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The Cost of Low-Fat Eating

March 26, 1992|CAROLE SUGARMAN

Does it cost more to eat a low-fat diet? Two nutritionists decided to find out.

Suzanne McNutt, senior research nutritionist at the George Washington University Lipid Research Clinic in Washington, D.C., compared the cost of a week of groceries for two families, each with two grade-school children. One family ate a 10%-fat vegetarian diet; the other ate a typical 37%-fat American diet.

Using prices from a local supermarket, McNutt calculated that the vegetarian family would spend $40 a week--almost $2,100 a year--less than the family on a standard fat diet.

While the low-fat vegetarian diet is no doubt too drastic for most Americans, McNutt's results do show that eating a lot of fruits and vegetables is not necessarily more costly than eating a lot of bologna on white.

It also reaffirms the fact that beans and grains, used as main courses, are considerably less expensive than beef, chicken and fish. At the very least, McNutt concluded that cost may too often be used as an excuse for avoiding a low-fat diet.

Taking another approach, dietitian Liz Crockett has reached a different conclusion. For her doctoral dissertation at Syracuse University, Crockett is investigating whether following guidelines to moderate fat, fiber and sugar is more expensive than eating a typical American diet.

Her study, more in line with current dietary recommendations than McNutt's, compared a week's worth of groceries for an adult woman on a 37%-fat diet to one following a 30%-fat diet.

The comparison diet contained more fruits and vegetables, unsweetened canned fruits in place of those packed in heavy syrup, lower-fat milk, cheeses and meats and more whole grains. Prices were checked from 88 stores in three New York counties.

Her results? The woman on the healthier diet would spend about 5% more--"not a huge amount," Crockett said--on her weekly groceries.

"The study doesn't definitely say that when you eat healthier, it's more expensive," Crockett said. What it does show, she added, "is that healthy eating is not automatically less expensive."

The 10%-fat diet for the same family of four totals $112 per week, or $5,824 per year.

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