NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave Shaw: How much does healthy eating cost?

The food we put in our supermarket trolleys will ultimately decide the health of our families and ourselves. The problem is, the price of food and not the quality is the major dictator of what shoppers pull off the shelf.
What food goes in the trolley defines the health of your family.
Photo / Thinsktock
What food goes in the trolley defines the health of your family. Photo / Thinsktock

It seems the percentage of every family's income that is spent on good food has become far less than 50 years ago, yet at the same time, more is being spent on cheap, calorie dense, nutrient poor options. We are essentially using our health as payment for foods that will lead us to an early grave.

It is driven by our desire for a good bargain. The more we can get for our dollar, the better off we think we are. But nutritionally speaking, that's not at all true. Finding the balance is crucial.

Wholefoods like fruit, veg, meat, fish, poultry and nuts are typically the more expensive items in the supermarket. Per calorie, they provide the most nutrients and are considerably more satisfying than many heavily processed foods - so you end up eating less, feeling better and are better able to maintain a healthy weight.

Which suggests, the cheapest calories in the supermarket tend to be the most fattening. Not good news when you consider the obesity epidemic.

Most New Zealanders are not in need of more calories, but rather more nutrients - ideally from wholefoods. And although these can cost a little more than their processed counterparts, you get far more essential nutrients for your money when you choose to buy quality over quantity.

We should not be leaving the supermarket with a truckload of empty calories, but rather a car load of essential nutrients. There is no such thing as a free lunch. The less we spend on good food now, the more we'll spend on health costs down the road.

This may be the cost of health, but it doesn't have to be any more expensive than what you spend now. Here are some cost-nutrient comparisons to consider next time you shop.

Oats ($3.99 for 1.5kg) vs Cocopops ($5.99 for 650g)

Oats top my breakfast cereal list. In fact, they are the only item on the list. Other breakfast cereals tend to be high in refined wheat, sugar, salt, fat and additives. And when you consider their hiked up price, you may need to question what you're really paying for. On the other hand, whole oats are cheap, filling and packed full of fibre and protein. They last for ages and are a great option for those cooler mornings.

Chicken ($10-15 for size 18) vs Chicken Pies ($1.29 for a 170g pie)

Chicken is generally affordable and incredibly versatile. I find the best deals come in the frozen section. A full roast for only $10 is a steal and it can be used for atleast three family meals - start by feasting on a roast, use the left overs for sandwiches and the remaining carcass for a soup. Chicken pies on the other hand are just as cheap, but you're essentially paying more for nothing. Pies contain less protein, less essential minerals like iron, more fat and have to undergo more processing before they are deemed edible. Your better off buying the real deal.

Potatoes ($1.69 for 1kg) vs Potato Chips ($5 for 3 x 150g bags)

Potatoes are a staple in most Kiwi diets, but we are starting to eat more of them in the form of chips. Real, wholesome potatoes are cheap, nutritious and filling. Whereas chips are fattening, unsatisfying and considerably more expensive - a burden to your health and wallet. You are essentially paying more for things you don't want - salt, fat and flavourings. Why not make your own oven-baked chips, they are far better for your health and the kids love them.

Let's start shopping wiser and stop falling for the tricks of the supermarket. Remember, if you buy it, you're more likely to eat it. So make your supermarket trolley a fortress against foods that should remain on the shelves.

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NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave works in public health and alongside some of New Zealand’s top athletes. Whether it's for vitality, performance, identity or spirituality, Dave loves the way food brings people together. He believes that no one diet is the cure for our growing rates of chronic disease, but a diet based on wholefoods is the perfect start. Always keeping up-to-date with current evidence and food trends, Dave is a relentless researcher for how we should eat and likes to challenge what we may think about nutrition.

Read more by Dave Shaw

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