Eating healthily can be the affordable option

We need to remake our relationship with food and change our false perception of the cost of cooking for a healthy diet

Natural yoghurt, quinoa, avocadoes and pistachios – all these foods are considered ‘fancy’ and ‘luxury’ goods. But are they really? Is it not just because they tend to be more expensive than your average bag of crisps or a bar of chocolate? In reality, these foods are not “fancy”, but instead simply healthier options packed with more nutrients.

It is silly really, that the cheaper foods are the less healthy foods. Why should a bag of salted nuts cost more than the same bag of unsalted nuts? And why should a bag of sweets, which contains dozens of ingredients (mostly artificial), be the same price as a bag of apples, which contains only one natural ingredient?

Equally, supermarkets encourage us to eat the unhealthier foods. Meal deals include a soft drink and bag of crisps, rather than an apple and a bag of nuts. The checkout counter is covered with chocolate bars and crisp packets, snack-sized, so that even if you have avoided the sweets counter, you are confronted with it, like it or not, at the end of your shop. Many health foods are not even available in supermarkets. Instead, you have to go to a health food store, where everything seems to cost over £5.

Economically speaking, consumer demand for unhealthy foods is higher than demand for healthier foods, so it makes sense that the good stuff costs more as demand is lower. Unhealthy diets are cheaper because producers are trying to match this demand as inexpensively as possible. But, this is usually at the expense of our health. That being said, I go to the local grocers each week, and buy a week’s worth of fruit and veg for around £5 (this option also avoids the plastic covering so common in supermarkets, which is, guess what, an extra cost). Studies have shown that healthy eating is not actually that much more expensive. When measured by weight, a wide range of fruits and vegetables are available for less than £2 per kilogram, while the cheapest ready meals and junk foods cost £3 per kilogram. In reality, it is the truly luxury health foods, often named “superfoods”, such as chia and acai, which are pricey. Part of the problem seems to be the way we think, wholeheartedly believing that healthy foods are more expensive, despite the evidence.

Furthermore, the difference is that with healthier foods, which include fruit, vegetables, nuts, and light carbohydrates, you have to make meals from scratch, which takes more time and effort than picking up an easy ready-made pasta sauce (packed with sugar) or a ready-meal (packed with salt and fats). But cooking from scratch also means that multiple meals can be made. So, in the end, it balances out as those individual components go further.

Whatever the reason for our unhealthy diets, it should be in the public interest to improve healthy eating. Obesity cost the NHS in England over £6.1bn last year due to the treatment of related health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The Health and Social Care Committee has pitched for junk food advertising to be banned after 9pm, for sweets at supermarket counters to be outlawed, and for the sugar tax to be extended. These are all proactive measures, the Government just needs to respond.

It is possible to eat healthily on a student budget, it just takes time and effort to produce the meals that are better for us. In our fast-paced society, we don’t want to stop and cook, but if we want to be healthy, we have to. We need to change our relationship with food, to return to the individual and healthier components, and stop thinking healthier equals more expensive. It’s the price to pay for a healthier future and for a better NHS.