Lose Weight, Save Money

How to eat healthy without blowing your budget

By Leanna Skarnulis
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

You want a trimmer body, not a slimmer wallet. But when you're cutting calories, it's not always easy to cut costs. If you're not careful, fresh salads, juicy fruits, and lean meats can add up to far more than the value meal at McDonald's or that economy-size box of macaroni and cheese. What's a cost-conscious dieter to do?

The first thing to keep in mind is this: When you count the costs of a healthier diet, don't forget to tally the costs of being overweight. Just ask the famously cheap author and radio personality Clark Howard.

It's true that fans of the Clark Howard Show tune in for Howard's cost-cutting strategies, not diet tips. "I've got the exercise part down," he tells WebMD. "I exercise every day and run a half-marathon every year. But I eat fast food."

But after Howard told his radio audience that buying fast food burgers could be cheaper than cooking at home, a doctor at the University of Virginia wrote to him to point out the medical costs of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. The doctor wrote, "Cholesterol drugs can cost you $100 a month, and being admitted to a hospital can cost you hundreds per day. So is it really worth it to eat fast food?"

Healthier diets could save Americans more than $200 billion a year in medical costs, lost productivity, and expenses caused by death, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Bad eating habits, combined with a lack of exercise, lead to 310,000 to 580,000 deaths each year -- about as many as smoking. Diseases linked to poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle include cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Low-Cost Eating at Home