Durham nutritionists: Eating healthy doesn’t have to empty your wallet

Mar. 07, 2013 @ 06:26 PM

Look around a grocery store and it’s easy to see why people assume that eating healthy is expensive.  A bag of candy may cost $1 while a bag of apples may cost $4.  

According to a recent USDA study, “Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive?  It Depends on How you Measure the Price,” it’s a misperception that less healthy options are cheaper than eating a well-balanced meal.

As part of National Nutrition Month, the staff of the Durham County Department of Public Health nutrition division is eager to show that healthy eating does not have to take a big bite of your wallet.

Study authors Andrea Carlson and Elizabeth Frazão from the USDA’s Economic Research Service report that which is cheaper depends how you measure the price. 

“In the past, we typically measured the price of groceries by price-per-calorie,” said Kelly Warnock, nutrition communications and health promotion program manager at the Durham department.  “When looking at prices this way, lower-calorie items like apples do end up being more expensive than less-healthy, high-sugar, high-fat foods like candy.  However, if we look at price per weight or price per portion size, it turns out that often, vegetables, fruits, dairy and grain foods are a bargain.”

That means bananas, carrots, lettuce and pinto beans are all less expensive per portion than french fries, soft drinks, ice cream or ground beef.

How is this so?  Using the apple versus candy example, you may get one or two servings out of a bag of candy but will likely get 10 or 12 from a bag of apples.

Warnock is excited about this new research.  “Many people do not even consider eating healthier because of the misperception that it costs too much,” she said.  “This gives grounds to what we teach every day.  With a little planning, it is possible to eat healthy on a tight budget.” 

What are Durham health officials doing to spread this message? 

“Our team of 16 registered dietitians and licensed nutritionists are here to help residents learn how to eat healthy every day,” said Warnock.  “We are even available for community workshops and participate in health fairs and other events.  If you have a need, call us and we will try to fill it.”

The Nutrition Division also has programs to reach the diverse educational and medical needs of Durham County residents, including:

-- A nutrition clinic at the Public Health Department where residents can talk one-on-one with a registered dietitian and create their own tailored plan.

-- Durham’s Innovative Nutrition Education (DINE) program, which teaches thousands of children every year in the Durham Public Schools about how to make healthy decisions.  Supported by federal and Durham County money, the school- and community-based nutrition education and behavior change program targets at-risk families and children who are eligible for benefits.  The program provides nutrition education in elementary schools, middle schools, and community organizations throughout Durham County.

-- Taking Care with Diabetes, a diabetes self-management education program led by a certified instructor.  The program includes two individual counseling appointments and four group workshops. This program requires a doctor’s referral and is available for individuals diagnosed with diabetes.

For more information about National Nutrition Month or nutrition and health promotion programs at the Durham County Department of Public Health, contact Warnock at kwarnock@dconc.gov or by calling 919-560-7857.    

To access the full study, visit http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economic-information-bulletin/eib96.aspx