The diet dilemma: Cheap junk food or pricey health food?

Cassie Fleming

When buying groceries, how much you spend depends on where you push the shopping cart.

With 75 cents in the produce aisle, you can purchase one serving of fruit: an apple, a cup of strawberries or a cup of grapes. But those three quarters in the snack aisle buy three times as many servings: three granola bars, 12 Oreos or 25 potato chips.

And if you want to get the most calories for your money, stay near the junk food. Compared with the 400 calories provided by a candy bar, a dollar's worth of a tomato will go as far as 18 calories.

Because fruits and vegetables are generally more costly than snack foods, many people are torn between saving money and eating healthily. For those on a tight grocery budget, steering clear of higher-priced produce seems to makes sense.

"My friends trying to lose weight are frustrated. It's too expensive," Hidee Hayman said. "Junk food's so cheap."

But is spending grocery money on snack food cost-effective?

"Junk food buys more calories, but they are empty calories," said Brooke Trimble, dietitian at St. Francis Medical Center in Grand Island, Neb. "These calories have limited nutritional value."

Ways to eat healthy while not emptying your wallet exist, she said.

"Flip through the sale ads every week," Trimble said.

Often the in-season fresh fruits will be less expensive than other fruits, said Shannon Frink, a Hy-Vee dietitian.

"Always be aware what season it is," she said. "Those fruits are on sale and will be better quality,"

Buying whole fruits and vegetables is also cheaper than purchasing them pre-packaged and cut up, Frink said.

"Take packages of baby carrots, for example. They are much more expensive than just buying carrots," she said.

Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are less expensive than the fresh counterparts. If not overcooked, they retain their nutritional benefits.

"Frozen produce actually offers more nutritional value because it is picked and then frozen almost immediately, rather than picked and transported," Frink said.

When buying canned items, consumers should make note on how it's packaged. Fruit canned in heavy syrups lose nutritional value, she said.

With two children ages 4 and 9, Hayman said she knows it can be tempting to fill up the shopping cart with sugary snacks.

"I just try to watch what's on sale and stock up on frozen fruits and veggies," she said. "And save the chips for barbecues."

The Grand Island Independent


- 12- to 19-year-old boys drink an average of 868 cans of soda per year. Girls drink about 651 cans per year.

- More than 32 percent of American youths are overweight, and nearly 74 percent are unfit.

- 9 out of 10 schools offer junk food to kids.

- The food industry spends more than $33 billion a year to advertise products that are mostly loaded with fat, salt and sugar. Of that, $12 billion a year is spent on marketing to youth.

- The American National Cancer Institute spends $1 million per year to encourage people to eat fruits and vegetables.