Adding cost to U.S. dietary guidelines is good food for thought

For those who wish to adhere to the new U.S. dietary guidelines, a new study published in the journal Health Affairs finds that eating the recommended amount of nutrients such as potassium, fiber, and vitamin D can add a substantial amount to the yearly grocery bill. Researchers from the University of Washington surveyed over 1,100 people in King County, Washington about their eating habits, and then calculated how much their diets cost based on retail food prices from three local supermarkets. They found that eating healthier fare can increase the average American s food costs by nearly 10 percent. Eating more potassium, for instance, can add $380 to the average person s annual expenses.

Though the guidelines were instituted in part to help combat the nation s growing obesity problem, lead author Dr. Pablo Monsivais doesn t think they re making a bit of difference in what we eat and our health overall. This may be because, he says, one missing piece is that [the guidelines] have to be economically relevant. They emphasize certain foods without much regard for which ones are more affordable.

Part of the problem, says ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava, is that people automatically equate healthy food with fresh food. In reality, however, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are just about as good for you as fresh produce and supply essentially the same nutritional value. She adds, People should be better informed of the wide array of food choices available to them, since this would also help to ameliorate some of the economic issues.

ACSH s Alyssa Pelish agrees that nutritional guidelines should be made economically relevant, and believes people can still eat healthfully without forking over their entire paycheck. For instance, she says, bananas and potatoes are excellent sources of potassium, and oats, beans, and legumes supply plenty of fiber all of which are healthy choices that also happen to be among the most inexpensive offerings of any grocery store. It would indeed be helpful, especially for poorer families, if governmental advisories included such information.