Nutrient-dense food groups have high energy costs: an econometric approach to nutrient profiling

Matthieu Maillot, Nicole Darmon, Michel Darmon, Lionel Lafay, Adam Drewnowski
Journal of Nutrition 2007, 137 (7): 1815-20
Consumers wishing to replace some of the foods in their diets with more nutrient-dense options need to be able to identify such foods on the basis of nutrient profiling. The present study used nutrient profiling to rank 7 major food groups and 25 subgroups in terms of their contribution to dietary energy, diet quality, and diet cost for 1332 adult participants in the French National INCA1 Study. Nutrient profiles were based on the presence of 23 qualifying nutrients, expressed as the percentage of nutrient adequacy per 8 MJ, and 3 negative or disqualifying nutrients, expressed as the percentage of the maximal recommended values for saturated fatty acids, added sugar, and sodium per 1.4 kg. Calculated cost of energy (euro/8 MJ) was based on the mean retail price of 619 foods in the nutrient composition database. The meat and the fruit and vegetables food groups had the highest nutritional quality but were associated with highest energy costs. Sweets and salted snacks had the lowest nutritional quality but were also one of the least expensive sources of dietary energy. Starches and grains were unique because they were low in disqualifying nutrients yet provided low-cost dietary energy. Within each major food group, some subgroups had a higher nutritient-to-price ratio than others. However, the fact that food groups with the more favorable nutrient profiles were also associated with higher energy costs suggests that the present structure of food prices may be a barrier to the adoption of food-based dietary guidelines, at least by low-income households.

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