The Journal of Nutrition
Nutrient-Dense Food Groups Have High Energy
Costs: An Econometric Approach
to Nutrient Proﬁling
* Michel Darmon,
and Adam Drewnowski
INSERM, U476 ‘‘Nutrition Humaine et Lipides’’, Marseille, F-13385 France;
INRA, UMR1260, Marseille, F-13385 France;
e Aix-Marseille 2, Faculte
decine, IPHM, Marseille, F-13385 France;
University of Bordeaux-2, Biochemistry and
Molecular Biology Laboratory, 33076 Bordeaux, F-33076 France;
Agence Francxaise de Se
Sanitaire des Aliments (AFSSA),
Maisons-Alfort, F-94700 France; and
Nutritional Sciences Program, School of Public Health and Community Medicine,
University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-3410
Consumers wishing to replace some of the foods in their diets with more nutrient-dense options need to be able to identify
such foods on the basis of nutrient proﬁling. The present study used nutrient proﬁling to rank 7 major food groups and 25
subgroups in terms of their contribution to dietary energy, diet quality, and diet cost for 1332 adult participants in the
French National INCA1 Study. Nutrient proﬁles were based on the presence of 23 qualifying nutrients, expressed as the
percentage of nutrient adequacy per 8 MJ, and 3 negative or disqualifying nutrients, expressed as the percentage of the
maximal recommended values for saturated fatty acids, added sugar, and sodium per 1.4 kg. Calculated cost of energy (V/8
MJ) was based on the mean retail price of 619 foods in the nutrient composition database. The meat and the fruit and
vegetables food groups had the highest nutritional quality but were associated with highest energy costs. Sweets and
salted snacks had the lowest nutritional quality but were also one of the least expensive sources of dietary energy.
Starches and grains were unique because they were low in disqualifying nutrients yet provided low-cost dietary energy.
Within each major food group, some subgroups had a higher nutritient-to-price ratio than others. However, the fact that
food groups with the more favorable nutrient proﬁles were also associated with higher energy costs suggests that the
present structure of food prices may be a barrier to the adoption of food-based dietary guidelines, at least by low-income
households. J. Nutr. 137: 1815–1820, 2007.
Food prices and diet costs may be one factor limiting the
adoption of healthier diets, especially by the low-income
consumer. That food prices affect food purchases and food
consumption has been repeatedly shown by studies in economics
(1,2), marketing (3), consumer behavior (4,5), and nutritional
If nutrient-poor diets cost less, then economic factors could
help explain the high prevalence of nutrient deﬁciencies and
nutrition-related diseases, particularly obesity, among the more
disadvantaged populations (7–9). If healthier diets cost more,
then economic barriers may help explain the low consumption
of fruits, vegetables (10,11), and ﬁsh (12) among the lower-
income groups. Diet modeling studies using linear programming
suggest that food budget constraints preferentially orient food
choices toward energy-dense diets that are low in essential
nutrients (13,14). In addition, there is accumulating evidence
that the recommended healthier, balanced, or more prudent diets
are associated with higher costs than are the ‘‘unhealthy’’ diets
(15–17). In particular, the consumption of higher amounts of
fruit and vegetables (18) and essential micronutrients (19) has
been associated with higher diet costs, adjusted for energy.
Conversely, high dietary energy density (amount of energy in
100 g of food) has been associated with lower diet costs (20).
A science-based nutrient proﬁling system, based on the nutri-
tional characteristics of individual foods or food groups, is
currently under consideration by the European Commission
(21). Intended for consumer protection, the system will deter-
mine which foods or categories of foods will be allowed or
disqualiﬁed from certain nutritional or health claims (21). Al-
though diverse nutrient proﬁling schemes are available (22,23),
few have considered the issue of food costs and nutrient-to-price
ratios. The present study tested the hypothesis that the inverse
relationship between nutrient density and energy cost holds not
only between but also within food groups. In both cases, the more
nutrient-dense foods and food categories would be associated
Supported by the French National Research Agency’s 2005–2008 Nutritional
Policies project, the French National Institute for Health Prevention and
Education (INPES), and by the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education,
and Extension Service (CSREES), grant 2004-35215-14441.
Author disclosures: M. Maillot, N. Darmon, M. Darmon, L. Lafay, and A.
Drewnowski, no conﬂicts of interest.
* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: nicole.darmon@
0022-3166/07 $8.00 ª 2007 American Society for Nutrition.
Manuscript received 13 December 2006. Initial review completed 31 January 2007. Revision accepted 11 May 2007.
by guest on June 12, 2013jn.nutrition.orgDownloaded from
with higher costs, whereas the least nutrient-dense foods and
categories would be associated with lower costs. The relationship
between the qualifying (beneﬁcial) and the disqualifying (neg-
ative) nutrients and energy cost was a topic of particular interest
to us. We used an across-the-board nutrient proﬁling system to
estimate the nutritional quality of food groups, based on 23
qualifying nutrients and 3 disqualifying nutrients, saturated
fatty acids (SFA),
added sugars, and sodium. Nutrient proﬁling
of foods has been recently described as a powerful tool to rank
foodstuffs according to their contribution to a balanced diet (22).
Materials and Methods
Food consumption data. The national INCA dietary survey, con-
ducted in 1999 by the French National Agency for Food Safety, provided
the food consumption data used in this study. This survey was based on a
nationally representative sample of 1985 French adults, aged 15–92 y,
who were selected using the quota method of sampling (24). All
participants completed a 7-d food record, which was aided by a
photographic manual of portion sizes. Subjects who under- or over-
reported their energy intakes (284 men and 312 women) according to the
method of Black (25) were removed from the sample. The physical
activity level assumed in the calculation of the threshold was 1.55,
corresponding to seated work with low walking and leisure activity. The
ﬁnal sample of 1332 included 596 men (age range of 15 to 92 y) and 736
women (age range of 15 to 90 y).
Drinking water, diet beverages, tea, and coffee were excluded from
all analyses. The nutritional composition of the remaining 619 foods was
computed from the INCA food composition database (26), the Suvimax
food composition database (27), and other databases (28–30) including
the USDA food composition data for zinc, copper, iodine, and selenium
(31). The French mean national 1997 retail prices, mainly obtained from
marketing research (SECODIP), were also added to the analysis. All
prices were adjusted for preparation and waste using conversion factors.
Food groups. The foods were aggregated into 7 major food groups and
25 food subgroups (Table 1) according to the classiﬁcation system used
to develop the French food-based dietary guidelines (32). The starches
and grains group included grains, starchy vegetables, dry beans, and
peas. The fruit subgroup included fruit juice and other processed fruits;
the vegetables subgroup included frozen and canned vegetables as well as
soups. The sweets subgroup included sweets, chocolate, pastries,
cookies, ice-creams, and desserts; the salted subgroup included chips,
savory snacks, and salted nuts. The mixed dishes subgroup included
foods like couscous-based dishes, paella, and cassoulet (french equiva-
lent of a bean dish with meat); and a snacks subgroup included foods like
pizzas, quiches, and sandwiches.
Contribution of food groups to diet energy and diet cost. Daily
energy intakes (in MJ/d) and daily diet costs (in V/d) were calculated for
each participant. The percentage of contributions of each food group to
total energy intakes and to the estimated diet costs were determined. The
cost of energy was calculated separately for each food group and
subgroup and was expressed in V/8 MJ (i.e., V/1913 kcal). We chose the
8 MJ value because it is close to the recommended energy intakes for the
studied population of French adults: 9.2 MJ (2200 kcal) for inactive men
and 7.5 MJ (1800 kcal) for inactive women.
Nutrient proﬁling of food groups. Nutrient proﬁling of the 7 food
groups and 25 subgroups was based on 2 indicators. An expanded and
modiﬁed version of a previously used nutrient density score (NDS) (33)
assessed the presence of qualifying nutrients thought to have a beneﬁcial
effect on health. The score, based on 23 nutrients (Table 2), was the
mean of percentages of the French 2001 recommended dietary allow-
ances (RDA) (34) for each nutrient based on 8 MJ (1913 kcal) of the food
group consumed. The NDS algorithm was as follows:
Þ=23Þ 3 100 3 8=EI
is the daily content (g, mg, or mg) of nutrient p
provided by group (or subgroup) k to a subject i, and RDA
is the French
RDA for nutrient p. EI
is the energy content (in MJ) provided by group
k to a subject i. A NDS of 100% indicates that the consumption of 8 MJ
(i.e., 1913 kcal) of any one food group or subgroup covers a mean of
100% of the RDA for 23 nutrients (34) (Table 2). Only those nutrients
naturally present in foods were included in the calculation of the NDS.
We developed a second indicator of limited nutrients (LIM) specif-
ically for this study. The LIM used 3 negative or disqualifying nutrients,
TABLE 1 Food groups, subgroups and number of foods
Groups n Subgroups
Meat 166 Shellfish, fatty fish, lean fish, poultry, red meat,
organ meats, deli meats, eggs
Fruit and vegetables 114 Vegetables, fruit, dried fruit, nuts
Mixed dishes and snacks 70 Mixed dishes, snacks
Dairy 87 Yogurts, cheese, milk
Starches and grains 37 Legumes, whole grains, refined grains, potatoes
Sweets and salted snacks 107 Sweets, salted snacks
Added fats 39 Animal fats, vegetable fats
Abbreviations used: LIM, limited nutrient score; MRV, maximal recommended
value; NDS, nutrient density score; RDA, recommended dietary allowances;
SFA, saturated fatty acids.
TABLE 2 Recommended dietary allowances and maximal
recommended values used to calculate the nutrient
density and the limited nutrient scores
Nutrients RDA RDA
Proteins, g/d 70 50
Fiber, g/d 30 30
Linoleic acid, g/d 10 8
Linolenic acid, g/d 21.6
Docosahexaenoic, g/d 0.12 0,10
Vitamin A, mg/d 800 600
Thiamin, mg/d 1.3 1.1
Riboflavin, mg/d 1.6 1.5
Niacin, mg/d 14 11
Vitamin B-6, mg/d 1.8 1.5
Folates, mg/d 330 300
Vitamin B-12, mg/d 2.4 2.4
Ascorbic acid, mg/d 110 110
Vitamin E, mg/d 12 12
Vitamin D, mg/d 55
Calcium, mg/d 900 900
Potassium, mg/d 3100 3100
Iron, mg/d 916
Magnesium, mg/d 420 360
Zinc, mg/d 12 10
Copper, mg/d 2.0 1.5
Iodine, mg/d 150 150
Selenium, mg/d 60 50
Limited nutrients MRV MRV
Saturated fat acids, g/d 25 20
Added sugars, g/d 55 45
Sodium, mg/d 2365 2365
1816 Maillot et al.
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which, when present in a food, could disqualify it from bearing a
nutritional or health claim. Unlike the NDS, the LIM was calculated for
a given quantity, not a given energy content, to avoid favoring energy-
dense foods. We chose a quantity of 1.4 kg, which approximated the
daily intake of foods (excluding alcohol and nonenergetic beverages) in
this population of French adults (1523 g for men and 1302 g for women).
The LIM was calculated as follows:
Þ=3Þ 3 100 3 1400=Q
is the daily amount (in g or mg) of LIM t provided by group
(or subgroup) k to a subject i. MRV
is the maximal recommended value
for limited nutrient t (34). Q
is the quantity of foods (in g) from group k
consumed by subject i. The 3 limited nutrients were sodium, simple
added sugars, and SFA. The MRV for SFA and added sugars corre-
sponded to 10% of the recommended energy intake, i.e., 9.2 MJ (2200
kcal) for inactive men and 7.5 MJ (1800 kcal) for inactive women (35).
The MRV for sodium corresponds to a daily intake of 6 g NaCl.
A LIM of 100% would indicate that the consumption of 1.4 kg of
any one food group or subgroup would provide a mean of 100% of the
MRV for sodium, added sugars, and SFA.
Statistical analyses. Differences between means were tested using
ANOVA. Food groups were sorted by decreasing cost of energy, and
decreasing and increasing trends of mean NDS and LIM were respec-
tively tested. All models were adjusted for within-subject effect. Statis-
tical signiﬁcance was determined at a ¼ 0.05. All analyses were
performed using SAS software, version 9.1 (SAS Institute).
Mean energy intakes were 9.9 MJ/d (2368 kcal/d) for men and
7.8 MJ/d (1866 kcal/d) for women. The daily cost of the
participants’ diets was estimated at 5.26 V/d (i.e., $6.89/d) for
men and 4.26 V/d (i.e., $5.59/d) for women. The mean cost of
the standard daily energy ration of 8 MJ was therefore 4.25 V
(i.e., $2.90/1000 kcal) for men and 4.37 V (i.e., $2.28/1000
kcal) for women.
Contribution of food groups to diet energy and diet cost.
We calculated the contribution of each of the 7 major food
groups to the total energy content and total cost of diets
consumed by the INCA participants as well as the cost of dietary
energy (in V/8 MJ) for each food group (Fig. 1A). Food groups
that contributed the most energy to the population diet were not
those that contributed the most to diet cost. In this population
sample, fruit and vegetables contributed only 8% of the total
dietary energy, but accounted for 17% of total diet cost. The
meat group contributed 18% of total energy intakes but 35% of
diet costs, whereas mixed dishes and snacks contributed 10%
energy and 13% of diet cost. Conversely, starches and grains,
sweets and salty snacks, and added fats contributed much more
dietary energy in relation to cost. Starches and grains accounted
for 23% of dietary energy but only 9% of the daily diet cost,
whereas added fats provided 10% of dietary energy and 2% of
diet cost. Dairy products were well balanced with respect to
dietary energy and diet cost, contributing ;11% to each. This
energy-to-cost relation by food group was illustrated by ranking
the food groups according to their decreasing order of energy
cost (Fig. 1A).
Nutrient proﬁling and cost of energy of food groups. The
relationship between mean NDS and cost of energy for each of the
7 major food groups is indicated in Figure 1B. The fruit and
vegetables group had the highest mean NDS, covering 210% of
the RDA. For the same quantity of energy (8 MJ), the meat group
covered a mean of 174% of the RDA, whereas the milk group
covered 112%. The remaining food groups all had NDS below
100%, with sweets and salted snacks scoring the lowest (38%).
The relationship between mean limited nutrient score and
cost of energy among the 7 major food groups is shown in Figure
1C. The fruit and vegetables group had the lowest mean LIM,
with 1.4 kg providing only 21% of MRV. For the same quantity,
the starches and grains group covered a mean of 76%. The
remaining food groups all had LIM .100%, with added fats
and sweets and salted snacks scoring the highest (816% and
The lower energy cost was paralleled by a lower NDS (P for
trend ¼ 0.01) and by a higher LIM (P for trend ¼ 0.01) (Fig. 1B,
C). These data conﬁrm the hypothesis that higher energy costs
FIGURE 1 Energy and cost contributions (%) to the total energy
content and total cost of diets (A), NDS (B), LIM (C), and dietary energy
cost (A, B, C) of each of the 7 food groups consumed by INCA
participants. P for decreasing and increasing trend of NDS ,0.01 and of
LIM ,0.01, respectively.
Econometric approach to nutrient proﬁling 1817
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were associated with higher nutritional quality, whereas lower
energy costs were associated with lower nutritional quality. The
mixed dishes, snacks, and dairy products, which had interme-
diate costs of energy, were also intermediate in terms of
nutritional quality: they had relatively high NDS (close to
100%) as well as high LIM (.150%). However, this nutritional
quality-to-price hierarchy among food groups was not absolute.
Starches and grains were unique because they provided dietary
energy at a low cost (2.0 V /8 MJ or $1.37/1000 kcal), without
containing important amounts of disqualifying nutrients. Dairy
products had a better nutritional quality (both a higher NDS and
a lower LIM) than mixed dishes and snacks, although they were
less expensive sources of energy. Sweets and salted snacks were
relatively expensive sources of energy (3.5 V/8 MJ or $2.40/
1000 kcal), given their low NDS (38%) and their high LIM
Nutrient proﬁling and cost of energy for food subgroups.
The NDS and LIM for each of the 25 food subgroups were
ranked according to decreasing cost of energy within each food
group (Table 3). Among the meat group, organ meats had the
highest NDS (754%) and were associated with a low cost of
energy. In contrast, ﬁsh and shellﬁsh had NDS that were almost
as high but were also the most expensive in terms of energy cost.
Deli meats had the lowest NDS (120%) and the highest LIM
(454%) in the meat group. Eggs had a good nutritional quality-
to-price ratio insofar as they had the lowest energy cost in this
group for intermediate values of both NDS and LIM.
Vegetables and fruit had NDS .100% and LIM ,100%.
Dried fruits were less expensive as source of energy than fruit
and vegetables, but their nutrient densities were also lower. Nuts
were the least expensive source of energy in this group, but they
also had the highest LIM.
In the dairy group, milk had higher nutritional quality-to-
price ratio than either cheese or yogurt, in that it was the least
expensive source of energy and had both the highest NDS and
the lowest LIM. In the starches and grains group, all subgroups
had low LIM. Legumes also had high NDS (156%). The nutri-
tional quality of sweets and salted snacks was low (low NDS and
high LIM). Within the added fats group, vegetable fats had a
higher nutritional quality-to-price ratio than animal fats: they
had both higher NDS and lower LIM for a lower cost of energy.
The data show that food groups and subgroups differ widely in
terms of nutritional quality and in terms of cost per MJ. The
meat and the fruit and vegetables groups that offered the highest
NDS overall were also the most expensive in terms of cost per
MJ. Conversely, added fats provided dietary energy at a very low
cost and had both a low NDS and a high content of negative or
disqualifying nutrients. Mixed dishes, snacks, and dairy pro-
ducts were intermediate in rank, both in terms of nutritional
quality and in terms of cost of energy. Sweets and salted snacks
had a lower nutritional quality than would be expected from
their relatively high cost of energy.
Both ﬁsh and vegetables and fruit had good nutrient proﬁles,
as indicated by very high NDS and by low LIM. However, they
were also associated with higher costs per MJ and therefore with
higher diet costs. On the other hand, as our previous studies
showed (33), vegetables and fruit provided an affordable package
of nutrients (as opposed to energy) per unit cost.
Overall, starches and grains had very favorable nutritional
quality-to-price ratio. These foods appear to be a good choice,
particularly whole or unreﬁned staples, which provide adequate
nutrition at a moderate cost. Whole-grain cereals generally provided
twice the amount of nutrients than reﬁned cereal products, but at
twice the price. It will be interesting to determine whether the food
choices made by lower income and food insecure persons, high in
grains and starches and low in vegetables and fruit (7), is a rational
behavior in response to economic constraints, or whether tradition
and education are mainly involved in these choices.
Although a clear ranking of nutrient-to-price ratios was
found among food groups, food subgroups showed more
diversity. Although several food subgroups had a high nutri-
tional quality, they were not the most expensive ones within
their group. These subgroups, particularly milk, organ meats,
and eggs, had a very good nutritional quality-to-price ratio.
Vegetable fats, dried fruit, and nuts also showed good nutri-
tional quality-to-price ratios. Interestingly, diets obtained using
a computer to attain the whole set of nutritional recommenda-
tions at the lowest cost preferentially contained foods belonging
to the groups and subgroups identiﬁed in the present study as
having good nutritional quality-to-price ratios (36). This does
TABLE 3 Nutrient density score, limited nutrient score, and
cost of energy of food subgroups consumed by
NDS %/8 MJ LIM %/1.4 kg
Cost of energy
Shellfish 370 643 6 373 64 6 28 33.2 6 20.4
Lean fish 921 375 6 92 60 6 32 15.8 6 8.8
Fatty fish 454 622 6 188 130 6 100 14.4 6 8.1
Red meat 1297 147 6 30 138 6 42 10.3 6 3.1
Poultry 1051 168 6 62 63 6 30 8.8 6 2.6
Organ meats 262 754 6 551 83 6 42 7.4 6 3.4
Deli meats 1102 120 6 75 454 6 103 4.8 6 2.0
Eggs 889 212 6 20 139 6 32 3.2 6 0.3
Fruit and vegetables
Vegetables 1318 352 6 172 27 6 14 15.1 6 8.1
Fruit 1220 134 6 50 13 6 22 7.7 6 3.2
Dried fruit 63 85 6 32 4.7 6 1.9 3.9 6 0.9
Nuts 173 120 6 23 145 6 40 1.7 6 0.9
Mixed dishes and snacks
Mixed dishes 967 106 6 40 155 6 50 6.7 6 4.6
Snacks 1027 80 6 18
229 6 77 5.4 6 2.6
Yogurts 1040 119 6 31 65 6 43 4.7 6 1.0
Cheese 1238 101 6 15 478 6 66 4.7 6 1.4
Milk 913 138 6 8.7 29 6 5.9 2.1 6 0.2
Starches and grains
Legumes 405 156 6 24 24 6 23 3.6 6 0.9
Whole grains 146 83 6 10 98 6 24 3.5 6 0.9
Potatoes 1243 75 6 12 58 6 38 1.6 6 0.6
Refined grains 1326 40 6 2.8 77 6 21 1.5 6 0.3
Sweets and salted snacks
Salted snacks 493 80 6 99 422 6 150 6.2 6 14
Sweets 1326 37 6 15 388 6 167 2.8 6 1.1
Animal fats 1330 25 6 2.9 1040 6 185 1.2 6 0.1
Vegetable fats 1325 80 6 13 360 6 52 0.6 6 0.1
Values are means 6 SD.
For each subgroup, n indicates the number of participants consuming foods from this
1818 Maillot et al.
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not mean that low-income consumers should select only grains
and starches and stay away from fruit, vegetables, and ﬁsh. On
the contrary, the good quality-to-price ratio of grains and
starches leaves a substantial amount of the budget for high-cost,
nutrient-dense foods such as fruit, vegetables, and ﬁsh. Model-
ing studies using both cost and nutritional constraints showed
that including important amounts of unreﬁned starches in the
diet actually made it possible to fulﬁll all nutritional require-
ments for people on a moderate food budget (36). Interestingly,
such modeled diets also included important amounts of fruit,
vegetables, and ﬁsh.
The analysis of the link between diet cost and nutritional
quality has been hampered for a long time by methodological
limitations. Economists, who typically analyze household bud-
gets surveys, lack information about individual consumption
and about the nutritional composition of purchased foods.
Conversely, nutritional epidemiologists lack information on the
price of foods actually consumed by individuals. Associating a
mean price to foods in food consumption surveys (as well as the
mean nutritional composition associated with them) has allowed
investigators to solve this methodological issue and to estimate
the daily cost of each individual diet (15). Although this
approach only roughly estimates individual expenditures, it
seemed valid, in our study, to evaluate mean expenditures for
food consumed at home, insofar as the mean daily cost estimated
from the present data (4.7 V/d or $6.20/d) was very close to that
from the last French household budget survey (37). The price of
a given food varies according to stores, season, brand, size,
packaging, and according to whether it is prepared at home or
bought ready to eat. The use of a mean price partially hid this
variability; although frequently consumed foods weighted
higher in the mean price calculation. For instance, the mean
price of green beans was closer to the price of the processed items
rather than to that of the fresh ones. Likewise, the mean price of
a given fruit was closer to the price in full season rather than to
the price out of season.
Price variability within a single category of food may alter the
nutritional quality-to-price ratio of foods considered individu-
ally. Actually, a British study showed that branded foods
generally cost 2.5 times the price of economy-line foods, but
do not contain more nutrients, so that the quantity of nutrients
bought for one shilling of food was always clearly higher with
economy-line products (38). We considered that this intrafood
cost variability would not alter the nutritional quality-to-price
hierarchy among main food groups, but this requires further
investigation. Another possible drawback was the evolving
nature of the indicators used to estimate the nutritional quality
of food groups. The present NDS was based on 23 nutrients with
a known RDA. Although only some of these nutrients are
implicated in public health problems, the European Commission
takes into account those nutrients that are scientiﬁcally recog-
nized as having an effect on health. That list is still not ﬁnalized,
especially insofar as nutritional problems are not the same in all
countries because of different food habits, availability, and
different enrichments and supplementation practices. We there-
fore preferred a more universal score than a country-speciﬁc
score. On the other hand, one could also argue that our score
does not consider enough different nutrients. Actually, several
bioactive compounds, including polyphenols and some trace
elements, were not included in the NDS, either because the
nutrient composition database was not available or because the
nutritional requirement was not yet deﬁned. Furthermore, we
calculated only those nutrients naturally present in foods and
not those introduced by enrichment. This was done to avoid
direct comparisons between a fortiﬁed food and a nonfortiﬁed
food with a similar nutrient content.
The nutritional quality-to-price hierarchy presently found
between food groups probably explains the positive association
observed between the nutritional quality of the diet and its cost
(15,18–20). Notwithstanding, the wide disparity of nutritional
quality and prices observed within food groups is compatible
with the fact that improving diet quality is not necessarily
associated with increased diet costs in intervention studies
implicating nutrition education (39–41). Our results suggest
that, by preferentially selecting subgroups that have the highest
nutritional quality-to-price ratio, healthy diets can be obtained
at a moderate cost. However, such low-cost nutritionally
adequate diets (39–41) deviated considerably from the typical
food habits of the population (36). Although nutrition education
could make such diets more attractive, they may not be palatable
enough or socially acceptable. In addition, there is a threshold
cost under which it is impossible to obtain a nutritionally
adequate diet, estimated at ;3.5 V/d per adult in France (36)
and at $116/wk for a 4-person family in the U.S. (42). Many
studies have emphasized that food budgets of the poor are often
under this threshold (16,17,36,43). The fact that food groups
with the more favorable nutrient proﬁle were also the more
expensive sources of energy suggests that the present structure of
food prices does not favor the adoption of food-based dietary
guidelines, at least by low-income people.
Although nutritionally balanced diets can be obtained at
limited cost (36,39–41), often they are neither palatable nor
convenient. It is a major challenge for public health nutrition to
link public health imperatives with economic realities of life in
ensuring that nutritionally adequate and socially acceptable
foods are affordable and available to all. A reﬁnement of food
and agriculture policies and food assistance programs is one
potential strategy for change (44–46, and unpublished data by
Z. Rambeloson, N. Darmon, and E. L. Ferguson). Effective
dietary guidance must take into account both the nutrient proﬁle
of foods and their nutrient and energy costs. These consider-
ations will allow consumers to identify and select optimal diets
at an affordable cost.
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