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"Healthy Eating is the Privilege of the Rich" says ABC News. "Healthy Eating Costs Much More in America," says Medical News Today.

That's the clear takeaway from the abstract for Following Federal Guidelines to Increase Nutirient Consumption May Lead to Higher Food Costs for Consumers by Pablo Monsivais, Anju Aggarwal, and Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington in this month's Health Affairs Journal:
 

We found that increasing consumption of potassium—the most expensive of the four recommended nutrients—would add $380 per year to the average consumer’s food costs.

Reports like this make me mad. The abstract, well publicized and freely available, could lead you to think that eating healthy is so hard and expensive that it's not worth trying. You might think that the USDA's new MyPlate can't be your plate. Just give up and grab the chips.

But if you pay the $12.95 that Health Affairs asks and read the whole study, you'll find the researchers looked at what people say they already buy, not of the cost of what they could buy. They left out water as a beverage, counted only one nutrient per food, and didn't show the savings from displacing less healthy food. If they'd used the Wildly Affordable Organic approach, improving the diet would have cost less, not more.

Adam Drewnowski and his team at the University of Washington do study after study to show that healthy food is too expensive. Statements like this are part of what led me to start the Cook for Good project:

If you have $3 to feed yourself, your choices gravitate toward foods which give you the most calories per dollar. Vegetables and fruits are rapidly becoming luxury goods.

You can construct studies that show healthy food is more expensive. But read below the fold to see just how twisted that construction has to be.

  • The study only shows that people who already pay more for food get more nutrients and less sugar and fat.
  • It then calculates improvements based on existing dietary habits. To get more nutrients, participants would just eat more of what they already eat, so they would pay more. For example, if you currently get your potassium from expensive nectarines instead of thrifty bananas, then the projected costs were based on buying even more nectarines.
  • Costs don't reflect what the participants actually paid for the food, but retail prices gathered by the researchers when the studies were done. So the participants may have bought those nectarines in season, on sale, in bulk, and at a farmers' market ... all factors that can drive prices down.
  • The costs of eating more healthy food is shown, but not the savings from eating less unhealthy food. But if you eat an extra banana and half a cup of beans a day, you will eat fewer Pop-Tarts and Gummi Bears.
  • The costs for each nutrient were calculated separately. So even though bananas provide potassium, fiber, and calcium, the cost was allocated to only one nutrient.

About that $380 for potassium and more. See my full blog post on CookforGood.com for more, including charts showing the relative costs of bananas, pinto beans, and baked potatoes to get the 700 mg more potassium that cost a whopping $380 a year using existing habits and the other nutrients that come with eating those affordable, healthy foods.

Relatively healthy eating may be the habit of the rich, but it's a lifestyle available to nearly everyone.

Originally posted to Cook for Good on Fri Aug 12, 2011 at 06:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by Meatless Advocates Meetup.

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