Column #147

Most Americans wouldn’t believe it if I told them their food cost as a percent of income is the lowest in the world. But the stats don’t lie. On food that’s consumed at home, American households spend just 6.4% of their household income! At 56.4% of their household incomes Nigerians spend the most with Kenya second highest at 46.7%.

Statistics comparing household expenditures for food to household incomes always show that citizens of more advanced nations pay less for food. People can only eat so much food yet their incomes are not limited. It’s the same inside a country too. During the past 25 years America’s top 20% wealthiest households spent 6.5% to 9.2% of their income while the poorest 20% of households spent between 28.8% and 42.6% on food.

Actual amounts spent on food that’s consumed at home are also skewed by household wealth as noted above. On a per capita basis Americans spend $2,392 per year, Nigerians spend $1,132, and Kenyans spend only $543. Can you imagine, Kenyans only spend $1.50 per person per day!

In addition to food that’s consumed at home, Americans also eat out a lot. In the past year restaurant spending (food and drink) has surpassed spending on food consumed at home. Since most food establishments charge a 300% markup, if we add food that’s consumed at home to food that’s eaten out, then Americans are spending about 13% of their income for food.

The uptrend in restaurant spending continues to grow faster than spending for food consumed at home. That means Americans are growing ever more willing to spend $15 on food that costs the restaurant $5. The primary reasons behind this extravagance are convenience and pleasure. It’s certainly not to get healthier meals. I find this amazing because the first complaint most people have about eating healthier foods is they cost more.

Interestingly, the flip side of spending less of our household income on food consumed at home, Americans spend more on healthcare than any other country. Healthcare is 18% of the GNP or about $10,000 per capita which is four times the cost of food consumed at home. Nigerians spend about $100 per capita on healthcare which is about one-tenth of their cost for food. Kenyans spend about $70 per year or one-eighth of what they spend on food.

In America there are all kinds of shoppers with a whole host of objectives for how, what, why, and what they’ll pay for food. The vast majority of shoppers never think through the actual per dollar cost of the nutrients in their food or the long-term consequences of their decisions. Even welfare recipients buy snacks, soft drinks, and eat out while their cupboards at home are mostly bare.

This universal approach to buying food would bankrupt a livestock rearing operation which considers nutrients first and costs second. Yet people feed themselves and their children without considering which nutrients are required. Instead they opt for pleasure and convenience.

How often do you price your food selections based on net nutrients? The best, most nutritious foods are low glycemic, nutrient dense and diverse foods with 1:1 or lower balances of the Omega-6 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Yes, these foods are usually more expensive per pound than grains, nuts, seeds, grain-fed meats, and fruit. But when it comes to nutrients and the balance of nutrients, people who follow “The Real Diet of Man” often get more nutrients and a better balance of nutrients for their money. For instance, kale costs more than iceberg lettuce but kale’s 30 times greater nutrient load makes it a far better value.

By consuming real health foods, not the pretend varieties (organic grain-fed meats, etc.) pushed by marketing, people gain additional benefits in terms of fewer and less severe chronic diseases and better immunity against viruses. Since 85% of the healthcare tab in America goes for treating chronic diseases, we’re talking here about a significant reduction in potential long-term health costs.

As stated above, the annual per capita healthcare cost in the USA is $10,000. If 85% is spent treating chronic disease, personally halving that $8,500 annual cost with a healthier diet is a much bigger savings than what it would cost to double a $2,392 food budget.

To your health.

Ted Slanker

Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.

Don't miss these links for additional reading:

Long-Term Food Price Trends from Our World in Data

Numbeo Is the World’s Largest Database about Food Prices Worldwide!

Which Countries Spend the Most on Food? This map will show you

How Does Health Spending in the U.S. Compare to Other Countries?

List of Countries by Total Health Expenditure per Capita from Wikipedia

Food Prices and Spending from USDA

The Cost Of A Plate Of Food Around The World

This Is How Much Restaurants Mark Up The Price Of Your Food

Nutrient Diversity and Density by Ted Slanker