“You get what you pay for” is an old truism that many of us take for granted. At times that may be a justifiable assumption, but not always.
When health-conscious consumers spend significantly more for groceries they consider to be of higher nutritional value, they don’t necessarily get their money’s worth, according to studies. Still, the belief persists that eating better requires greater expenses. It doesn’t have to be this way.
People often just assume that quality foods such as organic or gluten-free have to be more expensive, despite there being no real evidence to support this view, says Roberta Walker Reczek, PhD, an associate professor at State Ohio University who conducted extensive studies on the subject of consumer perceptions. Pricing may also influence how important we feel health-promoting properties in food are, she adds.
For instance, participants in tests were inclined to accept health claims in foods like energy bars that were relatively pricey, but were more skeptical when the same items were offered for less.
We are prejudiced against a deal that sounds too good to be true. Part of that mindset is that something of higher quality or benefit has to cost more as well.
Food manufacturers and food outlet operators, of course, know that and are happy to take advantage of such notions. Some “high-end” food chains like Whole Foods actually thrive on the assumption that their merchandise commands higher prices because it is “better” than the competition’s.
The sad thing is that, contrary to popular belief, it can actually be more expensive to eat badly than healthily, says Elisa Zied, a New York-based dietitian and frequent contributor to MSNBC. According to myriad testing, some highly nutritious foods like grains, vegetables, fruit and dairy products are typically cheaper than many products made with saturated fat and added sugars, she says.
Yes, when you measure price per calorie, most fresh and whole items in the produce department probably cost more than their processed and packaged counterparts. But that should not prevent anyone from eating healthfully while keeping within a reasonable budget, she explains.
Making careful meal plans, shopping locally, choosing items that are currently in season, and taking advantage of sales and other specials while understanding how to maintain a balanced diet are all key to stretching your dollar and staying true to your good intentions to eat better, she advises.
Relying on your own research, systematic thinking and discerning about health claims rather than blindly following advertisements or myths about pricing and quality can be a smarter way to get what you want without breaking the bank.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” timigustafson.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter, on Facebook and Google+.