Question of the Week

November 24, 2008


Recently, many families have been forced to take a second look at their budgets and spending. For some, this has meant that they feel the need to choose cheap food rather than healthy food.

"As processed foods rich in sugar and fat have become cheaper than fruits and vegetables, the poor in particular are paying a high price with obesity rates shooting up, followed by diabetes. This is happening even as conditions associated with malnutrition -- like anemia, caused by an iron deficiency in diets lacking leafy greens -- continue to plague poor children, said Jay Battacharya, a health economics expert at Stanford University's medical school."

Just because people are consuming a lot of calories, does not mean that they are consuming all of the nutrition that they need to stay healthy. Unfortunately, many who have found themselves eating large quantities of fast food on a limited budget have found that obesity (and the health problems associated with it) can go hand-in-hand with malnutrition (and the health problems found there).

"Typical fast food meals consist of hamburgers or cheeseburgers, french fries, and sugar-sweetened sodas. They are frequently 'super sized' at very little additional cost, encouraging children and families to purchase larger portions. These meals, which are high in refined starch and added sugar, have a high glycemic index and glycemic load. The glycemic index refers to the rise in blood glucose occurring after consumption of a food containing carbohydrates. High glycemic diets have been associated with an increase in insulin levels and may contribute to excessive weight gain. In some studies, high glycemic load meals have been shown to increase hunger and thus food consumption over the course of a day. Low glycemic index foods (fruits, whole grains, non-starchy vegetables), which include higher amounts of fiber and complex carbohydrates and fewer calories, have been shown to promote a feeling of fullness and may protect against overeating."

While fast food meals are not the healthiest choice, they can often be the available choice to those who are traveling, those who want to eat out on a tight budget, and/ or those in poorer neighborhoods.

"In the impoverished neighborhood of South Los Angeles, fast food is the easiest cuisine to find -- and that's a problem for elected officials who see it as an unhealthy source of calories and cholesterol. City Council was poised to vote Tuesday on a moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in a swath of the city where a proliferation of such eateries goes hand-in-hand with obesity. 'Our communities have an extreme shortage of quality foods,' City Councilman Bernard Parks said. ... The proposed ban comes at a time when governments of all levels are increasingly viewing menus as a matter of public health. [In July of 2008], California became the first state in the nation to bar trans fats, which lowers levels of good cholesterol and increases bad cholesterol."

For those who want to eat right, but can't see how they will be able to afford it, learning how to eat right can be overshadowed by the costs involved. While the immediate grocery bill may seem daunting, weighing it with the long term health benefits (and health costs) can help put things in perspective.

"If you're not careful, fresh salads, juicy fruits, and lean meats can add up to far more than the value meal at McDonald's or that economy-size box of macaroni and cheese. What's a cost-conscious dieter to do? The first thing to keep in mind is this: When you count the costs of a healthier diet, don't forget to tally the costs of being overweight. ... 'Cholesterol drugs can cost you $100 a month, and being admitted to a hospital can cost you hundreds per day. So is it really worth it to eat fast food?' Healthier diets could save Americans more than $200 billion a year in medical costs, lost productivity, and expenses caused by death, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)."

For those who can't (or don't want to) spend more, there are ways to eat healthy foods and spend less. It is a common misconception that all healthy foods are expensive.

"In these tough economic times, it's not hard to eat healthy and still be on a budget. Registered dietician and Early Show contributor Keri Glassman ... pointed to five food groups that can save you big bucks at the grocery store while still providing nutritious, tasty meals. ... The five groups are: brown rice, frozen produce, canned fish, eggs, and beans.

  • Brown rice is a whole grain, high in manganese (useful for energy production, and an antioxidant) and selenium (an antioxidant, helps prevent colon cancer), as well as important B vitamins (Thiamin and Niacin, which are lost when refined). ..
  • [F]rozen fruits and veggies are just as nutritious, if not more nutritious, than the fresh fruits and vegetables in the produce section... Frozen fruits and veggies are processed at peak ripeness, blanched (which causes minimal loss of soluble vitamins B (thiamin) and C, then flash-frozen, all within hours of being picked. ...
  • [Canned tuna, salmon, and sardines are] great sources of omega-3 fatty acids shown to reduce risk of heart disease, blood clots, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Can also help with weigh loss, provide satiety, and support a healthy metabolism. ...
  • [Eggs are] high in protein, low in carbohydrates, source of brain-boosting choline, cheap, and easy to use. The yellow of the egg does contain cholesterol, so if you're watching your cholesterol, limit your consumption of the yellow (yolk); otherwise, the white can be eaten all day long!...
  • Beans are a very versatile legume. They're good for your heart, and that's not all! Beans are low in calories and high in fiber, protein, and iron; they're a great meat substitute! The fiber in beans can help lower your cholesterol, keep you regular, remove toxic, cancer-causing substances from your digestive tract, and help keep your blood sugar stable."
    CBS News - Early Show

    Questions of the Week: How can you incorporate healthier eating into your daily life while still spending less money? How can you make any necessary changes in your own diet while helping those around you understand how important healthy eating is--especially when money is tight? What misconceptions do you think your peers and family members have about the value of a cheap, fast food meal? Which misconceptions will your friends and family members have to overcome about the price of nutritious foods in order to incorporate "healthier eating on a budget" into their daily lives?

    Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
    Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

    I look forward to reading what you have to say.

    Health Community Coordinator
    Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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