Nutritarian Eating Costs Too Much?

image of vials of insulin
image credit: Emily Boller

  • In my town lentils cost 92 cents/lb.  Combined with no-salt tomato puree, garlic, onions and spices, an entire pot of lentil stew can be made for a fraction of the cost of spaghetti and meatballs, frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, or beef and noodles.
  • Ripe bananas can be purchased for 29 cents/lb.  They can be frozen and made into delicious and healthful ice cream desserts.  I make ice cream for my family for less than ten dollars a month.  Compare that to two quarts of high fat, high sugar, chemical laden ice cream that lasts a family a couple of days (or one stress-relief binge!)  

  • At monthly sales I stock up on bags of frozen vegetables: 10 bags for $10.  Compare that to two bags of frozen fries for ten bucks. 
  • A pound of romaine lettuce is cheaper than a pound of shredded cheese.
  • A large bag of fresh carrots costs the same as a bag of chips.
  • A bag of oranges is comparable in cost to a package of disease promoting cookies.
  • Oatmeal is a fraction of the price of processed cereal. 
  • Gardening saves even more on bountiful supplies of high nutrient foods.

Add the astronomical costs of doctor visits, insurance co-pays, hospitalizations, missed work, and popular medications used to manage cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes: Prinivil, Zocor, Lipitor, Atenolol and Metformin . . . . . eating for health costs more than eating for disease? 

Don’t believe the lie.

As the old adage goes, “Pay the grocer or pay the doctor.”

I’d rather pay food bills any day!   

Do you have a money saving tip that supports eating for health?  If so, we’d love to hear from you!

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Comments (29) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Jordan - November 11, 2009 11:19 AM

Do you buy everything organic?

Greg - November 11, 2009 11:45 AM

I buy frozen peaches for $1.40 a bag. And, I get bulk whole grain pasta for $1.00 a pound (cheaper than white pasta people buy in packages!). I also found kiwi for 22 cents each. While lettuce is pretty expensive by the pound, ($5-$7); It's only a dollar or less by the head. Cheap enough that everyone should eat at least one a day.

Although in all honesty, our food bills have gone up quite a bit since we became vegans. While a single person can eat as a vegan for $100-$120 a month, In college I ate on 60% of that.

Comparing food by the pound is deceptive, because most healthy foods have fewer calories per weight. So, I find it more informative to compare food by calories. A price shopper can absolutely afford healthy fruits and vegetables for every meal!

The real problem isn't the cost of growing vegetables. The problem is that the government is purposefully subsidizing the cost of cheese, milk, corn, and meat so that poor people are forced to buy it. (Most the corn comes as Corn Syrup of course.)

The government is also giving these hurtful foods to poor mothers and small children for free through the WIC program.

Sarah - November 11, 2009 11:54 AM

I bought a week's worth of groceries for my family from the farmers market for $15. Support local farmers, don't pay sales tax, and save money!

Wild4Stars - November 11, 2009 11:56 AM

I'd rather support my local farmers than the mega-drug companies. And the bonus is a healthier ME !!

Lynne (Horsecrazy) - November 11, 2009 12:29 PM

I make other versions of Banana Ice Cream. You might want to put amounts of each item you used. People not used to this way of eating, or who don't have any of you books wouldn't have any idea of how much to use.

One great money savings item is cooking your own beans. They are SO much better and cheaper than canned. I use them in soups, on salads and make bean burgers.

Emily Boller - November 11, 2009 12:38 PM


Not always.

Go to the archives section of DiseaseProof and read Dr. Fuhrman's September 17, 2009 post on the topic, "Organic Fruits Vegetables - Most Pesticides, Least Pesticides."

Matt Stone - November 11, 2009 1:05 PM

Nutritarian eating is wicked cheap. I'm not sure who exactly has concluded that it's expensive. I was able to eat nutritarian (and a very high-calorie verson of it) for well under $10 per day.

I was making traditional Indian fresh-ground whole wheat chappatis for 20 cents each. Gonna post instuctions and photos for how to make them later today at

Denise - November 11, 2009 1:28 PM

I love this post! It is always so frustrating to hear that it costs too much to eat well. Cans of beans are a lot cheaper than ground beef, brown rice is the about the same price as processed noodles. Avocados cost less than a bag of cheese (for topping Mexican dishes)... the list goes on and on! The only time my grocery bill (breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 4 people) goes over $100 a week is when I am buying specialty or pre-prepared foods.

Ruth B. - November 11, 2009 2:17 PM

I am a single 22 year old and I spend $30 a week at most on food eating this way. I definitely agree my grocery bill is much lower than when eating the standard American diet.

I really like green and red peppers and they can get pricy, but I found that I can buy a package of sliced frozen peppers for 69 cents and they still taste great.

I make a blueberry and spinach smoothie every morning and I buy bulk spinach instead of bagged and it cuts the cost by $1.50 and lasts just as long.

Leanne - November 11, 2009 3:34 PM

We're getting around our food bills by growing food. Even though we're renting at the moment (and *still* house-hunting, after a year!), we're able to grow a *lot* of fresh food in pots. I haven't bought a lettuce in ages, and our strawberries are delicious!

Saying that, our biggest savings in eating healthier come from not eating meat or milk. Both are very expensive, and that money goes a long way to buy fresh food and dried staples.

Our diet contains a lot of beans, rice, potatoes etc., topped up with green veggies. We also save a lot of money by buying seasonal, local food.

Joe Fitzpatrick - November 11, 2009 3:35 PM

Part of the increased cost is in buying real food, which is healthier, and more of the dollars end up in a farmer's pocket than if it is processed food.

That ice cream has got to taste better and be less expensive than store-bought.

On 'soup day' I buy a lot of produce that is on sale, just starting to lose its attractiveness, and add it in. I also save kale stalks and other trimmings in the freezer, ready for the next soup.

amber - November 11, 2009 4:06 PM

thanks for this (well-timed, for me) post. as a nutritarian family fallen on hard times, we back-slid a bit and have been eating bread and other processed wheat like crazy. i paid for it with a massive asthma attack. past two days have been 'strict' nutritarian; it's hard when the rest of the family is eating bread (sprouted-grain flour-free, but still) . . . . i miss my good health, though! time to buckle down and get back on track.

Abigail - November 11, 2009 5:39 PM

I've been following ETL for almost 2 years now and am dedicated to this way of eating. But it costs a heckuva lot more than a SAD diet! I used to spend about $60/week on groceries for two - now it's closer to $100/week. Greg's point above is valid: a pound of cheese is going to last you A LOT longer than a pound of romaine (latter will be gone in 1-2 days). Yes, a lentil stew is cheap but an ETL diet is greens focused and you didn't include the cost of the main course. I think it's important to be honest in this blog about the costs associated with a nutritarian diet.

Nancy - November 11, 2009 7:16 PM

Emily - I've really been enjoying your posts. Thank you.

Please ask Lisa to not put her hand in front of the mixer when it's on. She does the same thing in the recent DVD and I'm trying to watch the consistency of the mix to get better Vitamix results. I'd also like to see what the Dr puts in.

@Greg - what part of the country do you live in, or is there a certain chain that offers the produce so low?

Emily Boller - November 11, 2009 9:33 PM

I forgot to mention that when I was maintaining an obese body; for my height, I had to consume 3700 calories a day JUST TO MAINTAIN that amount of weight. Now my body requires 1/2 that amount of food (or less!)

Folks, I was literally eating for 2-3 people when I was obese! That alone is a HUGE savings in the nutritarian camp. Oh, and did I mention that I won't need to purchase insulin on down the road either.

. . . . and don't forget the headache pain reliever, nasal spray, anti-acid pills, AND the stash of binge food to numb the misery and frustration.

Tiltmom - November 11, 2009 10:14 PM

I'm with Abigail.

My entire family has been eating ETL for about 18 months and our grocery bills have tripled. I'm not saying it can't be done for less -- I'm sure it can. But our kids didn't take instantly to ETL, and the ETL things they do enjoy aren't as cheap as beans and lentils. Their preference for fresh fruit and vegetables over frozen doesn't make it any less expensive, either.

When out-of-season organic blueberries are $6/pt and a slice of pizza is still $2, it's hard to say that ETL is less expensive. And don't get me started on the price of nuts and nut butters...

It's also more time-consuming. I spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning and prepping fruits and vegetables. [I even hired a professional chef to come over and teach me how to properly handle kitchen knives to help me be more efficient.] I realize that I can buy pre-cut fruit and pre-bagged salads, but then we get back to increased costs.

For a data point, I live in NYC and do my shopping primarily at farmers' markets, my local food coop, and Whole Foods.

Emily Boller - November 12, 2009 7:53 AM

Of course, food is much more expensive in New York City, and it may take more effort there to find the bargains.

When Dr. Fuhrman lived in New York, he purchased his produce wholesale, especially fruit (in bulk) at Hunts Point Market in the Bronx. He would split up the produce with friends and it was a huge savings.

Dr. Fuhrman says that oriental grocers often have greens at lower prices. Plus most big cities have wholesale markets that food stores and restaurants purchase food right from their trucks. If you are willing to purchase food by the case (cash only), it is the best place to shop, and fun too. With a little ingenuity, it can be done.


I cook all bean dishes from dried beans which are relatively inexpensive. (I do keep some canned beans on hand for convenience sake.)

I make a gallon size container of homemade hummus from garbanzo beans, tahini butter, garlic, spices and lemon juice for close to $10. If I purchase store bought hummus, I pay $3.99 for 8 oz. of it. (and contains olive oil and salt)

Raw sunflower seeds are an inexpensive staple, and 1 oz. per day is all that is necessary. I do purchase walnuts occassionally when they are 1/2 price.

Our extra freezer is stocked with gallons of tomato vegetable puree from my garden this past summer. I can make two stock pots full of vegetable soup for under ten dollars; I've documented it. (Fresh collard greens are inexpensive, and chopped up, make a great nutrient dense addition to vegetable soup.)

I stock up on frozen blueberries only when they are on sale @ $3/bag, which is a health promoting addition to smoothies.

My grocery cart is no longer filled with the unnecessary AND costly expenses of meats, cheeses, deli products, cottage cheese, pizza, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, frozen lasagna, crackers, boxes and boxes of processed cereal, creamy salad dressings, pudding, ice cream, cookies, frozen waffles, chips, pastries, etc.; all foods that are detrimental to optimal health.

Plus I would rather spend three minutes chopping a head of romaine lettuce than an hour waiting in a doctor's office ~ any day!

DebbieSLP - November 12, 2009 8:22 AM

I've been eating ETL style for a little over five years. My husband eats a very typical SAD diet.

My weekly food bill is much lower than his, even when I'm buying avocados, fresh seasonal fruit, salad ingredients, and fresh green vegetables. His meats, cheeses, ice cream, cookies and snack foods, prepared and fast foods, candy, and sweetened cereals seem to get eaten pretty fast and cost a lot more than my sweet potatoes, peas, rice, beans, oatmeal, winter squash, frozen green vegetables, and the above items on a weekly basis. He goes through two boxes of cereal, a gallon of ice cream, a pound of cheese, and about four pounds of meat a week. Add a box of Oreos, two bags of chips, at least a pound of candy, a few lunches a week of supersize fast food, and it adds up. And he's not overweight (yet). At least I get eggs for him from a neighbor!

I don't tend to buy organic unless it's the same price as conventional (e.g. when on sale or discounted). I get raw nuts in large containers or in bulk every few months or so. A $6-7 jar of cashew butter lasts me a couple months, for making sauces and dressings. I can't imagine spending $6 for a pint of blueberries -- we pick in the late summer at about $2/pound and freeze as much as we can. When that runs out I buy large bags of store brand frozen for use in smoothies, dressings, and oatmeal, maybe one every month or so. My fresh fruit is more likely to be bananas, apples, and melons (in season).

I seem to spend just as much time cooking my husband's food as preparing mine, and I definitely spend more time cleaning up the kitchen and dishes after his food, which is greasy. I have not bought a vita-mix or any other expensive tools, and have done fine. We are on a limited budget. A high nutrient ETL diet (with greens, nuts, and fruit) can absolutely be done inexpensively. It seems to be working for me.

Patty - November 12, 2009 8:54 AM

I don't find it more expensive. I live alone so only buy what I know I will eat. On the SAD, there was so much junk in the house and much of it was never eaten (certainly not really enjoyed.) I also ate out A LOT and we know how expensive that is. So I'm actually saving money this way.
I think that in the beginning when I was still craving food like crazy, it cost more because I didn't know what I liked or how much to buy. Some food went to waste. Also, I would still mix in some SAD foods, so yes, it was more expensive then, but not now.

Laura - November 12, 2009 11:14 AM

Who cares if it costs too much? I'm willing to pay just about anything for my health and my family's. Period.

Emily Boller - November 12, 2009 11:56 AM

Yes Laura!

Right on!

What price can be given to health?

All the money in the world couldn't entice me to live in an obese body again. Been there. Done that. It's no fun.

Health is PRICELESS.

Tiltmom - November 12, 2009 11:56 AM

Emily, don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking ETL (see above re: the whole family has been eating this way for 18 months). I'm a big promoter of this diet, and I agree about medical costs vs. food costs.

Perhaps I should have been clearer: We are in the fortunate position of not having to watch our food costs too carefully. Consequently, we buy what we most like to eat. One son wants fresh, organic strawberries in his lunch every day. I am addicted to blueberries (whereas I used to be addicted to Swedish Fish and Twizzlers). My other son replaced his Skittles habit with Goji berries. [I'm actually surprised at how similar they taste -- Skittles and Goji berries, that is.]

Yes, one can bargain shop and eat a nutritarian diet relatively inexpensively (although the words "extra freezer" and "NYC apartment" are seldom used in the same sentence -- any sort of kitchen storage is at a premium here. Bulk nuts? Where would I keep them? And two stock pots of soup? I have a hard time finding room for just one stock pot in my kitchen cabinets, never mind what I'd do with all that soup once we made it! Not having much freezer space makes ETL much more more expensive than you'd imagine.)

I'm simply pointing out that having traded in our "eat whatever SAD foods we're in the mood for" diet for an "eat whatever ETL foods we're in the mood for" diet has resulted in a dramatic increase in our food bills. The lack of freezer space is a big part of that (we buy everything fresh now, often out of season) and there's no getting around the fact that goji berries and blueberries cost of LOT more than Skittles and Twizzlers -- at least in the short run. The long-term costs are another story...

Maryellen - November 12, 2009 2:54 PM

Never let money get in the way of your health!

Emily Boller - November 12, 2009 3:08 PM


Thanks for clarifying your perspective.

Thanks to all for sharing. The variety of viewpoints expressed in these comments prove that nutritarian eating can be successfully achieved anywhere, by any age group, and on a variety of budgets.

Regardless of your current situation, GREAT HEALTH can be attained by all; that's the beauty of being a nutritarian.

Greg - November 13, 2009 12:42 AM


I lived in Chicago last year and northern California this year. The trick to eating well on the cheap is to shop where the poor people do. And, no I don't mean the "bargain" store. In my Chicago. neighborhood Tony's was the place to be. In California the chain is called WinCo.

Many people convince themselves they get "better" food if they shop at a Safeway or the like, but what your paying for there is shopping atmosphere. It's the same food from the same industrial farms in both stores.

If you want good healthy food; buy fruits and vegetables. It doesn't matter which store they come from.

David - November 14, 2009 8:01 AM

Here's how one can come to the conclusion that nutritional eating is high priced:
Nutritional food consists of organic beef and chicken, organic vegetables and fruits in processed forms, and the processed (maybe organic) breads; plus expensive but self-described healthy prepared foods from the gourmet food prep section of an expensive grocer.

The fallacy, of course, is that any of this processed organic food, all of which is sold at a premium, is nutritious eating. It's not. But it's what reporters think is nutrition.

Rachel - March 11, 2011 2:30 PM

I think it's worth noting that "expensive" is an incredibly subjective term. To middle class Americans, $10 a day is probably considered cheap, but what about the working class? The examples given here for omnivores are all meat-rich and expensive. The fact is, one can eat nutritionally void food for FAR cheaper than nutritarian food. Sugary oatmeal, pb&j, ramen noodles, and canned processed food are what most of my fellow college students live on because it can cost as little as $1 a day. They scrape by calorically because it "tastes good" and they don't have the money or the nutritional understanding to motivate healthy decisions. As a nutritarian, the question I ask myself is not which is cheaper, but which is worth it. And like many of you have said, there is no price on good health!

Theresa Anderson - April 1, 2011 2:40 AM

I shop at WinCo too! Yes, you can spend more on a nutritarian diet as you can on any eating plan. Just like folks live in houses, some cheaper than others. If you like lots of expensive super foods with packaging you will pay for them. In any case, less packaging usually means less money. I've even started to eschew foods that are overly packaged. Most of them are not healthy anyhow.
When I put kale in my basket, by the time I'm done it looks like I bought a whole forest! The point is, when you buy nutrient dense foods, you won't eat as much anyhow. You get full and satisfied quicker. While for some the food bill goes up and for others down, ,,,that's flexible with the seasons, current prices, etc. What does not change are the laws of eating for health. Thank goodness for that!
The simpler the food the less expensive in my humble opinion. Putting your money where your mouth is what it's really all about. When you do, make it rich in nutrients and it's money well spent.

Braidwood - February 10, 2012 3:45 PM

"The fact is, one can eat nutritionally void food for FAR cheaper than nutritarian food. Sugary oatmeal, pb&j, ramen noodles, and canned processed food are what most of my fellow college students live on because it can cost as little as $1 a day." - Rachel

EXACTLY. I just had to scrape by for two months on one month's salary (how I am paid as a teacher over Dec in this particular area) And I was down to $16 that had to last me for two weeks (having already eaten my stored beans and tomatoes etc) so I had to revert to eating on the cheap for these last few weeks. It is MUCH less expensive to buy a big, discounted carton of eggs and ramen than it is to buy enough resh produce to last me two weeks. Ugh.

I'm so happy I'm getting paid today! Here I come fresh salad!

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