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    Does A Healthy Breakfast Cost More?

    Ciniminis_260x480I was just perusing Burger King’s website and came across one of their $1 breakfast offerings — a “4-pack of warm, gooey” mini cinnamon buns accompanied by a small container of icing dip.

    This breakfast item adds up to:

    • 490 calories
    • 7 grams saturated fat
    • 39 grams (almost 10 teaspoons) of added sugar
    • 1 gram fiber
    • 400 milligrams sodium

    Then, I started hearing the voices.  You know, the critical voices that claim healthy eating is something only a certain elite group is capable of doing.

    “See, Andy, how can you possibly convince someone to have a healthy breakfast when they can fill up on 490 calories for a mere dollar?”

    Time for some budget-conscious nutrition 101!

    Let’s suppose that, rather than start the day off with this cinnamon bun breakfast, our hypothetical subject instead toasts two slices of 100% whole grain bread, tops each with a tablespoon of peanut butter, and chows down on a banana.

    Based on prices I have seen online as well as in various markets in New York City, I think it is fair to say that one can buy a 20-slice loaf of 100% whole grain bread for $2.89.

    A standard 16-ounce jar of natural peanut butter can be purchased for $3.29 (even less if it’s a generic brand).

    A medium banana sets you back approximately 25 cents.

    Now, for some simple math:

    2 slices of a $2.89 20-slice loaf of bread= 28.9 cents

    2 tablespoons of a $3.29 16-ounce, 28-tablespoon peanut butter jar: 23.5 cents

    Add 25 cents for the banana and you get a grand total of 77 cents for the healthier breakfast (which, by the way, takes no more than 5 minutes to make).

    Even when you consider tax, you are looking at no more than 82 or 83 cents.

    For the record, this is the nutritional breakdown of the healthier breakfast:

    • 515 calories
    • 2.5 grams saturated fat
    • 460 milligrams sodium
    • 11 grams fiber
    • 4 grams (1 teaspoon) added sugar
    • 17 grams protein

    While the sodium count is slightly higher, it is still within reasonable parameters.  Remember, ideally you want a calorie-to-sodium ratio of 1:1.  Hence, 460 milligrams of sodium in a 515-calorie meal is much more acceptable than in a 150-calorie snack.

    Besides, an additional 60 milligrams of sodium are not worth worrying about when the healthier breakfast provides less saturated fat, a lot less added sugar, and significantly more fiber than Burger King’s $1 “value breakfast”.

    More importantly, the healthier breakfast contains higher amounts of magnesium, manganese, monounsaturated (heart-healthy) fats, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc.

    In this case, choosing healthy over convenient truly is the better deal.



    1. Corey said on November 26th, 2009

      Nicely done. Another tip? Swap the much lauded extra virgin olive oil for canola oil. Still good for you, much cheaper.

    2. Rachelle said on November 26th, 2009

      Protein! I know most people get plenty, but as a vegetarian I keep an eye on it. Eating whole grain products instead of white adds a fair bit of protein when you add it up.

    3. Andy Bellatti said on November 26th, 2009


      You are absolutely right!

      The whole grain toast & peanut butter breakfast contains 17 grams of protein (8 grams from the two slices of bread; 8 grams from the two tablespoons of peanut butter; 1 gram from the banana).

    4. Marianne said on November 26th, 2009

      It’s amazing how people think eating healthy is expensive in comparison to fast food. When you really break down the cost per serving (not the total cost of buying the loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, etc), it’s so obvious that a simple, healthy, satisfying meal is accessible for everyone.

      One question – is food taxed in the US? I just saw that you mentioned tax. In Canada, all grocery products are tax free, only items deemed as junk food or ready to eat (like take out from the grocery deli) have sales tax applied to them.

    5. Andy Bellatti said on November 26th, 2009

      Precisely! I especially loathe the notion that healthy eating is a “utopia” only available to people of a certain socio-economic class.

      I am aware of food deserts (low-income neighborhoods with limited availability to food markets), but I think that is a separate issue from the financial fact that a $1 Burger King cinnamon bun breakfast is actually more expensive than a healthy (and quick!) breakfast like the one I broke down in this post.

      Food is indeed taxed in the US. So, really, the $1 Burger King value meal comes out to $1.08 or so. I didn’t know groceries were tax-free in Canada! I love that — and I love the fact that unhealthier items ARE taxed.

    6. Marianne said on November 27th, 2009

      Our taxes on food stuffs aren’t perfect – things like chips, pop, and candy are taxed, but you can still buy cookies, frozen pizza, and Cheeze Whiz tax free. Then things like nuts get considered as snack food, and are also taxed. Obviously, the rules could be improved, if you wanted to truly look at the nutritional value of all foods. Something else weird – if you buy one donut from Tim Hortons, you pay tax. But if you buy a dozen, it’s not considered ready to eat, and therefore there is no tax. Crazy, I know!

      Ultimately, if you are buying whole, real foods, you’ll probably avoid any sales tax on your foods.

    7. Andy Bellatti said on November 27th, 2009

      What interesting — and frustrating — loopholes!

      Seems the tax laws are partially based on the inaccurate notion that “high fat = unhealthy”, which means something like raw almonds or a jar of peanut butter are considered junky.

      Always love to hear about food law and food policy throughout the world. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    8. Marianne said on November 27th, 2009

      If you are looking for some light bedtime reading, here’s the document laying out the taxable and tax-exempt food products from the Canadian federal government (each province would also have their own tax rules, which generally allow for more exemptions than the federal sales tax).

      (a href=”http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pub/gm/4-3/4-3-e.pdf”>Basic Groceries Tax Exemptions

    9. Andy Bellatti said on November 27th, 2009


      Thank you! Added it to my reading list for the coming weekend. 🙂

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