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How much is your diet costing you?

Eating healthy doesn't have to cost more. But for many Americans, diet plans and higher grocery bills go together like peanut butter and jelly.

The "typical" American spends about $59 a week per person on groceries, according to recent figures from the Food Marketing Institute.

So what's it going to cost you to go on that new diet? That depends on who you ask and exactly what you eat.

Many of the low-carbohydrate diets emphasize regular portions of lean proteins, which can be costly, says Ken Fujioka, M.D., director of nutrition and metabolic research at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego. Eating on those plans can cost 25 percent to 50 percent more, he says, "mainly because of the increase in [the price of] beef.

"Also, when you go out to eat, you tend to go to nicer restaurants, steak houses and so forth," Fujioka says.

Phil Lempert, author of Being the Shopper and editor of Supermarket Guru, worked with USA Today to do the math for eating at home on two popular low-carbohydrate diet plans. He calculated that a week's worth of suggested menus for the popular Atkins diet plan costs $99 a week. For South Beach, the total came to $89, according to Lempert.

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"What you've got to understand is that if you're going to follow a high-protein diet, it's going to be more expensive than the way that the average American eats," says Lempert.

But he's found there are ways to economize.

"Protein comes in a lot of different forms," says Lempert. "When people think of Atkins or South Beach, they think of steak. And that's just not true.

"No matter what diet you're on," he says, "you have to have some common sense."

But following 21 menus exactly as written is bound to be more expensive than real life, says Marie Almon, a nutritionist and registered dietician who worked on the South Beach diet. In the real world, a dieter would mix and match ingredients depending on what was inexpensive at the store that week or left over in the fridge from the night before, she says.

And while it's easier to run up a grocery bill on a low-carbohydrate diet, you don't have to, says Arthur Agatston, M.D., the Miami cardiologist who developed the South Beach diet. "Overall, there are a lot of substitutions you can make to make the diet very affordable," says Agatston.

His advice: For fruits and vegetables, buy in season or frozen. If you can't afford beef, go for chicken or pork. Especially with poultry, the bone-in cuts are cheaper. And substitute canola oil for more expensive olive oil to get those healthy fats. Want an alternative to healthy, but pricey, fresh salmon? Try frozen or canned.

"I don't think our diet is particularly expensive, or has to be," says Agatston.

Barry Sears, who developed The Zone Diet, which emphasizes controlling hunger and balancing blood sugar with lean cuts of protein and lots of fruits and vegetables, estimates that the first two or three weeks of his program will be more expensive. But after that, he says, the grocery bills should return to normal, if not lower.

Without high-priced processed snacks, "You will see your food bills go down," he says.

(continued on next page)
-- Updated: Feb. 2, 2005
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See Also
6 ways to eat low-carb for less
10 secrets of the weight-loss industry
Low-cost ways to lose a pound of flesh (or 10)
Financial advice glossary
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