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Sep 17, 2013

Does It Cost More to Eat Healthy?

Increased food costs discourage adults from adhering to blood pressure-lowering diet, according to a recent study.

One of the best ways to improve blood pressure is through the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet—an eating plan that limits bad fats, cholesterol and salt intake while encouraging consumption of nutrition-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables. So why is it that few Americans adhere to this potentially life-saving diet? According to researchers, cost may prevent many people from improving their diet for a healthier heart.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association used information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), one of the largest sources of health and nutrition data, to see how well Americans adhered to the DASH diet between 2001 and 2002. Among 4,744 adults included in this study, researchers found that most Americans scored very poorly when it came to eating DASH-friendly foods. On a scale of 8-40 (8 being a very poor diet and 40 being the healthiest diet), participants achieved an average score of 20.7. This means that according to DASH diet guidelines, most participants indulged in too many “bad” foods (red and processed meats, foods high in salt, or foods with added sugar) and didn’t choose enough “good” foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, whole grains and low-fat dairy). And researchers think they know why.

Overall, investigators found that adults with the healthiest diets spent 19% more on food than participants with the worst diets, and this cost difference was even greater among individual races.  White adults with the healthiest diets spent 21% more and black adults with the healthiest diets spent 34% more on foods compared to their counterparts with unhealthy diets. The only exception was that spending was similar among Mexican-Americans and Hispanics, with only a 6% difference in spending between those eating healthy vs. unhealthy.

Although it’s possible that estimations of food cost among study participants were not completely accurate, findings present an important challenge: eliminating barriers that prevent many Americans from improving their diets. With all the education in the world, we can’t change people’s behavior if they don’t have appropriate access to healthy foods. Experts hope that study findings propel efforts to eliminate barriers like cost and availability, so that people are not only encouraged to eat healthy but have the means to make this important change for themselves and their families.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is the DASH diet?
  • DASH is an eating plan that can help lower your blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH eating plan focuses on foods that are low in bad fats, sugar and salt, but high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium. This includes fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, and beans. These foods can help lower blood pressure and reduce risk of heart disease.
  • How does high sodium intake increase risk for heart disease?
  • High sodium levels increase blood pressure by stiffening the walls of the arteries, making the heart work harder to pump blood throughout the body. If a diet is consistently high in sodium, these effects can lead to hypertension, a significant risk factor for heart disease. The DASH diet provides guidance for reducing your sodium intake.

Featured Video

Hypertension is another way to say "high blood pressure." A patient has hypertension if their readings are above 140 over 90. With medication, the right diet, and a few lifestyle changes, however, hypertension can be managed.

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