Does a Cancer-Protective Diet Cost More?

Last week, a lot of headlines featured news about an analysis that found eating the healthiest of diets costs more per day – about $1.50 more – than the least healthy diet.

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The analysis of research was published in BMJ Open and it’s important information for cancer prevention. Eating a diet with plenty of fiber, fruits, vegetables and other healthful foods plays a role in cancer risk and weight. A healthy diet and a healthy weight could prevent approximately 120,000 US cancers each year.

Doing the math, eating the healthiest diets on average cost about $550 more a year than the least healthy. That’s a barrier for many, as the authors point out.

But cancer – along with the other chronic diseases related to an unhealthy diet – has an expensive toll. Globally, cancer costs more than any other disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS.

As one of the authors said in a press release: “this price difference is very small in comparison to the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases, which would be dramatically reduced by healthy diets.”

For the analysis, researchers analyzed 27 relevant studies from 10 high-income countries, including the United States, New Zealand and Spain. They looked at different eating patterns and categories of food, then calculated the costs both per day and for every 200 calories.

On average, people who followed healthier diets spent about $1.50 more a day, whether based on serving size or price per calorie. Dietary patterns included the Mediterranean, diets filled with fruits and vegetables, and the government dietary recommendations (the Healthy Eating Index).

In general, the healthier diets were filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and nuts.

Healthier food categories were also slightly more for a couple of the six food categories the authors used.

  • -meats/proteins – healthier choices cost 29 cents more per serving than the least healthy, with the largest price difference found in chicken and the smallest for peanut butter
  • grains — those healthy whole grains and other options only cost 3 cents more a serving
  • dairy — paying less than half a penny for the less healthy option
  • snacks/sweets: The healthier option cost 12 cents more per serving
  • fats/oils – you’re paying two cents more for the healthiest types
  • soda/juice — water or sugary soda, no difference (but only two studies looked at this)

Like other analyses of this type, there are a few caveats to the findings. For example, definitions of healthfulness varied for each study, which many not apply to everyone. For chicken, healthfulness was skinless and boneless.

If healthy foods do cost more, policy and other incentives may help reduce these costs, the authors write. And there are numerous strategies and techniques that can help you eat cancer-protective diet for less money. We’ve written about some ideas here and will continue to offer new budget-eating tips.

If you have some, please share.

The analysis was funded by the Harvard School of Public Health; and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Cardiovascular Epidemiology; and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.


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