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can most americans even afford to eat a healthy diet?

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With recession still threatening and unemployment numbers remaining high, more Americans must make tough choices about the type and quality of food they are putting on the table.

A study published in the August 2011 issue of Health Affairs underscores this, saying that a healthy diet is expensive and could make it difficult for Americans to meet the new U.S. nutrition guidelines.

These guidelines, an update of what used to be known as the food pyramid, call on Americans to eat more foods containing potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin D and calcium. But if they do that, consumers will add hundreds more dollars to their annual grocery bill, according to the study authors. Introducing more potassium is likely to add $380 per year to the average consumer’s food costs. On the other hand, obtaining more calories from saturated fat and added sugar will make food costs drop significantly.

“This provides an economic reality check for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines,” said lead researcher Pablo Monsivais, PhD, MPH, acting assistant professor in the department of epidemiology and the School of Public Health at the University of Washington. “If consumers aim to improve their diets without raising food budgets, they will need guidance that takes the cost of food into account. We also need to revamp our food system to increase the availability and reduce the cost of healthful foods.”

The study was based on a random telephone survey of about 2,000 adults in King County, Washington, followed by a printed questionnaire that was returned by about 1,300 people. They noted what food they ate, and results were analyzed for nutrient content and estimated cost.

For more on eating healthfully on an austerity budget, refer to “Taking Off Recession Pounds” by Martina M. Cartright, PhD, RD, in the September 2011 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

Send me your best idea on how you think clients or Americans in general can eat more healthfully on a limited budget: [email protected].

Sandy Todd Webster

For 22 years, Sandy Todd Webster was the chief architect of IDEA's content program - including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS - the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. She created, launched and nurtured these brands and many others during her productive and purposeful IDEA tenure. Sandy is a Rouxbe-certified professional plant-based cook and a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach who is pursuing a Master's degree in Sustainable Food Systems through The Culinary Institute of America (expected August 2024). She plans to combine these passions with her content expertise to continue inspiring others to make the world a more just, healthy and regenerative place.

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