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Putting Dollars to Doughnuts, and Other Foods continued...

They were also the group that most overshot the suggested limits of 10% of daily calories from added sugar and 7% of daily calories from saturated fat, consuming around 14% of calories from sugar and 12% of calories from saturated fat.

The highest spenders, on the other hand, who had food costs that were nearly twice as high as those who spent the least, came the closest to hitting the government’s targets, though they were still short on nutrients and a bit higher than the targets for sugar and saturated fat.

The Financial Impact of Government Guidelines

Researchers then used mathematical models to estimate how much more it might cost to meet the government’s guidelines.

Adding 700 milligrams of daily potassium, the average gap seen in the study, would cost $1.04 a day and $380 a year.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that’s about 10% of what an adult spends on food each year.

Getting to a higher standard, the U.S. Dietary Reference Intake of 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily, which is recommended by the U.S. Institute of Medicine, would cost an additional $2.82 a day or $1,030 a year.

In contrast, adding saturated fat and sugar to the diet actually decreases food costs.

For every 1% increase in calories from added sugar, food costs fell about 7 cents; for saturated fat, they dropped even more, about 28 cents for every 1% increase in daily calories.

“Increasing added sugar and saturated fat will actually help you spend less, unfortunately” says study researcher Pablo Monsivais, PhD, an assistant professor in the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“Essentially we’ve built a system that favors calories, but makes it more expensive to actually get nutrients,” he tells WebMD.

Researchers said the solutions to the problem can be found at both the individual and government level.

Policymakers, Monsivais says, need to find a way to offer subsidies or financial support for growing and buying vegetables and fruits. Current farm subsidies, he says, are geared toward growing grains and grain products like corn syrup and sugar.

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