Monday, April 17, 2017

Eating healthily on a budget

It’s well known that America’s adults are battling an obesity epidemic, with more than two-thirds of them overweight or obese.

They aren’t alone. The bad habits that led to that health crisis know no boundaries when it comes to age; now, their children and grandchildren are overcome with obesity.

One of every 5 teens is now considered overweight and those kids are besieged with related sicknesses. A January report issued by Fair Health, a national clearinghouse for health insurance claims data, showed that between 2011 and 2015, child and adolescent claims for Type 2 diabetes more than doubled while claims for prediabetes rose 110 percent, high blood pressure rose 67 percent and sleep apnea went up 161 percent.

Why is this happening?

The default refrain from health professionals is that it’s too expensive to eat healthily.

That defeatist response is the furthest thing from the truth. Healthy eating is cheap eating. Americans can eat well and not break the budget.  

Look no further than the menus at any given fast food chain which often becomes the convenient lunch and dinner for many. The high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar meal deals average $6. For a family of 4, that’s $24. Why spend $24 when there are plenty of beneficial alternatives that can be had on the cheap?

A family would be better served by brown bagging it. Tuna is a nutritious and important protein that can be purchased at one of the local discount supermarkets for 60 to 80 cents a can, one of which can feed 2 people. Throw in low-salt, low-corn-syrup bread and some cheese and you’re looking at sandwich under $2 per person. $4 less per person -- and a whole lot better -- than the fast food fare. The cost of lunch suddenly went from $24 to $8.

Burger joints are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider the following alternatives to “normal” diets:

Most families likely indulge in junk food. Americans love their potato chips and corn chips. People may think they are easy and cheap snacks, but are they? Take a stroll around the grocery aisles and you’ll see most bags of chips nearing $4. How long does that bag last? A lot of times it won’t survive one feeding if there are a few people around. Due to the fatty goodness and addictive MSG, it’s not uncommon for a household to burn through a few bags a week. Alternatively, you can visit any local roadside stand or farmers market and buy a large bag of apples or other fruits for $5 that will last for days. They are just as satisfying and incredibly useful for our bodies. So, what may be $16 per week is down to $5 to $10 (depending on appetite).

That same family probably opts for processed foods in a variety of packages and cans for lunches during the workday or dinners at night. How much are sodium-soaked cans of chili or soup? Around $1.50 each and you need multiples to feed a family. Calorie–heavy prepared meals (TV dinners, pastas, boxed meats) are pricy, too, with price tags around $8 to $12 for family sizes. Assume 4 people eating canned foods, 7 lunches per week. That’s $42. Processed dinners might cost $84/week.  

Those financial and health obstacles can be overcome with a little time, effort and planning.  Take chilis and soups for example. Most every day at work I eat a healthy bowl of homemade chili or a quinoa/vegetable/lean meat mix. I make this stuff in batches. My cost: $0.80/lunch. That would cut most lunch budgets in half (far more if they frequent fast food joints).

Likewise, look at grocery sales fliers that show chicken at 99 cents to $1.80 per pound depending on cut and frozen vegetables for $1 per bag; all this while produce is available in and out of season at local farm markets. Numerous tasty dishes can be made from those items, all at $10 per dinner or less to feed a family. The cost may be similar to the processed foods, but they build a body in a good way and not in a bad way.  

The USDA says that the typical family of 4 spends $150 to $240 a week on food. Using some of the examples provided, eating healthy falls at the lower end of that budget -- if not below it. So, why are we kidding ourselves about the real cost of eating healthy?

It might just be that the high cost bogeyman conveniently masks the true and more controversial cause of America’s enlarged waistlines -- our lack of responsibility and discipline. We choose to eat bad foods because we like them, we’re too lazy to cook and we have a certain weakness of will when it comes to our stomachs.

Bad health is our own doing. 

It’s high time we started saving money and saving lives.

From the 17 April 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

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