Thursday, 2 March 2017

Healthy food can be as cheap as chips

I've got a new IEA report out today looking at the price of healthy and less healthy food. I look at 78 different food products in two leading British supermarkets and find that healthy options are usually cheaper than the cheapest 'junk' options. The report has been covered by the I, Metro, the Mirror, Telegraph, Daily Mail and others.

Although the Mirror describes the findings as 'controversial', they shouldn't be. Several studies have shown that a healthy diet is no more expensive than an unhealthy diet. Last year, for example, a study in BMJ Open found that adhering to the diet recommended by the government would 'not lead to significant changes in the price of the diet' and an Australian study found that 'healthy diets can be more affordable than current (unhealthy) diets'.

I've written about the new report for Dan Hannan's new website, The Conservative:

A diet of starchy carbohydrates - potatoes, rice, bread or pasta - combined with vegetables is what the world’s poor have subsisted on for centuries. That is because it is cheap. Add some fruit, chicken or fish and you have all the components of the government’s Eatwell Guide. None of it is expensive. Supermarkets sell apples for less than 10p. A serving of spaghetti costs 3p and a portion of carrots costs 4p (plus the cost of boiling a pan of water). Meat and fish are more pricey but you can buy 100 grams of chicken fillet for less than 40p and a tin of sardines for 34p.

With food prices at historic lows and incomes at historic highs, the idea that British people are fat and badly nourished because we cannot afford to eat healthily is perverse, and yet it is widely believed. When it was suggested last week that we should eat ten fruit and vegetables a day (rather than the official recommendation of five-a-day), the Food Foundation claimed that this would be ‘impossible’ for people on low incomes because ‘healthy foods are three time more expensive calorie-for-calorie than unhealthy foods’.

The phrase ‘calorie-for-calorie’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence. Measuring the cost of food by the calorie makes sense in countries where people struggle to consume enough energy. In Britain, however, we have the opposite problem. Many of us are consuming too much energy for our sedentary lifestyles.

We do not eat to reach a quota of calories. We eat until we are full. And so, if we want to measure the cost of a healthy diet, we need to look at the cost per meal or the cost per serving, not the cost per 1,000 calories. In an Institute of Economic Affairs report published today (Cheap as Chips) I look at the price of dozens of food products in two of Britain’s leading supermarkets and find that the cost of a government-approved diet is typically cheaper than a diet of processed food, ready-meals and takeaways.

Do read the rest. 

I've also written a longer article about it for Spectator Health. Have a read of that too, but, above all, read the report.

There's a video too..

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