A study, recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, found that healthy foods like beans, carrots, milk, and yogurt are actually less expensive than ice cream sandwiches, cinnamon buns, and soda.
The USDA researchers looked at calorie content but also compared the prices of more than 4,000 healthy foods and moderation foods based on price by weight and portion size.
Using dietary recommendations from the federal government’s choosemyplate.gov website, researchers identified healthy foods as those that contain at least one of the major food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein) and contain only moderate amounts of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium.
Researchers found that by portion size, the cheapest healthy food to eat is grains, followed by dairy, vegetables, fruit, protein, and moderation foods.
When broken down by how much it costs per day to fulfill dietary guidelines, grains and dairy are the cheapest recommendations to meet while vegetable and protein are the most expensive to meet, the researchers wrote. Fruit falls somewhere in the middle.
It costs more money to meet the fruit and vegetable guidelines for a healthy diet because nutrition guidelines call for consuming such a large amount of fruit and vegetables, not because they are more expensive than other foods.
Earlier studies have found that people with limited incomes don’t spend more on fruits and vegetables as their incomes rise, suggesting that tastes and cultural food preferences play a significant role in food choices.