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USDA reports Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price

June 8, 2012

By Andrea Carlson and Elizabeth Frazão

Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-96) 50 pp, May 2012

Most Americans consume diets that do not meet Federal dietary recommendations. A common explanation is that healthier foods are more expensive than less healthy foods.

For a balanced assessment, this study compared the prices of healthy and less healthy foods using three price metrics: the price per calorie, per edible gram, and per average portion. The authors also calculate the daily cost of meeting the food group recommendations on the website.

Healthy foods were defined as those recommended to receive healthy nutrition. Less healthy foods were defined for this study as foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugar, and/or sodium, or that contribute little to meeting dietary recommendations.

For all metrics except the price of food energy, the authors found that healthy foods cost less than  foods that are considered to be less healthy.

The Findings:

• Foods low in calories for a given weight appear to have a higher price when the price is measured per calorie. For example, vegetables and fruits, which are low in calories, tend to be a relatively expensive way to purchase food energy.

• Conversely, less healthy foods (called “moderation foods” in this report)—especially those high in saturated fat and added sugar—tend to be high in calories and to have a low price per calorie.

• When measured on the basis of edible weight or average portion size, grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy foods are less expensive than most protein foods and foods high in saturated fat, added sugars, and/or sodium.

• In following the food group recommendations at, it is less costly to meet the grains, dairy,
and fruit recommendations than those for vegetables or protein foods.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2012 3:49 pm

    And then much of that added sugar is subsidized through our taxes…. and don’t get me started on the hidden cost of health care needed because of unhealthy diets (diabetes, obesity, heart disease, on and on….)

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