Principal Investigator Matthieu Maillot, Ph.D. of MS-Nutrition, Romane Poinsot, Ph.D., also of MS-Nutrition
Co-Investigator Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D. of the University of Washington

With discussions on food inflation, hunger and nutrition insecurity at all-time highs, low-income families are challenged to keep nutritious meals on the table. This is a tremendous and concerning problem that impacts the most vulnerable in our communities.

Pork plays a critical role in addressing food inflation, hunger and nutrition security. This research supports this high-quality, affordable protein that not only feeds but also nourishes people around the world.

This new modeling study published in Nutrients and funded by The National Pork Board, is the first of its kind to look at the nutritional value and affordability of the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) featuring fresh pork as one of the only meat sources. 

The TFP represents the cost of groceries needed to provide a healthy, budget-conscious diet for a family of four (2 adults, 2 children).

The 2021 update was the first time in its history that the TFP update was not kept cost-neutral. The TFP was revised sporadically in the past but will now be re-evaluated every five years. With the updated TFP, USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits increased by 21%, meaning more access to affordable, nutrient-dense food is possible.


Nutrients: Fresh Pork as Protein Source in the USDA Thrifty Food Plan 2021: A Modeling Analysis of Lowest-Cost Healthy Diets


The TFP, revised in 2021, is an estimate of a lowest-cost healthy diet that meets dietary guidelines while respecting existing eating habits.


To explore the place of fresh pork in the TFP 2021 using the same databases and the same quadratic programming (QP) methods as had been used by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP).


Dietary intakes came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2015-16); nutrient composition data came from the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS 2015-16) national food prices came from the 2021 TFP report. Amounts and prices were for foods as consumed.

Our QP Model 1 used USDA modeling categories to generate a lowest-cost nutrient-adequate food plan. The meat category was then separated into pork and beef. Model 2 examined whether the TFP QP algorithm selected pork or beef. Model 3 sought the lowest cost nutrient-adequate food plan. Model 4 replaced beef and poultry with pork; whereas Model 5 replaced pork and poultry with beef. Weekly costs were calculated for a family of 4 and for 8 age-gender groups.


All models met the nutrient requirement constraints. The cost estimate for a family of 4 in Model 1 was $189.88, compared to the price of $192.84 in the TFP. In Model 2, fresh pork was selected preferentially over beef. The lowest-cost healthy food plan in Model 3 increased fresh pork to 3.4 lbs/week. Replacing beef and poultry with pork in Model 4 led to a modest decrease in weekly costs. Replacing pork and poultry with beef ln Model 5 led to a major increase in weekly costs.


QP models that closely tracked the revised TFP 2021 showed that fresh pork was the preferred meat source, providing high-quality protein at a low cost. QP methods are a valuable tool for designing food patterns that are affordable, acceptable, and nutrient-rich.