While everyone is aware that a healthy diet is critical for preventing and managing type 2 diabetes, no one has factored in the cost of what is a ‘healthy’ diet.
In a study of over 25,000 adults with detailed information about their eating habits, people with a greater diversity of foods in their diet showed a 30% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes over a ten-year period. Unfortunately, the diets with more variety were 18% more expensive than the less-varied ones.
Although dietary guidelines have for a long time recommended eating a variety of foods, scientists are not sure exactly what it is about eating a varied diet that might promote health. There has been research on how the variety of foods relate to the nutritional quality of a person’s diet, but little is known about whether the diversity of the diet is related to risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Research shows that healthy eating is expensive. The price gap between more and less healthy foods is growing and higher food costs may prevent people from eating a healthier diet, particularly those on low incomes. But what about a more varied diet? Is that more expensive, too?
Most epidemiological studies don’t have information about consumer food costs, but this study did because it linked the dietary data to retail food prices. It was found that diets containing all five food groups were on average 18% more costly than diets containing three food groups or fewer. And diets with more variety within each of the five food groups were more costly than diets that contained less variety within each food group.
So, while diverse diets may help prevent chronic diseases, health policymakers will need to acknowledge that the adoption of more varied diets, particularly those containing the most variety of vegetables and fruits, may be substantially more costly and may worsen existing socioeconomic inequalities in diet.