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Editorial - Healthy foods are affordable

It's time to shatter the myth that's stopping some people from eating healthier.

Healthy foods are not as expensive as people think.

The United States Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon released a column about the affordability of fresh fruits and vegetables last week.

The perception that fresh produce is expensive troubles him because the USDA works hard to encourage all Americans to make healthy food choices - particularly those participating in USDA's nutrition assistance programs, from kids in school to the more than 46 million people participating in USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Concannon pointed to a recent study by USDA's Economic Research Service, "Are Healthy Foods Really More Expensive? It Depends on How You Measure the Price." Researchers found that while it is easy to buy "cheap" calories by using less-healthy foods, there are many healthy food choices that cost no more per portion than less nutritious foods.

Measured by the cost per portion, or per pound, grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy foods are actually less expensive than most protein foods and foods high in saturated fat, added sugars, and/or sodium.

As Concannon pointed out, this is great news for all those trying to get by with a limited food budget - like people receiving SNAP benefits. "You don't have to compromise on good nutrition just because money is tight," he noted. "And it's just in time for summer."

Concannon encouraged people to visit one of the nearly 7,200 farmers' markets across the country. The USDA has farmers' market programs for SNAP participants, seniors and for WIC mothers to help provide food for them and their children.

Fresh produce, of course, is also available at local grocery outlets that take pride in offering Alexandria area residents top-quality fruits and veggies. And this goes far beyond the basic fare of apples, oranges, lettuce and green beans.

Why not give the more "unconventional" items a try - something like kiwi, star fruit, mangoes, tomatillos, artichoke or ugli fruit? If you're not sure how to prepare it, ask your local grocer or do a little hunting around on the Internet for tips and recipes. There's a whole new world of fresh, good-for-you food to discover that won't break your bank account. Eat healthy.

-Echo Press, June 6, 2012