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How To Make Your Costs Per Calorie Count

Okay, okay. I’ll say it: following a healthy raw foods diet is more expensive than eating your typical, standard Western diet.

Some people don’t like to hear this, but it’s the truth.

If following a healthy diet filled with an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy items is what you want, it’s likely going to cost you more than the drive-thru meal you were used to!

At first, someone may think that eating fruits and vegetables would save you money as these foods are so easy to grow compared to the labor-intensive animal products and other foods so commonly eaten.

The main difference that makes a raw food diet more expensive is calorie density. Fruits and vegetables are extremely nutrient-dense, but have a low caloric density in contrast.

That means that to get the same number of calories you might need in a day from fruits and vegetables, you need to eat more volume. You may be satisfied after having a quarter-pound hamburger with cheese for lunch, but anything under a full pound of most fruits for a meal would leave most people quite hungry later.

Every human being needs a certain number of calories everyday to maintain his or her weight and overall health and vitality. If you eat below that amount, you will lose body fat. If you eat above that amount, you will gain body fat. Of course not all calories are created exactly equal, but this gets us close.

Let’s say you need to eat 2000 calories a day (to pick an average number that’s easy to calculate). How much would it cost you to get those calories from typical foods?

Foods like rice, beans, and even potatoes are incredibly cheap when you buy them in bulk.

For example, a 50-pound bag of long-grain rice at Costco costs around $18. Once cooked, that will yield over 100 pounds of cooked rice.

Each pound of cooked rice will give you about 590 calories, so your big bag of rice for $18 will be enough for 59,000 calories, or enough for 29 and half days. So for less than $20, you can eat for an entire month.

Now you could say that no one could live on just rice. Point taken. How about adding some beans to the equation?

A 25-pound bag of pinto beans might cost around $14, if you know where to shop. Once cooked those beans will about double in weight, at least. But let’s be conservative and double that to 50 pounds of cooked beans for that bag.
Each pound of cooked pinto beans will give you 650 calories, so your bag of pinto beans will give you 32,500 calories, or enough for over 16 days of eating, for just under $15. Combine half rice, half beans and you’ve got a diet that costs you less than $30 a month, or about $1 a day.

What about potatoes if you buy in bulk? Same deal. Your monthly cost of living only on potatoes will be just over $1 a day.

As monotonous as this may sound to those of us who are used to “courses” and could barely get through a meal without choosing from numerous side dishes, this isn’t far off from how much of the world actually eats every day.

Still, of course I wouldn’t recommend limiting your diet to such a high degree, especially when you have options!

But my point is that if you made the bulk of your calories come from these foods, you could eat very inexpensively. Throw in some added fruits, vegetables, and salads, and you have yourself an ultra-healthy diet that almost anyone could afford.

Why do you think the rest of the world lives on staples such as rice and beans (Latin America), rice (Asia), potatoes (Peru) or millet and corn (Africa)? Because they are cheap, reliable, easy and relatively healthy sources of calories and nutrients!

Why a Raw Food Diet Costs More

A raw food diet costs more because most of the calories will come from fruit, or fats such as avocados, nuts and seeds. Greens must also be consumed for their minerals and other nutrients, but they provide hardly any calories.

A person needs to get their calories from somewhere (eventually!) if they are to maintain a healthy body. On a raw food diet, building your diet based on fruit as your main calorie source makes sense for a variety of reasons.

Let’s say you were able to get cheap bananas at 66 cents a pound, your daily cost for 2000 calories would still be $6.43 a day. That’s just under $200 a month.

That’s certainly not as cheap as the $30 a month it would cost you to live on rice and beans, but it’s not bad either.

If you decided to get lazy and get your bananas at Whole Foods, or live somewhere where bananas are expensive, and ended up paying $1.49 a pound for organic bananas, your cost for 2000 calories would be $12.78 a day, or $383 a month. Again, not a bad price considering how expensive raw food diets can be.

However, nobody lives on just bananas! Raw foodists also tend to eat all sorts of raw vegetables, lettuces, nuts, seeds, nutbutters, superfoods, and supplements that all costs something to acquire.

Focus on Inexpensive Sources of Calories

First, we must acknowledge that variety is important, both for nutritional variety and the psychological satisfaction we get out of eating.

However, if you try to simply divide everything you eat in a certain number of fruits and vegetables, your bills are going to add up.

For example, cherries are great. In the summer, there’s hardly anything better than feasting on Rainier cherries.

However, they tend to be expensive, and $5 a pound for those cherries is usually a good deal.

A pound of cherries, once you take in account the pits, will give you around 250 calories. Your cost per calorie will be relatively high, as it would cost you $40 a day to eat only those cherries if you wanted to get 2000 calories.

Let’s also consider blueberries, which yield only 230 calories per pound. If you get them at $3 a pound (good deal), it will cost you $26 to feed yourself for the day.

But as we’ve seen, cheap bananas — even when you didn’t get them for a really good deal, will cost you only $6.43 for 2000 calories.

If you buy oranges at Costco in bulk, it will cost you around $9.81 to feed yourself for the day, eating only oranges.

Avocados are usually $1.99 per avocado. You would need 7.22 avocados to get 2000 calories, so it will cost you $14.36 a day eating only avocados! (Note: This is NOT recommended!)

Once you’ve become accustomed to knowing which fruits provide the healthiest variety of nutrients while still being calorie-dense and affordable enough, it makes things much easier. There’s less to think about and you just eat!

If you’re in the market to save a little bit of money on the foods you eat, try looking not only at the costs-per-nutrients, but also costs-per-calorie. A little bit of research goes a long way.

What have been your experiences with saving (or spending) money on a raw foods/plant-based diet? Let us know in the comments below!


Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets.