Does It Really Cost More To Eat Healthily? I Do The Maths

Is fast food cheap? Does it really cost so much more to eat healthier? Here’s a way to find out! (and put an end to info-graphics like this…)

If we ignore alcohol (oh…) then the three main macro-nutrients that make up  your daily calories are protein, carbohydrate and fat. We’re assuming here that they all cost different amounts per gram (a bag of rice is cheaper than a big piece of steak) and to find a base rate for that I’ve chosen:

Protein – Chicken Breast @ £6/kg

Carbohydrate – Brown Rice @ £1.50/kg

Fat – Extra Virgin Olive Oil @ £8.00/litre

In terms of value per gram of each nutrient that gives us Protein (£0.0261/gram), Carbs (£0.002/gram) and Fat (£0.0084/gram). What now? Now we can take any food and find out the equivalent cost if we were to match the protein, carb and fat content using the three foods listed above.

How it works

  1. Find the nutritional information for a food.
  2. Input those values under Inputs.
  3. The Outputs should then appear.

For example a McDonald’s Cheeseburger. It has 16 grams of protein, 31 grams of carbohydrate and 12 grams of fat. Input those numbers and the outputs should be £0.58 and 296 kcal (calories).

What that’s saying is if you made a meal that was 16 grams of protein (from chicken breast), 31 grams of carbs (from brown rice) and 12 grams of fat (from extra virgin olive oil) it would cost you roughly £0.58, i.e. 58 pence. You can then find the price of a McDonald’s Cheeseburger, which is 99p, and you can see that this item of fast food is actually more expensive to eat than a “healthier” alternative at home.

Here’s a dozen or so popular foods and their chicken, rice and olive oil equivalent prices.

Actual Cost of Food vs The Cost of those Macros as Chicken, Rice and Olive Oil

Before you start complaining here’s a few important considerations:

  • Micro-nutrients. In other words vitamins and minerals. 1 lb of spinach might only be 136kcal but it has many nutritional benefits, so bear that in mind.
  • There are probably healthier food sources than these three (chicken, rice and olive oil), they are just for illustrative purposes.
  • There are different qualities for protein, carbohydrate and fat too. Protein from meat might be absorbed better (or worse) than from other sources, and saturated fats have a different impact on health than mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.
  • It costs you time to go and buy these foods at the supermarket and prepare them, whereas fast food is ready in minutes.
  • It’s unfair to compare eating out and eating in, and if we use frozen pizza and oven chips as comparisons it will be a much closer contest.
  • It’s just a bit of fun!
About Fraser_9to5 256 Articles
Site owner. I'm a graduate in Sports Science and have an MSc in Sports Biomechanics. I set up 9to5strength in 2015 as a resource for people interested in strength training, nutrition and fitness. I consider myself a fitness blogger and enjoy creating YouTube videos and trying out workout programs.