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Often when I am discussing eating healthy with my patients they’ll say that it is difficult for them because healthy foods cost more. It is a common misperception that eating fresh food means a larger grocery bill each week. This topic has been analyzed in research extensively and it is true that there is a slightly higher cost in consuming a healthy diet than eating a traditional western diet.
The truth goes much deeper than simply the cost of the food, however. In an effort to look at the actual long term costs associated with a change from a traditional western diet to a Mediterranean diet, researchers in Australia reviewed the cost benefits of a large research study on dietary intervention (J Nutr 2006;136:1879-1885).
The goal of their research was to look at how well a Mediterranean diet improved people’s health after they had suffered their first heart attack. The study was provided an comprehensive initial visit with both a cardiologist and dietitian. There was follow up eight weeks later with the dietitian. Written instructions on a healthy Mediterranean diet were given as well, and participants were followed through yearly visits with the dietitian. The research took into account these costs as well as the added costs of choosing foods for the patients' new diet plans.
The researchers uncovered a number of very interesting findings.
While the food and intervention costs were higher in the group following the Mediterranean diet, the cost of further medical intervention for “cardiac events” (further heart attacks or complications) was much lower. When the costs were weighted for these factors, patients spent only an extra $703.00 over the 4 years on the Mediterranean diet plan.
For this extra money there was a gain in what the researchers call “quality-adjusted life year” or QALY. This is essentially a measure of how many more quality years of life a person might have based on a particular therapy. In this case the change in diet over the four years cost $703.00 but led to an improvement of an estimated 5 extra months of quality life.
The other interesting finding was that those in the Mediterranean diet group had a dramatically better quality of life. There were far less deaths from heart attack, fewer total heart attacks and a 40% reduction in deaths from all causes. Even health problems considered more minor by the researchers were greatly reduced in those on the healthier diet, including less angina (chest pain), heart failure and non-fatal stroke.
All of this for only an extra $118.54 each year on food. That’s cheap! Ten dollars a month ($2.50 per week) to have a much better quality of life and more time with family and friends. Considering the cost for a month of cable television, this is an absolute bargain--and much tastier!
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
July 03, 2006