How much is your diet costing you?
Eating healthy doesn't have to cost more. But for
many Americans, diet plans and higher grocery bills go together like
peanut butter and jelly.
The "typical" American spends about $59
a week per person on groceries, according to recent figures from
the Food Marketing Institute.
So what's it going to cost you to go on that new diet?
That depends on who you ask and exactly what you eat.
Many of the low-carbohydrate diets emphasize regular
portions of lean proteins, which can be costly, says Ken Fujioka,
M.D., director of nutrition and metabolic research at the Scripps
Clinic in San Diego. Eating on those plans can cost 25 percent to
50 percent more, he says, "mainly because of the increase in
[the price of] beef.
"Also, when you go out to eat, you tend to go
to nicer restaurants, steak houses and so forth," Fujioka says.
Phil Lempert, author of Being
the Shopper and editor of Supermarket
Guru, worked with USA Today to do the math for eating at home
on two popular low-carbohydrate diet plans. He calculated that a
week's worth of suggested menus for the popular Atkins diet plan
costs $99 a week. For South Beach, the total came to $89, according
"What you've got to understand is that if you're
going to follow a high-protein diet, it's going to be more expensive
than the way that the average American eats," says Lempert.
But he's found there are ways to economize.
"Protein comes in a lot of different forms,"
says Lempert. "When people think of Atkins or South Beach,
they think of steak. And that's just not true.
"No matter what diet you're on," he says,
"you have to have some common sense."
But following 21 menus exactly as written is bound
to be more expensive than real life, says Marie Almon, a nutritionist
and registered dietician who worked on the South Beach diet. In
the real world, a dieter would mix and match ingredients depending
on what was inexpensive at the store that week or left over in the
fridge from the night before, she says.
And while it's easier to run up a grocery bill on
a low-carbohydrate diet, you don't have to, says Arthur Agatston,
M.D., the Miami cardiologist who developed the South Beach diet.
"Overall, there are a lot of substitutions you can make to
make the diet very affordable," says Agatston.
His advice: For fruits and vegetables, buy in season
or frozen. If you can't afford beef, go for chicken or pork. Especially
with poultry, the bone-in cuts are cheaper. And substitute canola
oil for more expensive olive oil to get those healthy fats. Want
an alternative to healthy, but pricey, fresh salmon? Try frozen
"I don't think our diet is particularly expensive,
or has to be," says Agatston.
Barry Sears, who developed The Zone Diet, which emphasizes
controlling hunger and balancing blood sugar with lean cuts of protein
and lots of fruits and vegetables, estimates that the first two
or three weeks of his program will be more expensive. But after
that, he says, the grocery bills should return to normal, if not
Without high-priced processed snacks, "You will
see your food bills go down," he says.