Eating as healthy as the federal government suggests could put consumers out of pocket by hundreds of dollars per year, according to a paper in the journal Health Affairs.
The federal government recently update its nutritional guidelines, and its new MyPlate icon is calling on Americans to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. There is also the recommendation to eat more potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin D and calcium, and avoiding saturated fat and added sugar.
But the study that sought to find out what it would take to meet the federal Dietary Guidelines for 2010 for fiber, calcium and other nutrients, found that eating more nutritious foods rather than empty-calorie food attracts a good price.
Researchers found that eating more potassium, the most expensive of the four nutrients, can add some $380 to the average person's food costs yearly.
Americans spend about $4,000 on food each year, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pablo Monsivais, one of the study's authors, said the government should consider the economic impact of food guidelines.
"We know that dietary guidelines aren't making a bit of difference in what we eat and our health overall," he told Reuters. "And I think one missing piece is that they have to be economically relevant."
The authors believe consumers need to be educated on how to eat better and smarter, as poorer communities will be greatly disadvantaged from the conflict between the good eating and cheap eating .
"Dietary recommendations need to become more sensitive to the economic constraints faced by consumers, particularly those in the most vulnerable segments of society, who bear a disproportionate burden of obesity and chronic disease," according to the authors.
More than a third of the children and two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
Monsivais said when there are talks about eating more fruits and vegetables, the government should make mention options for cutting price, as bananas and potatoes are the cheapest sources of potassium.
"(Guidelines) should tell people where you get the most bang for your buck," Monsivais told Reuters. "By putting the economic dimension on dietary guidelines, it would be very helpful for those on the economic margins, but also for everyone ... trying to save money in the current economy."