A new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that fruits and vegetables are less expensive than most protein foods and foods high in sodium, added sugars and fat based on how costs of the foods are calculated.
A common perception is that healthy diets are not affordable based on studies that found many healthy foods cost more per calorie than less healthy foods, said the 50-page study, Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price.
That may be one way to calculate the cost of a healthy diet, but two researchers at USDA's Economic Research Service found another way to compare prices.
Researchers calculated the price in three ways: price per calorie, price per edible weight and price per average amount eaten. Price per edible weight is the price of the food after it is cooked, and the seeds, peels, skins, shells and bones have been removed, and price per average amount is the price of the average amount adults consumed.
The two authors estimated the cost for 4,439 food items in the five USDA food groups (grains, dairy, fruit, vegetables or protein foods), mixed dishes (such as spaghetti and tomato sauce) and the less healthy food category. Less-healthy foods were defined as those high in sodium, added sugars or saturated fats, or those containing little to no amount of USDA's food groups, such as canned soups and sodas.
"If we use price per calorie, fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive than less-healthy foods," ERS report author Andrea Carlson explained in a May 16 blog. "In contrast, if we use price per edible weight or per average amount eaten, then grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy foods are less expensive than most protein foods and less healthy foods."
However, the researchers looked at food group recommendations at ChooseMyPlate.gov and found it is less costly to meet the grains, dairy, and fruit recommendations than those for vegetables because of the amount recommended.
"Meeting the vegetable recommendation likely costs more because the recommended amount of vegetables is larger than the recommendation for any other group," the report said.