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Cheap Food’s Heavy Price

Grapes make an excellent snack -- as long as you make the choice.

It costs more to eat well, according to a research study out of the University of Washington.

Hoping to see what effect the new U.S. dietary guidelines would have on a family’s pocketbook, researchers —  including Pablo Monsivais, acting assistant professor at the University of Washington and part of the Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network — evaluated hot much extra it would take to meet the new guidelines. (A quick aside: Prof. Monsaivais had already concluded back in 2009 that a better diet, which means a diet that’s richer in nutrients than calories, is more costly, and mostly consumed by those who are better educated.)

Research, according to newspaper and online reports, found that “eating more potassium, the most expensive of the four nutrients, can add $380 to the average person’s yearly food costs.” It also costs more to meet the fiber and Vitamin D guidelines. In addition, researchers confirmed that you can lower food cost by getting more of your calories from saturated fats and sugar.

Researchers want the U.S. government to back up the new guidelines with advice, and tell people how they can get the biggest bang for their buck. Me? I’m not so sure this would do very much. People know, for example, that bananas provide a good helping of the blood pressure-lowering, heart-helping nutrient potassium. I just don’t think it matters. Sure, they could eat a banana for a snack — bananas that cost about $.19 each or $.29 each if they are organic — but most choose not to. It’s sad, but I truly believe we as a society have been conditioned by marketers and advertisements and huge, honking supermarket end caps that a snack of say, potato chips is a much better alternative. I mean, who really thinks about potassium aside from pregnant women and mothers of small children?

I know I sound very cynical, but I have spent the better part of a week interviewing people who were morbidly obese, and I got an earful about what brought them to the brink of death. (These were really, really sick people with multiple co-morbidities like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart issues, sleep apnea.) Every one of those interviews confirmed something to me: It’s just far too easy to overeat bad food because eating bad food makes us, at least for a moment, feel good. The rush of sugar and chemicals dopes us into feeling good. The ultimate self medication. And that bad food is often the cheapest and easiest to find and get.

All of the people I interviewed are now closer to “normal” weight. (Although with two-thirds of adults and one-third of children being overweight, what’s really normal anymore?) They have made big changes in their lives. They all cut out processed carbs, chips, candy, sweets. They eat lots of lean meat, vegetables, and whole grains. They exercise. Not coincidentally, they all feel great. The co-morbidities are gone. And many of them are a little bit angry that they were duped into eating garbage to begin with.

This is not the first time I’ve written a story about weight loss. In the past, every single expert I’ve interviewed told me the same thing about weight loss: Calories in, calories out. That’s how you get slim, that’s how you stay healthy. If you eat, for instance, a Trader Joe’s chocolate biscotti (150 calories for a single small cookie) you’re probably still be hungry after you wipe the crumbs off your chin. However, if you eat a huge cup of organic red grapes (about 100 calories as well as fiber, vitamin C, iron, B-1, manganese, and calcium), you’re not as likely to be hungry. I know this firsthand. You’re also closer to your goal of eating more antioxidants like the anti-aging resveratrol.

And so we are back at the beginning. Yes, it’s cheaper and easier to eat garbage. It takes lots more time, a little more money, and a lot more effort to make good food choices. But I am convinced that the government can’t help us with this. It’s up to every person to make his or her own choices. Yes, I think it would be great if, for example, the Food Stamp program would make it more difficult to buy high calorie processed foods, and reward recipient for buying fruits and vegetables, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. How about you?

One Response to “Cheap Food’s Heavy Price”

  1. susan delg says:

    I do most of my food shopping at a produce store, avoiding the big chain super markets. Not only does my cart get loaded with lots and lots of fresh produce, lean meats and fish, but my cash register receipt is lower. There are few options in this store that are unhealthy, and I’d rather spend $3 on a pound of fresh cherries than than same $3 on a bag of chips. I love the variety of produce at my finger tips — I came home with three different varieties of mangoes yesterday. I also spend less time in the store since it’s small compared to a super market.

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