Food costs may influence your diet and health

Food costs may influence your diet and health

Do we need to pay more to eat healthy food?

Frontier Voice of Nutrition Remarks (December 26, 2012)

Nalin Siriwardhana, Ph.D., interviewed Dr. Anju Aggarwal, Ph.D., a pioneer scientist with training in nutritional epidemiology.

Is it true that healthy foods are always expensive? Can we be wise and pick healthy foods at a reasonable cost? What are the factors that ultimately decide the cost of healthy foods? These are some of the FAQs when it comes to healthy foods and prices. Reasonable and reliable answers can be found only after in depth systematic analyses based on nutritional and economical parameters. A recent scientific publication from Center for Public Health Nutrition, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington has answered several nutrient and cost related questions. Nutrition Remarks interviewed Dr. Aggarwal, the leading author of the article and expert in nutritional epidemiology, obesity and chronic diseases.

Question from Nutrition Remarks: Why healthy foods are expensive in terms of nutrient content?

Answer from Dr. Aggarwal: In this context, I define healthy foods as those foods which provide you with nutrients without too many empty calories. In other words, healthy foods are nutrient dense and preferably energy poor foods, which help to achieve the daily nutrient requirements within the calorie needs.

Now what makes a given food cheap or expensive? It all depends on what it contains. Added sugars and fats make food energy dense but relatively cheap. Therefore, processed foods rich in added sugars and fats are not healthy but cheap. By contrast, fruits and vegetables are relatively higher in water and nutrient content but lower in added sugars and fats, which make them healthy but expensive.

Question: According to your study, what are the nutrients that cost more and why are they important?

a) The present study has shown that, based on the dietary patterns of our sample, intake all beneficial nutrients (vitamins and minerals) cost more as compared to food components-to-limit (fats and added sugars).

b) Among beneficial nutrients, some nutrients are relatively more expensive than the other depending on the food source. For example: potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, beta carotene obtained from fruits and vegetables are much more expensive than calcium and vitamin D that are obtained from dairy products and fortified foods.

c) All nutrients are important in one’s diet ranging from fats to vitamins and minerals. However, 2010 Dietary Guidelines have identified four nutrients as nutrients of concern – potassium, fiber, vitamin D and calcium.

d) In the present sample – nutrients like potassium and fiber came from expensive sources whereas calcium and vitamin D came from cheaper sources.

It should be noted that the observed relation between diet costs and dietary intakes are based on dietary patterns followed by Americans. Eating healthy need not cost more if consumers are willing to change their dietary habits and are wise enough to choose healthier less expensive options.

Question: What are the nutrients in less expensive food and how they affect health in short and long term basis?

Answer: You can get all the nutrients in less expensive forms. However, the general rule is that foods with higher proportion of added sugars and fats (such as fried foods, grain based desserts, soft drinks, meats) are less expensive. Higher consumption of such foods, over short term, lead to higher calorie intakes without meeting daily nutrient requirements. Over long term, this may increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes and put you at a risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Additionally, if you are not able to meet your daily nutrient requirements, it may lead to various nutritional deficiencies as well over time.

Question: Whatchronic diseases are common for those who consume less expensive food?
There are no studies, to my knowledge, that have directly linked diet costs with health outcomes. However, what we already know from existing cross sectional studies is that:

a) Socioeconomic status (SES) is positively associated with diet cost and diet quality,

b) diet cost is positively associated with diet quality, and

c) diet quality is positively associated with health outcomes.

Findings from all these studies combined imply that lower SES tends to consume less expensive diets which tend to be lower in diet quality. Those with poor diet quality are in turn associated with higher risk of various chronic diseases, ranging from metabolic syndrome to cardiovascular diseases to nutritional deficiencies.

Question: How you suggest improving the food quality in low SES groups?

Answer: That is a big question that everyone is trying to find an answer to! We need to take a multi-factorial approaches such as:

a) Promote nutrition education to motivate and help consumers make healthier food choices and shop wisely: Existing studies have shown that, based on current dietary patterns in the US, healthier diets do cost more. However, eating healthy need not be expensive as long as people know what to buy and are willing to make healthier food choices. Although lower SES groups may not be able to accommodate most expensive forms of fruits and vegetables in their diet; however, there are relatively cheaper sources of the same which can very well be adopted in the diet.

b) Dietary Guidelines need to take diet cost into account: Current dietary guidelines (DGAC 2010) promote intake of all the nutrients, particularly the four nutrients of concern – potassium, fiber, calcium and vitamin D. However, based on current dietary patterns of Americans, following dietary guidelines is likely to entail higher diet costs for the consumers. DGAC needs to identify and promote inexpensive forms of variousnutrients, to make these guidelines practical and feasible for the consumers.

c) Ensuring physical access to healthy foods: Recent research has proposed that not all Americans have physical access to supermarkets or healthy foods, which may be one of the reasons for their poor diet quality. Thus, improving access to supermarkets has become the focus of recent public health policy and initiatives. While this may be one of the pre-requisites to improve diets of the population; it may not be the solution until the above strategies are adopted simultaneously.

Question: Are there any regional or cultural differences that further worsen food quality in low SES groups?

Answer: I am sure there is a huge regional and cultural variation. It would be very interesting to see how the observed associations of diet cost, diet quality and health among lower SES groups in developed countries differ from developing countries. My long term goal is to extend out my current research to developing countries.

Question: Whatare the important information that we did not discuss here?

Answer: We have already talked about the potential role of diet costs in influencing diets and health, particularly among lower socioeconomic groups. However, I would like to re-emphasize that one’s decision about what to buy, where to buy and what to eat is influenced by interplay of many other factors such as taste, convenience, physical access to food, culture and food preferences, and food-related attitudes. Further research is needed to fully understand the role of these factors across socioeconomic groups in determining dietary intakes and health.

This news release was a follow-up based on the following original scientific article published by Dr. Aggarwal.

Aggarwal et al Nutrient Intakes Linked to Better Health Outcomes Are Associated with Higher Diet Costs in the US PLOS one -May 25, 2012

Additional general background information was acquired from PubMed and NIH sources.

Dr. Aggarwal would like to acknowledge that the funding was provided by National Institute of Health – NIDDK R01DK076608. She would also like to acknowledge the Principal Investigator of the study, Dr. Adam Drewnowski. He is the Director of Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington.

Dr. Anju Aggarwal, Ph.D., Dr. Aggarwal’s research interests are in the area of nutritional epidemiology, obesity and chronic diseases. In particular, she is interested in better understanding of the pathways that may explain socioeconomic disparities in diets and health. Her current research is focusing on examining the role of four A’s – access to food environment, availability, affordability and attitudes in determining diet quality and obesity across socioeconomic strata. She is also interested in examining culture-based beliefs and behaviors in relation to diets and health, both in developed and developing countries.

More about Dr. Aggarwal

Written by NalinSiriwardhana, PhD.

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Copyright © 2012 Nutrition Remarks. All rights reserved

Omega 3-6 balance food score

Omega 3-6 balance food score

An easy way to understand your body’s omega 3 status.

Frontier Voice of Nutrition Remarks (Aug. 07, 2012) <<Print PDF>>

Nalin Siriwardhana, Ph.D., interviewed Dr. Bill Lands Ph.D., a pioneer scientist expertise in nutrition and essential fatty acids.


Thanks to Omega 3-6 balance food score, it is now easy to select foods that have healthy outcomes and avoid less healthy foods. The Omega 3-6 balance food score tells us the relative contents of omega 3 and omega-6 fats in terms that relate to their likely impact on our health. A positive Omega 3-6 balance food score indicates that the particular food will increase the proportions of omega-3 fatty acids in our cells. The Omega 3-6 balance food scores of more than 5,000 food items can be found in

A typical American diet which has higher omega 6 fats compared to omega 3 fats is estimated to have an average score near negative 6, whereas a healthy fish meal can have a score ranging from positive 30 to 70.

Nutrition Remarks interviewed Dr. Bill Lands, Ph.D., who introduced Omega 3-6 balance food score, and a simplified version of the conversation is given below:

Question from Nutrition Remarks: What is the Omega 3-6 balance food score?

Answer from Dr. Lands: It is a single value that indicates the estimated impact of a food on the relative proportions of omega 3-6 fats in our cells. Higher positive values indicate higher proportions of omega 3 in cells.

Question: Why is the Omega 3-6 balance food score important?

Answer: It is a simple and easy to use tool to help select healthy food choices in terms of fat composition.

Question: How do we use this information in daily life?

Answer: All you have to do is eat foods with more positive values and avoid foods with more negative values. People can “NIX the 6 and EAT the 3”. The Omega 3-6 balance food score of more than 5,000 food items can be found in , and you can download your own mobile “app” from

Question: How can dietitians, nutritionists and other health professionals use this score to recommend healthy meal combinations?

Answer: We clearly know that higher omega 3 fat content in cells can lead to various health benefits. Specifically, omega 3 fats reduce inflammation associated with many health complications including cardio vascular diseases (CVD), diabetes, arthritis and some form of cancer. On the other hand, omega 6 fats can increase immune-inflammatory events known to increase the risk for variety of diseases. Therefore, the simplified Omega 3-6 balance food score allows health professionals to use strong scientific evidence as they decide on appropriate meal combinations.

Question: What are the disadvantages and limitations of this score system?

Answer: This score system is developed to indicate only the relative proportions omega 3 and 6 fats which are major mediators of our physiology. The score does not indicate any measurements about proteins, carbohydrates and other food components. Therefore, it is important to have a clear idea about the score system first before use it. It cannot generalize to all possible factors.

Question: Is there any other important information that you want to discuss in brief?

Answer: Yes, an interested user can download the pdf file that contains Omega 3-6 balance food score of more than 5000 foods. The link is

This news release was based on the original scientific articles published by Dr. Lands. Additional general background information was acquired from PubMed and NIH sources.

Dr. Bill Lands, Ph.D., was Professor of Biochemistry at U. Michigan (1955-80) and U. Illinois (1980-91) Medical Schools. He wrote >260 papers plus Fish, Omega-3 and Human Health, 2nd Edition. One of the world’s 1000 most cited scientists in 1965-78, his awards include: 1985 Pfizer Biomedical Research, 1997 AOCS-Supelco Lipid Research, 2006 ISSFAL Leaf Lifetime Achievement, 2010 AOCS Holman Lifetime Achievement plus being a Fellow of AAAS, ASN and SFRBM. He served at NIAAA/NIH (1990-2002). Now, retired, he serves on the board of directors of Omega Protein, Inc.

More about Dr. Land’s

Written by NalinSiriwardhana, PhD.

Copyright © 2012 Nutrition Remarks. All rights reserved