Eating recommended levels of key nutrients in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans will cost American consumers hundreds of dollars more per year, a new study published in the August issue of Health Affairs reports.

However, the Newark-Del.-based Produce Marketing Association said the study shouldn’t be taken as evidence that fruits and vegetables are too expensive for Americans to include in their diet.

The article, “Following Federal Guidelines to Increase Nutrient Consumption May Lead to Higher Food Costs for Consumers,” looked at the cost for Americans if they ate the recommended levels of potassium, dietary fiber, Vitamin D and calcium.

“We found that increasing consumption of potassium — the most expensive of the four recommended nutrients — would add $380 per year to the average consumer’s food costs,” the authors said.

The findings suggest that improving the American diet will make it necessary to give consumers more dietary guidance on what foods are economical sources of the nutrients and revise food policies to increase the availability and expense of more healthful foods.

In a response to the report, PMA said fresh produce can be part of the solution to eating well on a budget.

“Consumers buy food, not nutrients,” Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for PMA, said in a news release.

”Even the report noted that ‘many foods, notably vegetables and fruits, contain more than one of the recommended nutrients.’

Means said consumers can do several things to stretch their fruit and vegetable dollars, including shopping supermarket sales. About one-third of the items in a supermarket fresh produce department are typically on sale, she said.

Other strategies include buying larger, economical packs of fruits and vegetables and to use fresh fruits and vegetables as meal-extender ingredients in salads,soups and stews that allow consumers to cut back on more expensive items such as meat.