Other items in the Atkins diet certainly up the daily budget: red meat is very expensive in terms of calories per dollar, and healthy oils like olive oil, flax oil and macadamia nut oil -- all of which are recommended on low-carb diets -- are admittedly more expensive. But that's only the more obvious part of all this.
The not-so-obvious story here is that cheap sources of calories from groceries -- like those calories found in soft drinks or corn snack chips, for example -- are only cheap because they are subsidized by taxpayer dollars. Both the sugar industry and the corn growers receive extravagant subsidies courtesy of the federal government. This makes high fructose corn syrup very cheap in terms of calories per dollar (but expensive in terms of the fact that it promotes obesity and diabetes, which create enormous future costs for society).
In fact, every food based on corn or sugar is far cheaper than it would be in a free market situation. It all comes down to food politics and influence: Big Sugar, for example, is strongly favored by the Bush Administration, so there's practically no chance of ending those subsidies any time soon. And, unfortunately, the foods being subsudized by taxpayer dollars are precisely those foods that are linked to the alarming rise in chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity. Processed foods based on corn, for example, are typically very high on the glycemic index, low in fiber, low in vitamins and minerals, low in essential fatty acids, and so on. So it is precisely these government-subsidized foods that are contributing to the rise in diabetes and obesity.
The real question to all this goes way beyond what's been reported in the press. The issue is not that the Atkins diet is expensive, it's that our federal governmet is subsidizing foods that directly promote chronic disease. And that's clearly an insane public health policy. It would make a lot more sense to subsidize foods that promote health and prevent disease. What if the government gave subsidies to flax oil and olive oil? What if broccoli were half the price? What if healthy whole grains like quinoa and brown rice were cheaper than corn chips and soft drinks? See, the economics really do matter, because poor people tend to buy whatever they can afford, regardless of its nutritional merit. (Poor poeple also tend to buy a lot of packaged, processed foods instead of making their own meals from bulk ingredients.) And today, I say that the federal government has its food subsidies policy completely backwards. Refined white sugar, for one thing, should be double taxed, not subsidized, if you want to teach people to avoid it. Let's get right down to it: if the government is going to muck around with food prices, then they should make unhealthy foods very expensive and healthy foods cheaper, don't you think?