Is a High-Carb Diet Cheaper Than Low Carb?
Or is that Just an Excuse?
In today’s financial climate, many people are turning to cheap, high-carb foods in order to make ends meet. Boxed macaroni-and-cheese dinners, processed cereals, dried beans, Top Ramen soups, bread, and rice are often go-to staples because they are inexpensive and easy to fix. Since the individual price of these items cost less than a steak, many people believe that a low-carb diet costs more than a low-fat diet does.
- But is that true?
- Is a high-carb diet really cheaper?
- Or is it just another excuse to not go on a diet?
Comparison Between Low-Carb Food and Low-Fat Diets Unrealistic
Many people won’t give low carb a chance to work for them. Not because they believe that a low-fat, high-carb diet is healthier, but because they believe carbohydrate restriction will cost them more money. What they envision is plates heaped with bacon, fried eggs, large greasy cheeseburgers without a bun, and expensive steaks. While these types of foods are certainly low in carbohydrates, grouped together, they are nothing more than a low-carb stereotype presented to the public by the media and other anti-low-carb groups as representing typical, everyday low-carb foods that we should stay away from.
The higher costs associated with eating large amounts of meat might be true for people who consider the Atkins Diet a temporary solution, or for those who only focus on the amount of carbohydrates that are in a particular food. But most individuals who turn to carbohydrate restriction for their overweight or obesity problem are more health-minded than the average American. For that reason, their low-carb food choices reflect that healthier mindset.
In today’s economy, a glance at the rising prices for meat and eggs, cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables can scare people off. However, the comparison between low-carb meals and low-fat diets is generally a bit lopsided and unrealistic.
Those on low-carb diets typically do not eat the same amount of food as those who choose low-fat diets do because they are less hungry due to being in the state of Ketosis. Nor do their appetites compel them to spend their grocery funds on candy, chips, high-processed snack foods, sugary desserts, and other high-mark-up grocery items. When you compare an average serving of almonds (21 to 22 nuts) to a snack bag of Doritos, the almonds actually cost less.
What Does a Cheap, High-Carb Meal Cost?
Although a T-bone steak can be quite expensive, a high-carb meal really isn’t all that cheap. Consider what a typical family on a tight budget might eat:
- a box of macaroni-and-cheese with a skimpy amount of protein
- two cans of soggy green beans
- garlic bread made of day-old French bread
- a cheap cake mix and canned frosting
That meal comes to about $8.00 for 4 people, and if you add a little bit of chopped ham to the box of macaroni to boost the protein and make the main dish more filling, the meal comes closer to $9.00. Although this meal isn’t even close to being healthy, this is the way that many Americans eat.
Don’t believe me? Watch the following video. It offers those on a tight budget what the cook believes is a super-cheap meal for two people.
A Cheap High-Carb Dinner
When I added up the approximate cost for everything the woman cooked and prepared, according to the prices I’ve seen in our area, the actual cost for that meal came to about $6.25 for two people. That’s $3.12 apiece, which was a dollar more than a thrifty, low-carb meal would cost per person. In fact, it was even more costly then what the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says a Low-Cost Plan for two should cost. It didn’t even come close to the USDA Thrifty Plan.
So-called cheap, high-carb meals often consist of:
- a large frozen pizza and ice cream
- hamburger and french fries
- spaghetti with garlic bread and corn
- casseroles that use pasta, rice, or potatoes to stretch the hamburger
- scalloped potatoes with ham, canned green beans, and cupcakes
Perhaps some fried chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, and a box of 99-cent brownie mix on the weekend.
All of that doesn’t include the snacks that generally accompany high-carb diets. Nor the pancakes with butter and syrup, or the costly cold cereals that are eaten for breakfast. Once you add the sandwiches, potato chips or pretzels, apples, and cookies for lunch, you end up with what the USDA calls a Low-Cost Plan for 4 – at a hefty cost of $180.70 per week.
Low-Carb Diet Plan Recommendations for Calories and Protein Consumption
No one is arguing that a low-carb diet can’t be expensive. Many dieters drink several cups of coffee with sugar substitute and real heavy cream each day, snack on pork rinds or homemade cheese chips and dip, and drown everything they cook in sour cream and cheese. I’ve even heard of people eating cheesecake for breakfast. If you want to eat ribeye steaks every day, snack on cold pre-cooked shrimp and cheese cubes, or polish off a bowl of hot wings while you watch television, your grocery bill will definitely be high.
However, many of these habits are simply carried over from high-carb days. The truth is they don’t describe a standard low-carb diet. They are Zero-Carb Diet behaviors, which tend to surface in those who believe you can eat as much as you want as long as the food you eat is carbohydrate free. Unfortunately, these habits can result in higher glucose levels or a metabolic slowdown if you continue to eat that way.
According to Dr. Michael R. Eades, co-author of the Protein Power Life Plan, a typical low-carb dieter eats about 1500 to 1700 calories per day. Although that’s quite a bit higher than a standard 1200-calorie low-fat weight-loss diet, those extra calories come from fats such as mayonnaise, chicken skin, and the saturated fats naturally found in meat. They don’t come from extra portions or even larger portion sizes. Quite often, they come from the calories that a typical dieter would throw away.
In addition, Dr. Eades generally recommends about 80 to 102 grams of protein per day, depending upon how much you weigh and how tall you are. That’s only about 4 to 5 ounces of meat per meal. Likewise, the Atkins Diet, as interpreted today by Atkins International, also recommends about 4 to 6 ounces of protein per meal. Atkins’ calorie suggestions are a bit higher than Dr. Eades stated, about 1500 to 1800 for women and 1800 to 2200 for men, but Dr. Eades’ numbers came from the majority of scientific studies he has read, so they were people that were not consuming Atkins bars or shakes.
Does Healthy Food Really Cost More?
When you look closely at these low-carb diet plan recommendations, you’ll quickly discover that the two most popular programs today, the Atkins Diet and the Protein Power Life Plan, are not advising their followers to replace the missing carbohydrates with another nutrient, although some dieters have better success on higher-fat regimens.
Overall, protein consumption should be about the same amount as for any other healthy diet. What’s different is that a low-carb diet focuses on wholesome vegetables and low-glycemic fruits. As the following video explains, it also requires you to give up the junk foods and low-nutrient processed foods that make up the bulk of a high-carb diet.
Cutting the Junk is Where You Save Money
Since the protein recommendations made by both Dr. Eades and Atkins International very closely align with the overall amount of protein that was allowed on the Old Weight Watcher’s Exchange Program – the low-fat diet that I’m familiar with – the argument that a low-carb diet is more expensive than a low-fat diet doesn’t hold up.
Although the milk in the Weight Watcher’s program slightly reduced the amount of meat I ate back then, Weight Watcher’s also included an extra 550 calories per week that you could spend on anything you liked. That included boosting the protein if you wanted to do it that way. The idea behind weekly calories was to teach you how to introduce occasional treats into your diet plan, with the emphasis on “occasionally.” That’s something that most high-carb plans don’t address.
How Much Does a Low-Carb Meal Cost?
Using $3 a pound as an average for meats and cheese in the value pack, if you kept to Dr. Eades’ and Atkins International’s protein suggestions, you’d only be consuming about $1 worth of meat, eggs, or cheese at each meal.
Add a cup of steamed, non-starchy vegetables along with a tablespoon of organic butter, and you’ve still only spent about 50 cents more.
A tossed salad with two tablespoons of homemade dressing would also be about 50 cents, but the actual cost of the salad depends on the type of salad greens you choose and the amount of raw vegetables you add.
If you stick with the basics, your average low-carb meal is only going to set you back about $2 or so. Compared to the cheap, high-carb meal I illustrated above, low carb basics cost about the same, but carry a powerful nutritional value that high-carb meals don’t have.
The figures are only a rough estimate. They are based on what grilled pork chops, a lettuce salad with homemade Thousand Island dressing, and a cup of steamed broccoli or frozen stir-fry vegetables topped with butter would cost in our area – if I had to pay full price for everything (which I hardly ever do).
I use meats that have been marked down by as much as 50%, but mostly purchase eggs and cheap chicken legs and thighs for my protein needs. At 79 cents a pound, that’s only about $1.60 per pound for chicken meat. I do use a bagged Romaine lettuce mixture for convenience, purchase a few condiments, and then as many vegetables and berries as my budget can afford.
Although breakfast would be less than the $2, because eggs are only about 9 or 10 cents each (I pay $1.59 for 18 eggs), if you multiplied these figures for 3 meals a day, at 7 days, the average cost of a low-carb diet comes to about $42 a week. Rounding that up to include extra funds for snacks and condiments, you’d still be looking at only about $50 per week, especially when you consider that these prices are not taking advantage of marked-down meats or weekly vegetable sales.
My husband is not on a low-carb diet. He eats candy, chips, potatoes, rice, and gluten-free breads and pasta. Even so, our grocery bill is still under $100 a week for the two of us. According to the USDA, that fits into their Low-Cost Plan, and is $25 to $50 a week LESS than what I used to spend when we were not gluten free.
If you want to use heavy cream, sour cream, sugar-free catsup, herbs and spices, and other low-carb foods, there is plenty of room to fit them into the USDA’s Low-Cost budget of $50 for a single person if you shop wisely, and cut out the junk food. And that includes low-carb junk food. While a low-carb tortilla or flatbread can make lunches easier, they are not a necessity if your budget won’t stretch to include them. Lettuce wraps work just as well to hold your sandwich fillings, and you can also place your meat inside two pieces of sliced cheese.
A Low-Carb Diet Does Not Cost More Than Other Weight-Loss Diets
When you compare the basic low-carb menu above to the Old Weight Watcher’s Exchange Program that required you to eat three pieces of fruit per day, drink a pint of non-fat milk, and add two servings of bread or starchy carbs to your meat and unlimited vegetables, you can quickly see that a healthy low-fat diet wouldn’t cost any less. It’s actually going to cost you more.
The bottom line is that a low-carb diet doesn’t cost more than other weight-loss programs, or even more than a cheap, high-carb diet. It’s just different. It’s healthy and designed to correct metabolic issues that are affecting how much you weigh. While carbohydrate restriction might not be the best choice for everyone, it does require a certain degree of commitment to make it work. However, cost really isn’t a factor. That’s a myth.
Like all weight-loss diets, the cost for following a low-carb diet depends on the foods you choose to eat, how much you eat, your shopping behaviors, and how you decide to implement the plan.