brown Rice: $0.08

  38. Interesting! We all eat to much!

  39. Eating healthy is fine, but what about the environment and other people. There are claims that getting a head of organic lettuce from seedling to the dinner table in the US costs more fuel than a family in the third world needs for cooking in a week. I could not verify the data, but considering the trucks rolling across US interstates every day to carry produce from California or Florida to the Northeast it is entirely believable to me.

    Going by the numbers shown in the blog you can still cover your daily calories at low cost and low energy consumption; for example 1400 calories in canola oil and whole(!) grain wheat ($0.49, just calories and fiber) plus 600 calories in eggs ($1.50, mainly for the protein). Occasionally you have to throw in some supplements to meet vitamin and mineral requirements. All of these items take much less energy to produce, deliver and prepare than fresh vegetables. They may not be as tasty, but with less than 20acres/human left in the world (including ocean area), many “healthy” foods served in the US kill people elsewhere.

    The discussion of “healthy eating” these days should not be about what fancy, exotic food to eat, but how to produce what is really needed most efficiently. Eating as a social event with family, friends or coworkers should be strongly discouraged; better go for a hike together or play some games. Perhaps some day we will treat eating similar to going to the bathroom – sometimes you have to, you feel better when you are done with it, but you do not look forward to it all day and you positively do not discuss it on parties. Those could be the days when everybody in the world has enough to eat and nobody is obese.

  40. I think its maybe a tad unfair to things like celery, which have almost no calories, but interesting nonetheless.

  41. Fantastic article. I recently started following the Zone Diet and my grocery bills went through the roof. As you pointed out, the low glycemic index foods (i.e. fruits and vegetables) are much more expensive than corn and grain foods (even the “healthy” ones). But, I think of this as an investment more than as a pure cost. I know that I feel much better on this diet (more energy = higher earning potential) and the reduced chance of chronic disease is insurance I’m willing to pay for. So, for your next fantastic article, how about a comparison of the short term and long term costs of different diets (e.g. zone vs. USDA vs. junk food)?

  42. What’s the cost of 200 calories of foie gras?

  43. Love your article and the pictures! Chris and Kerri’s book “On a Dollar a Day” inspired me to change the way that I looked at food. Though I didn’t do their 30 day experiment, I changed enough eating and buying habits to be down 13 lbs. on the 28th day and 28 lbs. on the 62nd day. I was absolutely stunned that eating sweet potatoes, chicken, beef, squash, potatoes and a multivitamin would break the food craving cycle and have a transformational effect. My blog’s at http://dennisrose40sfoodblog.wordpress.com/about/ . The CDC projects that 33% of all children born in the US in the year 2000 will get Type II Diabetes. This can be hugely reduced by simple, “no will power” changes to eating and buying habits.

  44. This article shows that fruits and vegetables are generally more expensive than packaged foods and potato chips. There are of course cheaper fruits and vegetables like bananas and tomatoes. This article emphasized “popularity” in showing pricing, but the prices for fruits and vegetables are overblown. It’s easy to save money on fruits and vegetables by using techniques like buying seasonal sale items, buying flash-frozen items, buying a head of lettuce instead of lettuce mix, buying regular carrots instead of baby carrots, buying in bulk, and buying the store label. Many fruits and vegetables cost less than 7 cents per ounce (25 cents per 100g serving), especially when on sale, whether fresh, canned, or frozen, so 5 to 9 servings of fruit and vegetables can cost around $2 per day or less, depending on which fruits and vegetables are consumed.

    In response to those that want the government to regulate or tax and price fix “unhealthy” products: If you get your way, the price of everything will go up, not just “unhealthy” foods. Consider that fresh fruits and vegetables are often seasonal, hence the rapid price fluctuations due to supply changes. If too many people are artificially forced into buying fruits and vegetables, the prices of those items will go up due to shortages, until everything reaches equilibrium again. But, then the government will lose money because people aren’t buying as many unhealthy items, so they will raise taxes in other areas, thus ultimately reducing the money available for food budgets while having a reduced impact on general health.

    The best thing people can do to control prices for themselves (and their neighbors) to eat healthy is to increase the supply of produce by growing their own, or by joining a cooperative garden or market. Also, paying too much for the “organic” label does nothing for nutrition. Finally, review the tips above for saving money.

    A couple additional thoughts:
    1. The FDA should strictly mandate serving size based on actual amounts of input ingredients in canned or processed foods. This would make it much easier to compare different types of products to get the best deal per nutrition.
    2. Serving sizes for fruits and vegetables should be defined in grams, rather than quantity. Fresh fruits and vegetables are most often purchased by weight, not count, and scales are always available.

    Brian

  45. I think economies of scale really come into play with food prices. If you’re in an area where more of a certain type of food is used, they will usually have good deals on that kind of food, and it will be of higher quality. If you want cheaper fruits and veggies, go to a Hispanic neighborhood for your shopping. That’s the only demographic of people in the US currently who eat anything close to enough fruits and veggies, even across economic lines.

  46. Charlotte says:

    It’s getting pretty boring at this point, but I’ve been living primarily on an extra large bag of frozen, mixed veggies, cans of sardines or tuna, and tomato sauce for the past week. Sometimes it’s beans and rice, instead. For breakfast I have a piece of wheat bread with natural peanut butter and a black coffee with sugar. If I’m feeling crazy I’ll get some bananas.

    I’m probably missing quite a few nutrients, but a multi-vitamin is still cheaper than the doctor’s bill that would accompany eating $1 menu food every day.

    Or that’s what I keep telling myself.

  47. To see this is crazy, It costs less money to eat unhealthy food. I wonder what would happen if these unhealthy foods would become more expensive with taxes and fruit and vegetables and other healthy foods would become cheaper instead. I’m predicting a huge change in the obesity numbers and statistics.

  48. westbreezy says:

    Check out coconut milk! Its about 52 cents for 200 calories of healthy fat!

  49. Not very logical way to do this.

    apples vs oranges.

    Broccoli is very low in calories per gram and peanut butter is very high.

    Like comparing a bell pepper to a habanero in terms of spicyness.

    Things high in calories are not bad for you or unhealthy, things that have undesired chemicals in them are unhealthy.

    Don’t let the fatasses of the world control your food.

  50. Don’t blame US health problems on this. You don’t eat vegetables for their calories, it almost makes me think you are deliberately painting a wrong picture here. You can just eat rice/pasta/potatoes for their carbohydrates and calories, then add in the vegetables for the vitamins, fibers, etc. Just saying ‘ok I need to take in 2000 kcals a day and if I had to do it through vegetables would cost a lot’ is a really simplistic view.

  51. @Gavin Peters:

    “Perhaps corn is subsidized”? No need for guessing- billions of our dollars have gone to making corn real cheap, which is why corn is in almost 25% of the products at your average grocery store. And because of Iowa’s position in the presidential primary maze, it’s very difficult to end this absurd subsidy.

  52. Great article. But what about the cost of cooking those beans & lentils for an hour?

  53. @Glomer1163 – Splenda has 3.8 calories per packet. Anything less than 5 can be labeled as “no calorie” in the US. Kind of like how an item with <0.5g of trans fat per serving is "trans fat free"

  54. This is great write up and review of meals. I totally agree that there is an equation mark between being poor and fat and rich and slim. Junk food is cheaper than quality one. But still as we stuffed ourselves with hamburgers during our college years we still managed to be slim then we are now, so only unhealthy eating isn’t the key, but the way you live goes in hand with what you eat.

  55. @Joshua – If you compute the cost of cooking on an electric or gas range, I think the last time I ran the number it was less than 10 cents an hour. The beans will just be simmering, so it’ll be even less.

  56. The key to a healthy diet is to eat REAL food not processed food imitation. Any product with more than 5 ingredients doesn’t make it into my basket.

  57. Great analysis! This is such an important consideration in the obesity debate. It’s a tough problem, especially when an unhealthy lifestyle is even ingrained in your food prices.

  58. We have been lied to watch the documentary Fat Head. Animal fats are not bad for us and eating less does not lower cholesterol necessarily. My personal opinion is as long as we exercise and stay withing a healthy calorie range, and eat lots of fibrous vegetables and fruits (this I believe is the linchpin- we don’t flush our bodies because we don’t eat enough fiber), eat very little simple sugars- this includes breads pastas, rice, but the obvious one is sodas, sweet tea,frapachinos and other sugary coffee drinks etc.

    Carbs should be eaten before or after exercise as needed not when you plan to sit on your cake eating ass in front of the TV. We should also eat more proteins and yes fatty steaks are fine- animal fat is not the enemy-carbs and over eating are. Preferably eat the high protein meats with fibrous veg. The Vegetarian lobby groups need to shut the hell up and stop with the pseudo science.

    Mostly people just eat too much and dont move that i the problem- its not rocket science- shut your cake hole once in awhile The article is correct eating healthy is expensive.

  59. That CNN article about foodstamps is nonsense- people get way more than $176. I was on it and got something near $700 for a family of 3. We could get almost anything we wanted- steak, lobster, coffee etc. I would never spend that much of my own money on groceries. We didnt get junk food often though- no soda at all or candy. I heard stories from people who were glad they swallowed their pride to receive foodstamps so they could buy boxes of their kids favorite snack. Before this person was on foodstamps they had a huge house and drove a Hummer and had had several other cars- this was a story told to me at the unemployment office by the manager as a way to tell people not to feel shame for accepting foodstamps. Personally I think people should feel shame so they can work to get off of them sooner. That is a huge problem in America- no shame

  60. I don’t know how different things are where you are, but here in England the cheapest calories (in terms of calories per penny) are long grain rice at 40p a kilo and spaghetti at 46p a kilo. Both of these as healthy low GI foods that are easy to prepare and don’t take long to prepare. If people ate more rice and pasta and less processed foods they would not only be healthier but would save money too. Chapatti flour is also 40p a kilo but most people wouldn’t know how to use it. So I don’t agree that healthy food is more expensive. Rice and pasta aren’t just cheaper but usually an order of magnitude cheaper than processed foods. As for vegetables, they don’t have to be fresh, frozen is just as good. 1kg for 75p is common in supermarkets. Also, you have to forget about the more expensive vegetables (celery?) and concentrate on the basic (cabbage, carrot?) and go for seasonal. The other mistake that people make is overestimating how much protein they need and not realizing that the cheapest protein is always pulses and never meat or cheese. That can save a lot of money.

  61. Great article. How did you calculate the cost of the items?

Trackbacks

  1. nutrition, learning & living @ alamedalearning.com » Blog Archive » nutrition & diet update - january 10, 2007 says:

    [...] What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity As a follow-on to the WiseGeek article What Does 200 Calories Look Like?, where it photographs the portions of several foods that equal 200 calories and sorts them by weight. MyMoneyBlag extends this idea and see what 200 calories costs. The price per weight for each of the food items, grouped by price per 200 calories, are shown. “Good food” calories – fresh fruit and vegetables, are considerably more expensive and require planning and preparation. Are junk food calories cheap because they are in demand with plenty of competition or are we eating all this stuff because it is cheap? MyMoneyBlog http://www.mymoneyblog.com [...]

  2. Realization: Healthy Eating is Expensive…

    One of our budget items that always seems out of whack compared to what I see the frugalistas out there in the personal finance blog realm is our food budget. I’ve seen a claims of grocery expense for a family of three in the less-than-$150 range…

  3. links for 2007-01-10 » Personal Finance - Save Money at Binary Dollar says:

    [...] What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity This guy took the post on what 200 calories looks like and instead what 200 calories COSTS for a ton of different foods. Also has pictures of all of them. Junk food turned out to be the cheapest and veggies the most expensive. (tags: money finance health) [...]

  4. Weekly Roundup – 01/12/07…

    Here’s a quick look at some of the personal finance related articles that caught my eye over the past week…

    Jim profiles the “Dogs of the Dow” stock picking strategy.
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  5. nutrition, health & learning @ alamedalearning.com » Blog Archive » nutrition & diet update says:

    [...] What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity As a follow-on to the WiseGeek article What Does 200 Calories Look Like?, where it photographs the portions of several foods that equal 200 calories and sorts them by weight. MyMoneyBlog extends this idea and calculates what 200 calories costs. The price per weight for each of the food items, grouped by price per 200 calories, are shown. “Good food” calories – fresh fruit and vegetables, are considerably more expensive and require planning and preparation. Are junk food calories cheap because they are in demand with plenty of competition or are we eating all this stuff because it is cheap? MyMoneyBlog http://www.mymoneyblog.com [...]

  6. Rhea’s Blog » Blog Archive » Why we are fat says:

    [...] If you want to be healty you need time and money. Read Mymoneyblog’s explanation on this issue. [...]

  7. Analyzing Medifast Diet » Blog Archive » Happy 1st says:

    [...] Back home and a quick shower, I decided to do a Blog post and surf the net for a little. The cool site of the day is? The Economics of Obesity. For my lean and green meal for the night I had a lean beef patty and some steamed zucchini and squash. [...]

  8. [...] How about the cost of 200 calories? Try MyMoneyBlog which uses the same photos as WiseGeek but translates the data into dollars and cents. What is interesting with this data is that cheap calories are just that, cheap. They have little fiber or nutrient content, mostly empty calories which may explain why the poor in our country have such an obesity problem. 7. February 2007, 08:34 o’clock Health, Food and Eating [...]

  9. Health Pundits » Blog Archive » Obesity Economics - Cost of a Calorie says:

    [...] Check out this picture, care of the Money Blog: [...]

  10. [...] we could just go up there and hang out – Like open the fridge and stuff There would already be laid out foods for us – Like little pre-wrapped sausages and [...]

  11. Eating Healthy Is Not Cheap | Fatboy 2 Fitboy says:

    [...] is a GREAT article on MoneyBlog and Wisegeek.com about the economics of obesity and how it is MUCH more expensive to eat healthy [...]

  12. Ambassador of Wellness : Is Eating Healthy More Expensive? says:

    [...] on what 200 calories of food looks like. I wondered what 200 calories of food cost. Lucky for me, someone already did that.As a general rule, you want to "eat from the rainbow". Foods that have lots of color have [...]

  13. [...] What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity [...]

  14. Visualizing the Cost of Calories « Local Foods Research Project says:

    [...] at My Money Blog, loads of price comparisons. The pictures here are organised by price category (prices in US$). [...]

  15. eBalance: Heinrich von Grünigens Blog - Rezessions-Pfunde says:

    [...] adipös (in der Schweiz sind es erst 9%). Eindrücklich ist in diesem Zusammenhang eine Gegenüberstellung der Kosten von verschiedenen Lebensmitteln mit einem Energiegehalt von 200 Kilokalorien: schon rein [...]

  16. Waist Sizes Growing As The Economy Shrinks? | OntoreBangladesh says:

    [...] you look at these examples of what 200 calories costs, you’ll see that fresh fruit and vegetables figure towards the high end. For example, peppers [...]

  17. [...] CNN reporter lives on food stamps for a month What’s it like to eat with a food budget of $176 a month? Some frugal families may find that plenty for one person, others can’t even imagine it. What about nutrition? Too many carbs, too few fruits and vegetables. Reminds me of this breakdown of foods by how much 200 calories costs. [...]

  18. [...] What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity The My Money Blog goes beyond “What does 200 calories look like?” to examine “How much does 200 calories cost?” (tags: food fat calories cost obesity economics habit) [...]

  19. [...] perspectives on the relationship between cost and nourishment What Does 200 Calories Cost? I once researched, among things I liked to eat, what food had the most protein per calorie – I [...]

  20. Can Healthy Food be Affordable? « This Ringing Bell says:

    [...] eat unhealthy foods than it is to eat healthy ones.  One of the commenters on this post references this article.  Some highlights that the commenter calls out are the prices for 200 calories worth of various [...]

  21. [...] hundred calories of preserved junk food and then buy two hundred calories of fresh healthy food and compare the price for each. This might let you in on why so many obese Americans come from the ranks of lower income families [...]

  22. [...] diet on peanut butter (hell, I’d do it in a jiffy). That means that you’d only have spend $1.70 feeding yourself on a given [...]

  23. Pre-Holiday Weight Loss Plan « My Two Cents | DePaul says:

    [...] to increase my living expenses. Luckily, I found two interesting articles on calories and costs. What Does 200 Calories Look Like? ,What Does 200 Calories Cost? The first one gave pictures of 200 cal of various foods, and the [...]

  24. [...] shopping on a regular basis. Healthy food is cheap. Check this out. You might be surprised. What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity My Money Blog __________________ To view links or images in signatures your post count must be 10 or greater. [...]

  25. Lose Fat, Gain Energy, Clear Skin - All while making the world a better place...? A discussion on the Vegan way of Life. | Hair by JUXTA says:

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  26. Ronald McDonald being blamed for child obesity? - Page 14 - U.S. Politics Online: A Political Discussion Forum says:

    [...] Grains and pasta are where one finds the calorie bargains. Here's a site with some examples: What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity My Money Blog [...]

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