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Study: Healthy Eating Costs More

Meeting Dietary Recommendations Could Add 10% to the Average American’s Grocery Bill

The Financial Impact of Government Guidelines continued...

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.

And in the interim, consumers can improve their diets and keep costs low by doing a little homework on the kinds of foods they choose.

Some sources of vital nutrients are less expensive than others.

“Some fruits and vegetables provide a lot of bang for your buck,” he says. “Bananas and potatoes are the real workhorses of the produce department. They provide potassium very affordably. Leaning more on those kinds of foods is a good way to increase your intake of potassium without having such a big impact on your overall food budget.”

The study is published in the journal Health Affairs.

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