Consuming a regular diet of whole, healthy foods is a challenge for many people for many reasons, but a recent study just confirmed a big one: it's really expensive. Every five years, the government updates their dietary guidelines
to better reflect new dietary information and put forward recommendations for better balanced meals.
Now, as you may have guessed, fresh vegetables and fruit -organic as well as conventional- have been found to simply cost more than sugary and fatty foodstuffs. Researchers at the University of Washington have published a study on the consumption of four nutrients that the most recent government guidelines say we're not getting enough of: potassium, fiber, Vitamin D and calcium. The study, focused in the Seattle area, found that for those polled to consume the recommended amounts of nutrients listed above, they would need to spend an additional $380 per year (and in King County, WA consumers could spend that amount to receive just the recommended level of potassium). For low income families, this is an expense that often cannot be handled.
"We're trying to understand the dietary imbalance, and our study shows there's an economic layer to it, which the Dietary Guidelines don't account for," Pablo Monsivais, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington and the lead author of the study, says. "In theory it's possible for people to meet the guidelines, but they would have to be reoriented towards the lowest-cost foods."
The study does note that the government recommendations could be better. Potassium does not need to be expensive; potatoes and bananas are an excellent source of the nutrient yet many don't turn to them for upping their potassium intake. Additionally, researchers recommend finding better ways to let low income families shop at farmers' markets.
"What we want to see are policies to allow low-income people to redeem their food assistance benefits at farmers markets," UCS economist and report author Jeffrey O'Hara tells Shots. "Some states don't even allow it, and there is evidence that these benefits work well for low-income people and actually help them increase their food and vegetable consumption."