Eating good food may save a buck

The following article was written by Sam Hananel of the Associated Press in Washington DC


Is it really more expensive to eat healthfully?

An Agricultural Department study released Wednesday found that most fruits, vegetables and other healthful foods cost less than foods high in fat, sugar and salt. That counters a common perception among some consumers that its cheaper to eat junk food than a nutritionally balanced meal.

The government says it all depends on how you measure the price. If you compare the price per calorie – as some previous researchers have done- then higher calorie pastries and processed snacks might seem like a bargain compared with fruits and vegetables. Comparing the cost of foods by weight or portion size shows that grains, vegetables, fruits and dairy foods are less expensive than most meats or foods high in saturated fat, added sugars or salt. That means that bananas, carrots, lettuce and pinto beans are all less expensive per portion than French fries, soft drinks, ice cream or ground beef.

“Using price per calorie doesn’t tell you how much food you’re going to eat or how full you are going to feel,” said Andrea Carlson, scientist at the USDA’s Economic Research Service and an author of the study. For example, eating a chocolate glazed doughnut with 240 calories might not satiate you, but a banana with 105 calories just might. In comparisons, the USDA researchers used national average prices from Nielsen Homescan data, which surveyed a panel of households that recorded all food purchases over a year from retail outlets.

The cost of eating healthful foods has been the subject of growing debate as experts warn Americans about the dangers of obesity. More than a third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the government, and researchers expect that number to grow to 42 percent by 2030.

“Cheap food that provides few nutrients may actually be ‘expensive’ for the consumer from a nutritional economy perspective, where as food with a higher retail price that provides large amounts of nutrients may actually be quite cheap” the study said

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