Here's What the New Federal Diet Rules Will Cost You

America's dietary policy advisers recently revealed their proposed recommendations for the next Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the nation's official ideal menu, updated every five years. Basically, the report calls for a lot less sugar, while relaxing concerns about other items like cholesterol and caffeine.

Sure, following the report is sure to slim your waistline, but how will it affect your big fat wallet? We often hear that it's expensive to eat a healthy diet, so we took a look at whether the new recommendations would cost less or more than what you might have already been spending on food.

1. Replace Saturated Fat With Unsaturated Fat (Wallet Impact: Higher Cost)

Unlike past recommendations, this report doesn't admonish Americans to reduce the amount of fat in our diets. (We never listened anyway.) Instead, it advises us to keep saturated fats, like the animal fats found in red meat and butter, down to 10% of daily calories, and make sure the rest of the fat we consume is unsaturated (preferably polyunsaturated fats from such sources as nuts, seeds, and fish.) What we must stop doing, the report says, is replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates like packaged "low fat" snacks.

Well, fish can be much more expensive than red meat, and a bag of almonds is a more expensive snack than low-fat, sugar-frosted granola bars. All these things mean that following this recommendation could increase grocery costs significantly.

2. Minimize Trans Fats (Wallet Impact: Higher Cost)

"It is now well-established that higher intake of trans fat from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils is associated with increased risk of (cardiovascular disease) and thus, should be minimized in the diet," the report says.

This means avoiding many brands of margarine, pre-made pastry crusts, and canned frosting at the grocery store. Trans-fat-free non-butter spreads or real butter are both more expensive than trans-fatty margarine, so this recommendation could cost you a few dollars a week. Making your own pastries with safer fats may be slightly cheaper than buying pre-made, but takes a lot more time.

3. Cut Way Back on Added Sugars (Wallet Impact: Lower Cost)

The average American gets 13% of his or her calories from added sugars, but because of the association with weight and diabetes, we should be getting no more than 10% of our calories from sugar. Young people need to cut back even more, since children and young adults over age nine get 15% to 17% of their calories this way.

The committee recommends reducing sugar-sweetened beverages, the main source of added sugar calories in our diets at 39%. Because the long-term effects of using low-calorie sweeteners aren't well understood, the report recommends replacing soda with water, not diet soda. Since sodas are pricey and water is free, this change could be a money saver.

What's more, the report calls for the ubiquitous availability of free drinking water in public. If that recommendation becomes public policy, we might see the return of more functioning water fountains and bottle-filling stations, something that would save everyone money.

4. Reduce Sodium (Wallet Impact: Neutral)

The DCAG says that adults who need to lower their blood pressure should cut back on salt. Even though they've been telling us that for years, salt consumption continues to "far exceed recommendations." More than 75% of our sodium comes from processed foods and restaurant meals (especially fast food). Replacing processed foods with fresh ones can cost more, but eating home-cooked meals is less expensive than fast food, so this one is a wallet wash.

5. Get More Vitamin D and Potassium (Wallet Impact: Higher Cost)

The report notes that Americans are not getting enough of these nutrients, and acknowledges that even eating a healthy diet might not provide enough of them. Individuals may have to look at fortified foods and supplements of vitamin D and potassium on a case-by-case basis. Supplements usually cost more than food, so following this recommendation might cost you more.

6. Don't Limit Cholesterol (Wallet Impact: Lower Cost)

Previous dietary guidelines limited the recommended daily intake of cholesterol, prompting the health-conscious to avoid eggs. High levels of "bad cholesterol" in your blood is still recognized as a warning sign for health problems. However, the available evidence shows no relation between the amount of cholesterol we eat and what shows up in our blood work. So the committee is dropping the cholesterol limit, inviting you to enjoy those eggs at will. Since eggs are a low-cost source of protein, this recommendation could save money.

7. Don't Stress About Caffeine (Wallet Impact: Neutral)

If the report urged us all to increase our caffeine consumption, that would cost us more, since Starbucks can be an expensive indulgence. Even relatively affordable drinks like tea clearly cost more than plain water.

However, the report merely says that most Americans' current caffeine consumption level is not a health concern. They didn't urge any behavior change here, so following this recommendation wouldn't affect your budget. So keep chugging those lattes!

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Guest's picture

OR you could just eat FULL FAT dairy products AND -- OMG -- GO BARE-SKINNED INTO THE SUN!