Extension News

Healthy Eating Doesn’t Always Mean Expensive

Live Healthy Iowa


AMES, Iowa – Americans are spending far less of their paychecks on food these days. Related to current economic woes, consumer spending on food fell 3.7 percent in the final quarter of 2008 compared to the third quarter. This is the steepest decline in the 62 years since this type of information has been collected.

But the reduced spending doesn’t necessarily mean that consumers are cutting back on good nutrition, according to Ruth Litchfield, an Iowa State University Extension nutrition specialist.

Some of the largest changes occurred in the areas of poultry (-3.2 percent), beef and veal (-3.4 percent), cereals (-4.3 percent), sugar and sweets (-5.1 percent) and alcoholic beverages (-10.9 percent).

“Actually, some of the changes in dietary habits during tough economic times can improve our overall diet, such as the decreases in sugar and sweets and alcoholic beverages. The decrease in cereals might be related to consumer disgust with down-sized packages without down-sized prices,” Litchfield said.

“It is a common misconception that we have to sacrifice good nutrition when trying to watch a food budget,” the ISU Extension nutrition specialist continued. “Yet, when economic times were good, consumers typically did not use their additional discretionary income to buy more nutrient dense food. Instead, they purchased nutrient poor foods — from dinners at gourmet restaurants to gourmet coffees, lattes and cappuccinos — at phenomenal rates.”

Iowans who are working on a healthier, but not costly, diet — because of the economy, their New Year’s resolutions or Live Healthy Iowa — shouldn’t be fooled by the following common misconceptions about the cost of healthy eating, Litchfield said.

  • Misconception: If I am trying to eat healthy, I need to eat organic to get more nutrition.
    Fact: While organic foods do have some benefits, namely environmentally friendliness, they are not universally nutritionally superior, Litchfield said. Many factors influence the nutrient value of food including the soil, growing conditions, cultivar of the product, degree of maturity at harvest, handling after harvest and time spent in transport and storage. Produce grown locally is more likely to be nutritionally superior than organic that has been transported thousands of miles. Because of production methods, organic foods tend to be more expensive.  
  • Misconception: If I am trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, I really need to eat fresh produce.
    Fact: Eighty percent of Iowans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, whether fresh, frozen or canned, Litchfield noted. “The primary message is to eat more fruits and vegetables, period. If the fruit or vegetable is in season, eat the fresh version, when it is most cost effective. But remember, the nutritional value of frozen fruits and vegetables is a close second to fresh, and in some cases can be nutritionally superior to fresh that is not at its prime in season. Canned fruits and vegetables come in third, due to the added sugar and sodium.”
  • Misconception: Generic or store brand foods do not have the nutritional value of name brand foods.
    Fact: Generic and store brand foods have similar nutritional value to name brand foods, and in many cases are made on the same production line, Litchfield said. “Do a blind taste test to see if your family really can tell the difference. You can save money, particularly in grains — bread, cereals and crackers — by using the generic or store brand.”
  • Misconception: I’m trying to eat more whole grains, but it is expensive.
    Fact: Most consumers automatically think whole wheat bread when they consider increasing their whole grains; however, there are many other economical sources of whole grains, Litchfield said. “Quick cooking oatmeal, brown rice and cornmeal are convenient whole grains many consumers don’t think about. Try mixing one-half whole wheat flour and one-half all-purpose flour in your flour bin. Finally, if you consider visiting the local bakery outlet, whole wheat breads can be one-half to one-third the grocery store price.”

For more money saving tips at the grocery store visit, ISU Extension’s Spend Smart Eat Smart website, www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/ and Live Healthy Iowa http://www.livehealthyiowa.org/.


Contacts :

Ruth Litchfield, Food Science and Human Nutrition, (515) 294-9484, litch@iastate.edu

Nicole Bruce, Coordinator of Live Healthy Iowa, (888) 777-8881, nicole@livehealthyamerica.org  

Tim Lane, Iowa Department of Public Health, (515) 281-7833, tlane@idph.state.ia.us

Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, lsternwe@iastate.edu