Guilty pleasures aren’t always vacuous ones. Sometimes, they can bring important issues to the fore.

Case in point: an episode of Wife Swap re-run not too long ago on Lifetime.

The couples involved were a well-to-do, positive-thinking pair of entrepreneurs and a poor, unemployed couple. The latter were described as “pessimistic,” but those on the economic fringe – or are tuned into the hardships wrought by our national economy – might use the term “realistic.”

But there was one area in which the poor family’s attitude did seem pessimistic: diet. Repeatedly, the mom explained that her family just couldn’t afford to eat healthy.

This is a myth.

The idea that only the financially well-off can afford nutritious, whole food might hold water if our only option was the infamously overpriced fare at Whole Foods. But they’re not the only game in town, and even if they were, with some planning, affordable meals are still possible.

Don’t believe it? Read Raine Saunders’s post about her own efforts to feed her family real, wholesome and healthy foods on a tight budget. Using organic vegetables and pasture-raised chicken, she was able to provide excellent meals for three at an average of just over $9 per meal. That’s less than most single entrees at a typical franchise restaurant and less than three “Value Meals” at a fast food joint.

More recently, Hemi at Fooducate posted some examples of inexpensive and healthy foods featured in an upcoming ShopSmart article on eating healthfully on a budget:

ANTIOXIDANTS: Cabbage (16 cents per serving; $2.50 for one medium head): Cabbage is loaded with Vitamins A and C.

CALCIUM: Plain yogurt (70 cents per serving; $8.39 per case of 12): It’s a quick and handy way to get calcium, and is also brimming with protein and good bacteria that aid digestion. Add your own flavoring / sweetener.

FIBER: Popcorn (12 cents per serving; $1.89 per 28-ounce bag): Popcorn eaters get about 22 percent more fiber than non-popcorn eaters. Don’t pile on calories with butter, though.

PROTEIN: Dried black beans (24 cents per serving; $1.45 for 16-ounce bag): All beans are stellar sources of protein, fiber, and blood-pressure-friendly potassium, but dark beans pack more nutrients.

OMEGA-3S: Frozen shrimp ($1.36; $14.99 per 2-pound bag): Frozen shrimp is a low-calorie and relatively cheap source of omega-3s.

All of these are things you can get at your local grocery store or discount stores with groceries such as Wal-Mart.

The only way that nutrient-poor, processed foods can be said to be cheaper than a diet based on healthy, whole foods is by connecting cost with calories. Calorie-for-calorie, yes, processed food is cheaper, but calories are hardly the most important aspect of food. Calories tell us nothing about a food’s nutritional value, nothing about how it will actually feed and nourish and sustain the body we’re feeding.

Calorie pricing also tells us nothing of the hidden costs of eating lots of processed food and little wholesome, nutritious food: the long-term damage it does to our health and well being, which ends up costing us – or the government or charities – much more money in the long run, easily more than we save by eating cheaply made food products.

 

Image by greggavedon.com, via Flickr

 

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