What attracts many people to unhealthy, processed food is the price—fast food restaurants like McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, and the like have such low prices that some people simply can't afford to resist. While eating healthy is generally more expensive ($1 to $2 more per serving, to be exact), there are budget-friendly meals that still manage to offer some nutritional benefit.
That's according to Priceonomics, which recently analyzed data from its client Wellio, which deconstructs recipes and analyzes the ingredients according to nutrition and price to make food recommendations to its members. First, the researchers analyzed over five million recipes culled from 9000 sites to construct a list of the 85 most common American dinners. Next, they calculated a health score for each meal on a scale of one (very unhealthy) to five (very healthy), which was based on a domain expert's knowledge as well as the nutrient-rich foods index (which ranks foods based on how nutritionally balanced they are).
Next, they factored in cost. They broke the 85 common American dinners into two groups based on health score and calculated the average cost per serving for each group. They ultimately found that "good health is an investment: For every quarter-point increase in a dinner's health score, you can expect to pay about a dollar more per serving," reads the report. In the end, they were able to pinpoint a few meals that qualified as "nutritional bargains," which offered "more nutrients per dollar." Kale salad, falafel, lettuce wraps, Chinese chicken salad, and a cobb salad were the best nutritional bargains in the sample, while mac and cheese, cheeseburgers, meat loaf, corn dogs, hot wings, and Cuban sandwiches were the biggest nutritional rip-offs, offering "comparatively few nutrients per dollar." See the full rankings for the healthiest and unhealthiest meals below:
Interestingly enough, 11 of the 25 most nutritious meals were vegetarian or pescatarian, and as far as the carnivorous options, chicken was the main ingredient in four out of the top 10 meals. As for the unhealthiest meals, processed red meat, cheese, refined carbohydrates, and fried exteriors took center stage. While we wish we could report the opposite, our initial statement still stands: "Eating well comes with a real economic cost," concludes the analysis. "It may be tempting to let your wallet dictate your menu, but doing so will generally provide a diet of nutritionally empty meals like corn dogs and cheeseburgers.
Cheap eats may be easier on your budget in the short run, but consuming them comes at the cost of your long-term health."
Head over to Priceonomics for more.