Is the High Cost of Healthy Food Really the Reason for Poor Nutrition?

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The New York Times‘ Economix blog has an interesting post on new research on the “cost per calorie” of different foods and drinks.

The trend is disturbing: Fresh fruits and vegetables have soared in price per calorie over the past 30 years while soda has fallen dramatically in price. Economix notes:

It’s a good illustration of one of the problems with the American diet: unhealthy food is often a lot cheaper than healthy food. … One dollar’s worth of Coke has 447 calories, while $1 of iceberg lettuce has just 16.5. To look at it another way, you would have to spend about $5 to buy 2,000 calories at McDonald’s, $19 to buy 2,000 calories worth of canned tuna and $60 to buy 2,000 calories worth of lettuce.

I eat a lot salad; but I don’t know of anyone who looks to lettuce as a major source of calories. Experts say you’re supposed to get something like four cups of vegetables per day. One cup of shredded lettuce contains six calories. Eating 2,000 calories worth of lettuce per day would mean eating 333 cups of chopped lettuce, which cannot possibly be healthy.

Since most calories are supposed to come from grains anyway, a better comparison is brown rice versus white rice. White rice costs about 2.1 cents per serving, and brown rice costs about 10 cents per serving. That’s a huge percentage difference; but you would have to eat a lot of rice for the difference to amount to more than the price of a Snickers bar per week.

There are a number of reasons for the poor nutritional habits of most people. But is the soaring cost of a serving of lettuce what’s making people fat? I somehow doubt it.