Sunday, August 7, 2011

Healthy Eating for the Body and the Budget

This is probably not big news to most of you:  eating healthy foods can be expensive. And last week, yet another study confirmed this. But the researchers looked at healthy eating in a more creative way than I’ve seen in other studies. They surveyed almost 1300 people using “food frequency” questionnaires. They then compared the foods people were eating to the 2010 Nutrition Guidelines and also estimated the cost of their foods. Turns out, the people who were meeting the nutrition guidelines for getting key nutrients like potassium, fiber, calcium spent more money on their foods than those who were not meeting those guidelines.

For those you of you who are science and policy geeks, you can see the study here:

The researchers also found that potassium was one of the most expensive nutrients to get at recommended levels. High potassium foods are getting a lot of press these days as evidence continues to mount showing diets high in potassium can lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, stroke and death in general.

And here’s another fascinating finding from this study – the higher your diet is in saturated fat and added sugars, the lower your food costs!

So what does all this mean? While this study shows that healthy eating is more expensive, other studies show that it depends on your choices and ability to spend more time cooking and preparing your foods. Convenient healthy eating may be where costs jump.

But the most important conclusion the study’s authors reached, in my opinion, is that when we as health professionals and healthy policy makers set forth diet guidelines and advice, we must start taking budgets and practical issues into account. Too often, we just say “eat more fruits and vegetables to get more potassium”. But we need to help people make economic, healthy choices. For instance, one of my favorite foods is the avocado. It’s very high in potassium and also pricey. But potatoes and bananas – two great sources of potassium as well – are much easier on the budget. We need to make the healthy choice the easier and economic choice.

I welcome your comments and suggestions on eating choices that are both healthy for the body and the budget.

Beth Kitchin MS RD
Assistant Professor of Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham