The August 2011 issue of Health Affairs included a study leaving Americans wondering if they can afford to eat healthy. Produce Marketing Association (PMA) sheds some light on the issue and shares research pointing to fresh fruits and vegetables as a key to eating healthy on a budget.
The article “Following Federal Guidelines to Increase Nutrient Consumption May Lead to Higher Food Costs for Consumers” summarizes research on the cost of increasing certain dietary nutrients for Americans, and notes that to reach the recommended levels; consumers will have to pay more for their food.
Produce Marketing Association’s research, The Cost of the Recommended Daily Servings of Fresh Produce, shows that fruits and vegetables – now widely recognized as needing to make up half the plate for Americans – are available at a very reasonable cost. PMA’s research looks specifically at the cost of nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day (based on U.S. dietary guidance and health professionals’ advice) – both the average price ($2.18) and the bargain-hunter’s price (88 cents), making fresh produce the affordable, natural “value meal.”
“Consumers buy food, not nutrients,” says Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for PMA. “Even the report noted that ‘many foods, notably vegetables and fruits, contain more than one of the recommended nutrients.’ So when you buy fruits and vegetables, you’re getting a tasty and nutritious bargain. Our research shows that consumers can get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables affordably.”
So what’s a consumer to do? Means shares the following five-point consumer checklist for affordable produce:
- Shop the sales! Nearly one-third of produce items are on sale at your store right now.
- Use produce as a meal-extender. Salads, soups, and stews allow you to create tasty, nutritious meals that cut back on more expensive items such as meats.
- Buy what you need; it’s not a bargain if you buy it but don’t get to eat it. Some items, like apples, oranges, and potatoes, are stock-up items that will last for a while at home. Others, like berries or mushrooms, should be eaten within a few days.
- Know your serving sizes. A serving of fresh produce is one-half cup (one cup for leafy greens). So a large banana or a grapefruit may be two servings. That means the price you’re paying is for two, not one.
- Share. If you see a bargain for a larger pack at the store or warehouse club, buy it and share with friends or neighbors.
“We’re pleased to see continued interest in improving Americans’ diets," Means says. "Consumers buy food, not nutrients, and it’s important to translate this information into consumer-friendly terms."
The recent release of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends increased consumption of fruits and vegetables to nine servings or 4.5 cups a day. This is also illustrated by the MyPlate program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that advises making ‘half the plate’ fruits and vegetables.