We all know that junk food is bad for our bodies. But are healthier food options equally bad for our wallets? It’s no secret that foods that are grown locally and are organic have a heavier price tag, but recent studies have put a definitive number on that difference in price.
Researchers at the University of Washington completed a study of over 1,100 people in the Seattle area to find out how much it would cost Americans to meet newly released dietary guidelines. The guidelines challenged Americans to cut down on their calorie intake from sugar and saturated fat, and up their intake of vitamin D, potassium, fiber, and calcium.
The study found that those who made an effort to buy more nutrient-rich foods spent an average of $380 per year more than those who bought foods with more saturated fat and sugar. However, the study also showed that even those who bought nutrient-rich foods still didn’t reach the recommended amounts of many nutrients, although they were closer. People who spent twice as much on groceries as the low-end spenders didn’t even reach the recommendations.
So what would it take to reach the government’s recommendations? The study showed, based on grocery prices in the Seattle area, that Americans would have to spend $1,030 more than they do to reach all of those levels. It was also found that adding sugar and saturated fat to the diet actually decreases costs, making the gap even larger between healthy and unhealthy eating costs.
Researchers did admit, however, that the study isn’t without its flaws. For instance, Seattle is one the wealthiest and most educated cities in America. Thus, the researchers say, the people of Seattle are more likely to spend more on locally grow, organic, and sustainable produce than people elsewhere in the country. The cost of living in Seattle is also above the national average, meaning people may be spending more on groceries regardless of the quality of the food they purchase.
The biggest disparity in what the government recommended and what most people actually eat is in potassium, says Pablo Monsivais, PhD, who took part in the research. “Some fruits and vegetables provide a lot of bang for your buck,” he said, referring to potatoes and bananas. “Leaning more on those kinds of foods is a good way to increase your intake of potassium without having such a big impact on your overall food budget.”