However, a new study looking at food cost and diet healthfulness challenges that idea. The researchers found that although those who spent more on food generally had healthier diets, those who spent the least could – and some did – improve their diet without spending more. Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the authors reported that selecting more plant-based food and less red and processed meat and high fat dairy improved diets without increasing cost.
The healthfulness of diets among participants of the Nurses’ Health Study was evaluated using the Alternative Health Eating Index (AHEI) – a tool that awards points for eating healthier items. High scores on the AHEI are associated with lower rates of chronic disease, especially cardiovascular disease (CVD).
At all spending levels there were differences of 25-29 points in these AHEI scores. An increase of 20 points in the index means a 25% relative risk reduction in cardiovascular disease. Participants with higher scores achieved these specifically by choosing more nuts, soy and beans, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, fish and poultry.
Although this study looked at CVD, the foods that improved dietary scores are also foods shown to help prevent several cancers – fruits, non-starchy vegetables and foods containing dietary fiber. In addition less red and processed meats also means lower risk for colorectal cancer.
The results of this study show that AICR’s recommendation to eat a mostly plant-based diet can not only lower risk for cancer and CVD, but can also save money.