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Best Nutrition Bang for Your Buck

When measured on a cost per serving, cost per weight, or cost per nutrition basis, fruits and vegetables beat out meat and junk food:

Most Americans don’t even meet the watered down Federal dietary recommendations. Some have suggested this is because healthy foods are more expensive, but is that true? It depends on how you measure the price.

For over a century the value of food has been measured cost per calorie. If you were a brickmaker in Massachusetts in 1894, you may have needed more than 8000 calories a day. The emphasis was therefore on cheap calories. So while beans and sugar both cost the same back then, 5 cents a pound, table sugar beat out beans for fuel value.

Of course food offers much more than just calories, but they can be excused for their ignorance, since vitamins and minerals hadn’t even been discovered yet. Even to this day, though, when the cost of foods are related to their nutritive value, the value they’re talking about is cheap calories. When you rank foods like that, then indeed junk food and meat is cheaper per calorie than fruits and vegetables, but that doesn’t take serving size into account. If you measure foods in cost per serving or cost per pound fruits and vegetables are actually cheaper (see the graphs in the above video). For all metrics except the price of food calories, the USDA researchers found that healthy foods cost less than less healthy foods.

Most importantly, though, which is going to have the most nutrition? In the graphs in the above video I show the average nutrient density of fruits, vegetables, refined grains, meats, milk, and empty calorie foods. Turns out that while junk food may be 4 times cheaper than vegetables, there’s 20 times less nutrition. For meat, we’d be spending 3 times more to get 16 times less.

Conclusion: “Educational messages focusing on a complete diet should consider the role of food costs and provide specific recommendations for increasing nutrient-dense foods by replacing some of the meat with lower-cost nutrient-dense foods…Modifying traditional mixed dishes to incorporate more beans/legumes and less meat may be a cost-effective way to improve diet quality.” That’s good advice for everyone, not just low-income populations.

In the above video I also show what 100 calories of cheese, candy, chicken, chips, bread, oil, fruits or vegetables looks like.  Which hundred calories do you think would fill you up more? I explore the calorie density of other foods in my video Diet vs. Exercise for Weight Loss.

I have some other videos along the same vein:

Hasn’t the nutrition of our crops declined over the decades though? Or is that just supplement manufacturer propaganda? Find out in my video Crop Nutrient Decline. And if you want to strive to maximize the nutrient density of your diet, check out Calculate Your Healthy Eating Score.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos here and watch my full 2012-2013 year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Related:
Big Food Wants Final Say Over Health Reports
Prunes, Metamucil, or a Plant-Based Diet?
Raisins vs. Energy Gels for Athletic Performance

Read more: Health, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Videos, , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

55 comments

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9:43PM PDT on Jul 11, 2013

Interesting-thanks

3:55PM PDT on Jul 11, 2013

Thanks for the info!

3:51PM PDT on Jul 11, 2013

Interesting. Thanks.

11:09AM PDT on Jul 10, 2013

Thanks

8:00PM PDT on Jul 7, 2013

interesting

4:58AM PDT on Jul 6, 2013

Thanks

10:19AM PDT on Jul 5, 2013

Thank you Dr. Michael Greger, for Sharing this!

7:49AM PDT on Jul 4, 2013

Thanks for sharing - the whole world needs to go vegetarian or vegan, it'll make sense in every aspect!

7:02AM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

thank you

2:15PM PDT on Jul 1, 2013

Nutritional density is so important to consider.

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