Affordable Nutrition

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It’s a common refrain among the public: healthful food costs more. However, this isn’t necessarily true, especially if you consider the cost per nutrient. Sure, an apple that costs about a dollar is more expensive than a serving of potato chips ($0.23) or a serving of peanut butter cheese sandwich crackers ($0.31). But when we look at the nutrients in an apple compared to the nutrients in the chips or crackers, the apple is the hands-down winner. Purchasing calories is cheap because calorie-dense, low-nutrient foods are relatively inexpensive. But, when looking at nutrient density, fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods are absolute winners.

Adam Drewnowski PhD, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, told a group of registered dietitians during a webinar in January 2012 that fruits and vegetables contribute 12% of the energy in our diets, but way more of the nutrients. They offer:

  • More than 70% of vitamin C
  • About 30% of fiber
  • More than 25% of potassium
  • More than 60% of beta-carotene
  • More than 50% of our lutein + zeaxanthin

These are important points we can make when helping our patients understand the true cost of food. In an attempt to rank fruits and vegetables for affordability and nutrient density, Drewnowski developed an affordability metric using seven nutrients: vitamins C and A, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Here are the results...

Best Nutrient Bargains: Fresh Fruit
Naval oranges, kiwi, bananas, tangerines, watermelon, grapefruit, mangoes, cantaloupe, pears, honeydew, strawberries, plums, apples, pineapple, and papaya.

Best Nutrient Bargains: Fresh Vegetables
Sweet potatoes, carrots, white potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, romaine lettuce, turnip greens, celery, cauliflower, kale, onions, spinach, mustard greens, iceberg lettuce, and Brussels sprouts. Finally, let’s not forget to encourage our clients to consider canned and frozen fruits and vegetables as affordable, convenient, and nutritious options.

All Fruits and Vegetables Really Do Fit on MyPlate. Webinar January 11, 2012, Presented to School Nutrition Services DPG of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE

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