FRIDAY, Dec. 6, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Does it really cost
more to stick to a healthy diet? The answer is yes, but not as much
as many people think, according to a new study.
The research review combined the results of 27 studies from 10
different countries that compared the cost of healthy and unhealthy
The verdict? A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish
costs about a person about $1.50 more per day -- or $550 per year
-- compared to a diet high in processed grains and meats, fat,
sugar and convenience foods.
By and large, protein drove the price increases. Researchers
found that healthy proteins -- think a portion of boneless skinless
chicken breast -- were 29 cents more expensive per serving compared
to less healthy sources, like a fried chicken nugget.
The study was published online Dec. 5 in the journal
"For many low-income families, this could be a genuine barrier to healthy eating," said study author Mayuree Rao. She is a junior research fellow in the department of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston.
For example, a family of four that is following the USDA's
thrifty eating plan has a weekly food budget of about $128. An
extra $1.50 per for each person in the family a day adds up to $42
for the week, or about 30 percent of that family's total food
Rao says it's wouldn't be such a big difference for many
middle-class families, though.
She said that "$1.50 is about the price of a cup of coffee and
really just a drop in the bucket when you consider the billions of
dollars spent every year on diet-related chronic diseases."
Researchers who weren't involved in the review had plenty to say
about its findings.
"I am thinking that a mean difference in cost of $1.50 per person per day is very substantial," said Adam Drewnowski, director of the nutritional sciences program at the University of Washington, in Seattle. He has compared the cost of healthy versus unhealthy diets.
Drewnowski said that at an extra $550 per year for 200 million
people would outstrip the entire annual budget for food assistance
in the United States.
Dr. Hilary Seligman, an assistant professor of medicine at the
University of California, San Francisco, said healthy food can be
expensive for families in ways that go beyond its cost at the
checkout. For that reason, she said, the strict cost comparison in
this review probably underestimates the true burden to a person's
For example, she pointed out that people in poor neighborhoods
that lack big grocery stores may not be able to afford the gas to
drive to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. They may work several
jobs and not have time to prep foods from scratch.
"To eat a healthy diet on a very low income requires an extraordinary amount of time. It's doable, but it's really, really hard work. These studies just don't take things like that into account," Seligman said.
Still, Melissa Joy Dobbins, a registered dietitian and a
spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said the
study should reassure many consumers that "eating healthy doesn't
have to cost more."
She said the academy recommends the following nutrient-rich,
To find out more about how to eat healthy on a budget, visit the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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