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June 27th, 2012

Healthy foods: more affordable than you think



By Kevin Concannon

Fresh fruits and vegetables? Key elements of a healthy diet, for sure. But many people of modest means, including those served by USDA’s nutrition assistance programs, wonder if they can afford to buy healthy foods that can be found in summer abundance at America’s farmers’ markets.

As USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, I find that perception a source of concern because we work hard to encourage all Americans to make healthy food choices - particularly those participating in USDA’s nutrition assistance programs, from kids in school to the more than 46 million people participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Well, I’m pleased to say that a recent study by USDA’s Economic Research Service, “Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price,” found that healthy food choices, like fresh fruits and vegetables, may be more affordable than people think.

They found that while it is easy to buy “cheap” calories by using less-healthy foods, there are many healthy food choices that cost no more per portion than less nutritious foods. Measured by the cost per portion, or per pound, grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy foods are actually less expensive.

If you haven’t been to one of the nearly 7,200 farmers’ markets across the country, I encourage you to do so. Farmers’ markets offer shoppers a wonderful place to find the fresh fruits and vegetables and other local produce so important to a healthy diet.

USDA strongly supports farmers’ markets. And the Food and Nutrition Service, which I oversee, has farmers’ market programs for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants, for seniors, and for WIC mothers to help provide healthy food for them and their children.

Farmers markets are the ultimate win-win situation. They are a win for customers because the consumer can easily buy the freshest produce available. They are also a win for producers because they are a convenient local market to sell their products to those seeking a healthier lifestyle.
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