Epiphany time: Why is Junk Food So Cheap?

I can’t remember where I saw it now, but at some point last week I read the following statement: “we are asking the wrong question! Instead of asking why healthy food is so expensive, we should be asking why junk food is so cheap!”

I have never seen the whole healthy eating idea summed up so succinctly!

Then there are exceptional health coaches like Shivaun Conn (who I happened to have gone to high school with) working hard to break the myth that healthy food is expensive at all! Watch this to get an idea of what I mean: Michelle Bridges and Shivaun Conn discuss why eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive

So why is junk food so cheap? A couple of personal theories of mine include:

  1. Supply and demand: we eat it so they make more of it, so we eat more of it, etc.
  2. There isn’t actually real food in it: they pump the “food” with cheap fillers, preservatives, and more in order to spread a little food over a large quantity.

It isn’t hard to find ammunition to support theory number 2. A simple internet search “junk food contents” brings up pages and pages of harmful ingredients that are commonly contained in junk food, and that aren’t actually food. A couple of examples: Reader’s Digest 4 Most Harmful IngredientsWeb MD Junk Food Facts, and The Better Health Store 10 Toxic Ingredients .

SNACK: Popcorn. Drizzle hot popcorn with coconut oil and a sprinkle of salt. SOOOO tasty!

SNACK: Popcorn.
Drizzle hot popcorn with coconut oil and a sprinkle of salt. SOOOO tasty!

And yet, we continue to consume it at such a rate that Australia has caught up to America as the most overweight country on the earth*.

Again, indulge me while I share a couple of my theories (completely unsubstantiated except through my 15 years of training actual humans):

  1. The stuff they stick in it is addictive.
  2. We don’t know what feeling good feels like, and therefore think that being tired and sick is normal.

As far as point 1 goes, sugar is the most fashionable scapegoat, and actually may have some fact behind it#. These facts have been sensationalised by movies like That Sugar Film , and I Quit Sugar Program (although, that should read “I quit fructose”, but that’s another story). I have read one paper which reported that processed sugar intake increases pancreatic cancer risk##. Lately, there has also been noise about excess consumption of red and processed meats. Perhaps not addictive, but we sure do eat a lot, and we don’t stop even when we know it will give us a disease as nasty as cancer…

In regards to point 2, I will begin with a little story. When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was attending a networking meeting. I stood up and asked the room, of about 20 people “hands up if you’re waking up each morning stiff, sore, and tired”. When every hand in the room went up I said “I am 34 weeks pregnant, what is your excuse?”

What is our excuse? I can tell you for sure that my dogs wake up bouncy and excited every morning, wouldn’t you love to feel like that?

I have trained with a 30kg pack for a hike in Nepal, and can tell you that it hurts to carry that weight. I felt sore, tired, and overwhelmed. Can you imagine carrying that everyday? Sometimes I’m sure that I am less fit than some of my heaviest clients, but because I am half their weight I don’t have to work so bloody hard to achieve the same goal (like walking to the top of a hill). And what would happen if we added “complete nutrition” to this picture?

Jade taking a break during a trip to the Blue Mountains in 2013

Jade taking a break during a trip to the Blue Mountains in 2013

I really love the NSW Government’s latest campaign to Make Healthy Normal. It makes sense, that if we normalise healthy eating, then the cost of healthy food will come down. In addition, if more people are healthier, then the cost of caring for our obese population should also come down**. There’s also great evidence that regular “normal” activity such as active commuting significantly reduces the obese population in a given area ***.

How would you feel if you were a perfectly healthy weight for your height, and consumed every single nutrient in exactly the right amount everyday? And how do we achieve this ideal?

Advice from Eat For Health includes planning, eating leftovers, add vegetables to every meal (especially things like casseroles), and only spend your money on the 5 (real) food groups:

Incidentally, all these groups are actually food….

Conversely, refuse to spend your hard earned money on edible non-food items such as packaged food, cakes, pastries, etc.

The Dieticians Association of Australia argues that healthy food is cheaper anyway, comparing a list of healthy foods with their junk food counterparts, and pricing them per unit: Eating Healthy on a Budget

My final tips for Making Healthy Normal, and affordable:

  1. Plan Your Eating.
  2. Eat Real Food
  3. Exercise daily (intensity depends on how you feel)

Enjoy your Christmas!


Ahmed SH1, Guillem K, Vandaele Y Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limitCurr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2013 Jul;16(4):434-9. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328361c8b8.

## Norat T1, Scoccianti C2, Boutron-Ruault MC3, Anderson A4, Berrino F5, Cecchini M6, Espina C2, Key T7, Leitzmann M8, Powers H9, Wiseman M10, Romieu I11European Code against Cancer 4th Edition: Diet and cancerCancer Epidemiol. 2015 Dec;39 Suppl 1:S56-66. doi: 10.1016/j.canep.2014.12.016. Epub 2015 Jul 9.

*** http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/cms/downloads/JPAH08.pdf

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