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NewsBites August 2012 Issue

Cost of Eating Right—Who’s Right?

Does eating a healthy diet really cost more than picking foods high in saturated fat, added sugar and salt? It all depends on what measuring stick you use, according to a new report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Challenging previous findings, the report concluded that vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy foods are a better bargain. Yes, snacks, processed foods and baked goods cost less per calorie. But healthier choices cost less when measured by weight or portion size, the USDA researchers found. They analyzed data on 4,439 food items by price per calorie, per edible gram, and per average portion consumed. USDA scientist Andrea Carlson argued, “Using price per calorie doesn’t tell you how much food you’re going to get or how full you are going to feel.”

The ink was barely dry on that report, however, when University of Washington researchers fired back with a study of their own. Based on an analysis of dietary intakes of 2,000 Seattle adults, Adam Drewnowski and colleagues concluded that “nutrients commonly associated with a lower risk of chronic disease were associated with higher diet costs. By contrast, nutrients associated with higher disease risk were associated with lower diet costs.” Healthy nutrients that cost the most included vitamin C, beta carotene, potassium and magnesium—nutrients primarily obtained from fruits and vegetables. Cheaper diets tended to be higher in saturated fats, trans fats and added sugars. The report in PLoS ONE added, “Based on current eating habits, compliance with dietary guidelines is likely to entail higher diet costs for the consumer.”

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