The study found that there was no difference in quality between produce sold at dollar stores and chain grocers.

By Andrea Beck

Filling your plate with fresh, healthy fruits and veggies doesn’t have to break the bank, and we’re not talking about growing your own produce, either. Rather than heading to a high-end grocery store to shop for your produce, a recent study has found that more affordable options can be just as good.

According to a study published in December 2018 from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the quality of fruits and vegetables sold at dollar discount stores is comparable to produce sold by more traditional grocers (yes, even America's favorite grocery stores). In general, we tend to think that cheaper produce isn’t as high-quality as more expensive fruits and veggies, but the findings from the study indicate that’s not the case.

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The researchers judged the quality of the produce available at both dollar stores and traditional grocery stores by awarding points based on the “acceptability” of the fruits and veggies at the store. The more produce that met the “acceptable” criteria (cleanliness, freshness, firmness, good color, peak condition, and top quality), the higher the store’s acceptability score. The researchers visited and graded the produce at 40 grocery stores and 14 dollar discount stores in the Las Vegas area for the study.

Unsurprisingly, the study found that grocery stores tended to have a much greater variety of food options compared to the dollar stores, noting that none of the dollar stores included in the study carried fresh pears. However, the researchers didn’t find any significant difference in the quality of food found at both types of stores. So while you might have more choices for healthy fruits and veggies if you shop at a grocery store, your average dollar store apple should be about the same quality as a grocery store apple.

Related: New Study Finds Worrying Levels of Metals in Fruit Juices

And good news for bargain shoppers—the study also found that 84.2 percent of produce and 89.5 percent of non-produce items were significantly less expensive at dollar discount stores. The only items included in the study that had similar prices at both dollar stores and grocery stores were bananas, watermelons, cucumbers, regular ground beef, low-sugar cereal, and regular chips. And only two items were more expensive on average at dollar stores: Whole wheat and white bread.

Related: Healthy Dinner Recipes Under $3

While these results are definitely a plus for anyone looking to cut back on their grocery bill a little (without sacrificing quality), they’re also great for the millions of Americans living in food deserts. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food deserts are neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores and supermarkets, or other places to buy healthy, affordable food. Different measures of food deserts exist, but the USDA estimates that 17.3 million Americans live in low-income neighborhoods where the nearest grocery store is over a mile away. But some of these areas might have a dollar store closer than a grocery store, which could be an alternative way for residents to buy fresh, healthy foods.

So while you might find more options at a traditional grocery store, don’t count dollar stores out when you’re shopping for fresh produce. And, as the researchers note, dollar stores could also serve as assets to communities with limited access to healthy, affordable food and produce.

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