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"Why Healthy Food Doesn't Have to Cost More."

We often assume that more expensive grocery items are better for us. Here’s how to shift your thinking.

When shopping for groceries and trying to decide between two items—say, brands of granola bars—how do you determine which is healthier? A lot of us automatically assume that the more expensive product is healthier, according to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The Ohio State University research, which was based on several experiments, found that the study volunteers attached more health value to foods they were told cost more money. They were also more likely to be skeptical of health claims they saw on the packages of cheaper items than on those of the more costly products.

According to Rebecca Reczek, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at Ohio State and one of the study’s authors, when we have little or no information about a product’s nutritional value, we tend to rely on price as an indicator of its healthfulness. This may be in part because the notion that healthy foods are always more expensive appears to be widespread.

“If you Google ‘healthy foods expensive,’ you find an incredible amount of advice out there trying to tell you how to shop healthy on a budget—implying that it’s actually very difficult,” Reczek says. But, reports Reczek, price doesn’t necessarily correlate with nutritional value.

Doing a little fact-checking as you shop can help you choose what’s good for both your health and your wallet. Here’s how.
6 Ways to Shop Smarter

1. Keep “healthy” in perspective. It’s true that in some cases, foods we may think of as healthier are costlier. For instance, organic foods are often more expensive than their nonorganic counterparts. It’s important to know, however, that while organic food is guaranteed to be pesticide- and antibiotic-free, it isn’t generally considered to be nutritionally superior. And some healthy foods are notably inexpensive: whole grains, beans, and peanut butter, for instance, especially if you choose store brands.

2. Resist the allure of such claims as “healthy” and “natural.” Technically, if manufacturers want to use the term “healthy” on a product, it must meet certain Food and Drug Administration nutrition standards. For example, products that contain fats can have no more than 1 gram of saturated fats per serving. And foods that bear the claim must contain less than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving.

But Consumer Reports’ nutrition experts say that those requirements exclude some important components of health; they make no mention of sugars, for instance. And the term “natural” isn’t regulated, so there’s no guarantee it means anything beneficial for your health.

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