For those who think Twinkles and Pop Tarts are the cheaper way to go when it comes to a budget-friendly diet, think again. A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that eating a diet consisting of healthier foods doesn’t necessarily cost more than one made up of mostly unhealthy foods.
Reason for the study was motivated in part by the perception that diets that align with the USDA dietary guidelines are not affordable; and that eating a diet higher in fat, sugar and processed foods is less expensive.
The study was led by a group of economists at the USDA, one of which was Andrea Carlson who helped analyze the cost of more than 4,400 foods. In their research, she and her colleagues considered each item by price per calories, price by edible gram, and price per average portion.
What they found was that healthier foods are a better deal than unhealthy foods. And that when considering price per average portion and edible gram, fruits and vegetables were less expensive.
“We find that fruits and vegetables – especially vegetables – come out much less expensive than the less-healthy foods such as potato chips, ready-to-eat cereals [which are] often high in sugar, [and] anything with a lot of fat like cookies and pies,” she said.
When analyzing the foods from the price per calorie standpoint, vegetables and fruits came out looking more expensive. But that’s because produce contains less calories per gram and serving than most processed foods, such as tortilla chips and granola bars. And from a nutritional standpoint, you don’t necessarily want to be getting more bang for your buck when it comes to calories.
According to USDA under secretary for food, Kevin Concannon, the study also showed that items like carrots, onions, pinto beans and mashed potatoes were all less expensive per portion than items such as ice cream, sweet rolls, pork chops and ground beef. And furthermore, that protein foods and food high in saturated fat, added sugars and sodium were all more expensive than fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains.
It also revealed that lentils and legumes are the most affordable, healthy sources of protein - making them an especially cost-effective option for those who don’t eat meat. Researchers also found that people who think they’re eating healthy when consuming things like yogurt, sugary cereals and granola bars, are actually making unhealthy choices based on these items’ high sugar content. To avoid this trap, authors of the study recommended scanning nutrition labels to ensure you’re staying within a reasonable amount of grams per serving.
As a reference point, DietsInReview.com’s Registered Dietitian, Mary Hartley, RD, recommends that a granola bar weighing 40 grams (or 1.4 ounces) should contain around 200 calories and fewer than 15 grams of sugar.
All in all, this is great news. And not just for the health world, but for the U.S. population as a whole, which seems to struggle with finding healthy, affordable options when it comes to food. I personally loved the news and feel even more inspired to make healthy choices next time I’m at the grocery store. Although in my opinion, even if some healthy foods cost a little more on the front end, I see it as an investment in my health. By eating a healthier diet now, I’m steering far from the path that leads to weight gain, and thus avoiding the extensive costs that come with obesity-related diseases. I see this study as just one more reason to pick that apple over the potato chip.
May 17th, 2012