Although social assistance in Canada has more or less kept pace with inflation in recent years, it has not kept up with the speed at which food prices have increased, making it more and more expensive for poor Canadians to eat healthy.

A study from the Toronto-based Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity released a report Tuesday looking at some of the major issues low-income Canadians face when grocery shopping.

The report found that many basic staples such as baked goods, dairy and meat have risen in price at a faster rate than inflation.

"The percentage of income needed to purchase a healthy basket of food for a single person on social assistance rose by 10 percentage points between 2005 and 2009 alone, highlighting the mounting pressure faced by social assistance recipients to afford a nutritious diet," the report states.

It's also often cheaper to purchase unhealthy foods. Two litres of pop, for example, is usually cheaper than one litre of milk.

It's an issue that can't be ignored, the report states.

"If almost 20 per cent of Ontarians living in poverty state that they cannot afford to eat fresh fruit and vegetables every day, this signals a failure to properly nourish our most vulnerable residents. Much needs to be done to overcome this problem."

The study looked mainly at food prices for the poor in Ontario, but the phenomenon has been noted in other parts of the country as well.

People living on Employment Insurance benefits and the Ontario Disability Support Program are in the same boat as those on Ontario Works, with food prices rising faster than their benefits.

The study found that fruit, vegetables and fish have actually increased at a rate slower than inflation.

But the poorest Canadians tend to live in neighbourhoods where those foods aren't always readily available.

The corner stores that often dominate poorer areas don't tend to stock as many healthy options as unhealthy ones, the report states.

According to the report, a family of four on Ontario Works would receive $2,045 in monthly income. Rent would cost an average of $850 and a nutritious food basked would cost $689, leaving about $500 for other expenses such as clothing or entertainment.

But for a single person the situation is dramatically worse.

An individual on Ontario Works would receive about $641 per month in assistance. Rent costs an average of $550 per month, and a healthy food basked it about $220 per month. But after rent is paid, that person only has $91 left for other expenses for the entire month.

"The cost of a nutritious basket of food, based on Health Canada's National Nutritious Food Basket (NNFB), is 34 per cent of their income before rent payments," the study says.

"However, since rent is an essential, yet 'indivisible' and 'inelastic' expenditure, people are often forced to compromise other expenses to meet their shelter needs -- this includes compromising on purchasing healthy food."

The report recommends governments consider helping poor people pay the rent, to ensure they have enough money left over to buy healthy food.

Governments should also come up with ways of encouraging large grocery stores to move into poor neighbourhoods.

The report also took aim at Canada's milk management system, saying dairy prices here are 46 per cent higher than average milk prices in other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries.

"Domestically, Canada's (milk) price distortion has shown to be 30 per cent higher than they should be, placing a greater burden on the poor since they must spend a greater portion of their income to consume a healthy diet."

The report recommends Ottawa get rid of the supply management system that regulates the dairy industry, saying less regulation would result in lower prices for milk.