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A lot of people assume the poor eat cheap food because it tastes good, but they would make better choices if they could afford to, said Seligman, who was not involved in the Health Affairs study.
"Almost 15 percent of households in America say they don't have enough money to eat the way they want to eat," Seligman said. Recent estimates show 49 million Americans make food decisions based on cost, she added.
"Right now, a huge chunk of America just isn't able to adhere to these guidelines," she said.
But Monsivais may have oversimplified the problem, according to another professor who does research in this area. Parke Wilde, associated professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said it's not expensive to get all the nutrients a body needs to meet the federal guidelines.
What is expensive, in Wilde's opinion, are the choices Americans while getting those nutrients.
He said diets get more and more expensive depending on how many rules a person applies to himself, such as eating organic or seeking local sources for food or eating vegetables out of season.
"The longer your list gets, the more expensive your list will be," he said.
Seligman said her list can get longer than Wilde's, but not everything is a choice. Adding to the cost of buying healthful food could be how far away from home a person needs to travel to get to a grocery store that sells a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The government also affects food prices through the subsidies offered to farmers growing certain crops, she added.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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