- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A government study found that though many people say cost prevents them from eating more produce, consumers can get the recommended three servings of fruits and four servings of vegetables daily for just 64 cents.

That would account for 12 percent of daily food spending per person, which averaged $5.50 in 1999.

“That’s a lot of good nutrition for only 64 cents, only 225 calories and less than 1 gram of fat,” said the study by the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA). “That leaves 88 percent of their food dollar left for the other three food groups.”

The study, which is based on information collected by A.C. Nielsen from 7,195 homes in 1999, looked at how consumers spent nearly $223 billion at supermarkets, other retail stores and farmers markets. The department does not believe prices have changed substantially since the data were gathered.

More than three-quarters of the fruits and vegetables included in the study cost less than 50 cents a serving. “That’s 127 different ways to eat a serving of fruits and vegetables for less than the price of a 3-ounce candy bar,” the study says.

Parke Wilde, a food economist at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, said the research helps dispel the myth that healthy eating has to be expensive.

“It tells you that while economics may be part of the reason for unhealthy diets, it can’t be the only reason,” he said. “If you’re looking for fairly inexpensive choices for fruits and vegetables, it’s possible to buy these on a budget.”

Only 7 percent of people eat the daily number of fruit and vegetables servings suggested by the federal Food Guide Pyramid, according to a 2002 NPD Group study for the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

Many researchers say poor and rural neighborhoods often lack access to supermarkets, forcing residents to rely on small shops, where selection is poor and prices are high.

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