Diet Costs Compared

By Jim F

2838-smart-ones-seaseme-chicken.jpgForbes has compared the cost of a number of popular diets.

Weekly sample menus were gathered for each of the 10 diets, and food prices were obtained from Fresh Direct.

The median weekly cost came to $85.79 per week. Apparently the average American spends $54.44 on food.

The Cheapest Diet?

Diet Total Price of Weekly Food Menu* ** Percent Over National Average
Jenny Craig $137.65 152.8%
Nutrisystem.comNutriSystem 113.52 108.5
Atkins 100.52 84.6
Weight Watchers 96.64 77.5
Zone 92.84 70.5
Ornish 78.74 44.6
South Beach Diet 78.61 44.4
Slim Fast 77.73 42.8
Sugar Busters! 69.62 27.9
Subway 68.60 26.0
Median 85.79 57.6
Sources: Forbes, Fresh Direct,
Amazon, Bureau of Labor Statistics * Adjusted for NYC prices **
Includes the cost of associated book, if applicable, and any membership
fees associated with the diet, averaged over a six-month period.

Some Thoughts on Diet Costs

I wonder how the cost of a “fast food diet” such as McDonald’s would compare? The supposed Subway diet here seems very cheap – PR man Jared Fogle was supposed to have eaten one 6-inch sub and one 12-inch sub per day – so something doesn’t quite add up.

Note also, that programs like Jenny Craig and NutriSystem are basically “heat and eat” pre-packaged foods. If meal preparation time were factored in here as well – things might look quite different.


  1. Erin

    The Subway diet is much lower than it should be in this chart. The cost of a simple 6 inch Turkey sub is $5.85 and eating 1 six inch and one 12 inch everyday for a week would approximate out to about $123. This is a more rational and realistic number.

  2. Kristen

    Nonya, I completely commiserate. I have friends who talk about buying organic food and whatnot, but when I shop with them they instantly reach for a 3×3″ square of organic cornbread priced at $2! That tends to let me know that they don’t really understand what ‘financially challenged’ is.

    Lately I’ve been forcing myself to make up big pots of ‘stew’ consisting of rice, beans, corn, vegetables, and whatever else I happen to have on hand…spice it liberally, divide it into portions and freeze them for dinners later to be supplemented by something like some fresher vegetables or fruit. That’s really the only way I’ve found to be a single, low-budget person and not eat crap like ramen all the time.

  3. Nonya

    I expected many of these comments that you cant “afford” to not eat healthy. I used to think that, until I came to the financial situation I am in now. Some people don’t understand the difference between I can’t afford(ie. I’d rather spend it elsewhere) and there really is no money there. Give some real advice about how to eat healty on a budget, not some quick answer about how you “have to do it for yourself” and “it’s cheaper in the long run.”

  4. Mark Spearman

    I’ve tried a few of the diets listed and cost is a major problem for me when I’m on them.

    I switched to pure calorie counting, and then to calorie counting with quality natural foods. I found a store called Trader Joes that offers natural food at lower cost. It is still not cheap, but it’s great food that you’re willing to spend on.

    Hopefully more of these budget health food stores will show up.

    Don’t forget, most exercise is free!

  5. Don Vito

    Just finished eating a cup of Maruchan Instant Noodles, and IT…..WAS……BOMB!

    Raddashaderburger abba!

  6. Spectra

    True. I guess a meal like broiled chicken and brown rice doesn’t hold a candle (price wise) to ramen noodles and hot dogs. It’s sad, but that’s how a lot of low-income families eat because it’s “cheaper”.

  7. Jim

    In all honesty, I think good food is undervalued. We’re so used to cheap mass produced nutritionally-poor food, that we end up thinking everything else is expensive.

  8. Spectra

    I used to spend a lot on groceries because of all the produce, but now I shop at Aldi and my groceries cost about half of what they used to. I can buy lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, celery, etc., there and then any other specialty produce I need comes from the supermarket. So just because people are on a budget doesn’t mean they have to eat junk or processed food nonstop.

  9. Janice

    I agree that you don’t need all those special diet products but you do need to spend whatever it takes to eat healthily.

    No one can afford to eat junk just because it’s cheap – you can’t afford it for your health or your well-being.

    You could even just weight up the savings in health care costs and days off work and healthy food becomes a bargain!

    Whether it’s costing money through taxes (as in the UK) or actual dollars in a health care system you have to pay for – it’s just not worth it.

    Feeling good and being healthy is worth paying for.

  10. Spectra

    I know that my grocery bill went down once I stopped buying junk food all the time. I followed WW and was able to find everything at a regular grocery store. I didn’t need to buy any special supplements or meals, although they were offered as a convenience thing.

  11. bowulf

    Maybe if the authors of the articles looked at actual participants of the WOE and not what is promoted by food-selling parent company, the comparison might have been more valid. While you can’t do Nurit-Systems without their products really, you can certainly do Atkins without their over-priced products.

  12. Randy Smith

    I follow a Zone diet and find the major cost contributors are high quality protein and fresh fruits and vegetables. High carb processed foods are fairly cheap by comparison. The best way to economize I have found is to plan meals so that you don’t end up wasting food by letting it spoil. To do this I find I need to shop twice a week. I also try to prepare meals that can be refrigerated or frozen and reheated. I am sure I spend more than the average figure but I think I have better than average nutrition.