Study: Nutritious Food Costs Thousands a Year, But Fat’s a Bargain

Study finds following USDA's updated balanced diet guidelines would add hundreds of dollars to the average consumer's food costs.

By Jorge Rivas Aug 05, 2011

USDA guidelines for a healthy diet introduced earlier this year call on Americans to consume more potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin D, and calcium, but a new study finds that balanced diet will cost you hundreds, if not thousands more dollars a year.

On Thursday, researchers at the University of Washington published a study in the journal Health Affairs that found that just increasing consumption of potassium–the most expensive of the four recommended nutrients–would add $380 per year to the average consumer’s food costs.

The study, "Following Federal Guidelines To Increase Nutrient Consumption May Lead To Higher Food Costs For Consumers" included random telephone surveys of about 2,000 adults in King County, Washington–that’s Seattle–on what they ate and how much they spent on food. They followed up with a questionnaire in the mail, to which about 1,300 people responded.

Researchers also found each time consumers obtained 1 percent more of their daily calories from saturated fat and added sugar, their food costs significantly declined.

"It’s a common misconception that food choices are solely a matter of personal responsibility," Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University and an outspoken critic of the fast food industry, told CBS News. "People are hugely influenced by the price of food. If you don’t have any money and go into the store to buy some fresh fruits, you might decide that it’s cheaper to have a couple of fast food hamburgers."

"We know more than ever about the science of nutrition, and yet we have not yet been able to move the needle on healthful eating," Pablo Monsivais told the Associated Press (h/t NewsOne). Monsivais, a lead researcher in the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, says the government needs to step in. "The government should provide help for meeting the nutritional guidelines in an affordable way."

Solution proposals include everything from creating posters illustrating plates that show people exactly what foods they should be putting on their plate, to helping families on food assistance shop at farmers’ markets. One example referenced in Health Affairs is Boston Bounty Bucks, a program that makes it easier for people using food stamps to go to 21 farmers markets around Boston.

In June featured a quiet food and well-being revolution growing out of apartments in central Brooklyn that’s being powered by Latinos and African Americans. Not only are they manifesting their own solutions but they’re also influencing city policies impacting entire communities.

"Peer a little deeper in central Brooklyn’s subcultures," Mark Winston Griffith, a central Brooklyn community activist, told Colorlines’ Rae Gomes. "You’ll find hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people buzzing around, organizing CSAs and fledgling food coops, strengthening relationships with local farmers, creating recipes for organic dishes, working on food security policy initiatives, and building community gardens and green market."