At first blush, it seems that the cheaper foods are the ones that are the worst for you. But a new study by the USDA’s Economic Research Service points out that is only true when the food cost is calculated per calorie.
For an extremely simplified example, there’s about 80 calories in a Granny Smith apple, which sell for around $1.79 per pound. A medium apple is about a third of a pound, so let’s say the cost per apple is 60 cents, or 1.33 calories for a penny. Yes, there’s some rounding here, but bear with me. Now look at a Twinkie. One cake is 150 calories. A ten-pack of Twinkies costs about $5, so that’s 50 cents per cake, or 3 calories for penny. In other words, a penny spent on an apple bought fewer calories (44.33 percent less in fact) than the penny spent on a Twinkie.
This study switches things around. It also compares the price per edible gram and the price per average portion, as well as the cost of meeting the food group recommendations from ChooseMyPlate.gov. With all those things factored in, researchers found grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy foods were in line with “cheap” foods that are high in saturated fats, added sugars and/or sodium, and, in some cases, the healthier food was even cheaper.
Read the full study, chock o’ block full of fancy equations, here.