The Real Costs of Healthy Eating

Over the last few months as I have been moving toward wellness and healthier habits, I have discovered a few things: education about nutrition is important; healthy food often costs more than less healthy options; healthy eating requires planning and dedicated time and effort; and healthy eating requires at least some food preparation skills and a means to prepare such fare. I’ve known these things, but this journey has increased my awareness of these issues, allowing me to better articulate them.

Nutrition education is critical if one is to make healthy choices. Though nutrition labels are now included on all packaged foods, what does all of that information mean? What is the appropriate number of calories one should consume in a day? How many servings of fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, meats or other proteins, and fats or oils are appropriate? Is consumption of oils even acceptable? What’s the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates? With the plethora of diet and nutrition programs on the market, there is a lot of conflicting information. In this technological era where information is literally at our fingertips on a touchscreen, it is easy to get overwhelmed. As I have read and researched nutrition options recently, I realize that there is a lot of misinformation out there and determining which sources are reliable is critical. I am grateful for access to information through trusted programs like Weight Watchers, but I am keenly aware that the cost of such programs denies access to many.

My grocery bill has increased since starting Weight Watchers. Lean meats are more expensive than their fattier counterparts. Low- or no-fat cheese and yogurts cost more than the processed stuff. Pastas and other less expensive foods that can be stretched on a tight budget are not the healthiest options for daily consumption. I live in an agricultural community and have parishioners who make frequent deliveries of seasonal vegetables including tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, corn, and string beans, but those living in towns and cities must purchase these items.

As I consider the financial costs of healthy eating, I ponder the connection between one’s standard of living and obesity. In this country, obesity rates are at an all-time high and the number of people living in poverty is ever-increasing. While I know there are exceptions of some “fat” “rich” people and some “poor” “thin” people, I can’t help but think that there must be some correlation to these statistics. Consider the fare provided by food banks, soup kitchens and other programs designed to help those in poverty and low-income situations. Most of the food is canned or boxed – i.e., processed. The reasons for this are many including limited storage and refrigeration, ease of distribution, and the dependence on donations. On a limited budget, these helping organizations must serve foods that can be stretched to feed a large crowd. One place where I volunteered often received “day old” items from a local bakery – a variety of breads and bagels, cookies and cakes. These donations were certainly appreciated, but posed a great challenge for diabetic clients and others who needed a more balanced and nutritious fare. I volunteered at another food bank that frequently received donations of fresh produce from local farmers, yet many of the clients did not know how to utilize these foods or have the means to prepare them. This is not an indictment of these programs and the people who run them who are doing their level best to help others, but it is clear that more education is needed.

Obesity, poverty and healthy eating are complex and multi-faceted issues, and like other social concerns in our culture, there are no easy answers. Yet we must consider them, engage in dialogue about them, and take steps, even small “baby” steps to address them. Our future and our very lives depend on it.

Until next time, peace …

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6 Responses to The Real Costs of Healthy Eating

  1. Jen Eckert says:

    Robin,

    This is very well said. As always, you write well. I was wondering if I could quote the beginning of this post in the class I teach. This is the part I would like to use.

    “Over the last few months as I have been moving toward wellness and healthier habits, I have discovered a few things: education about nutrition is important; healthy food often costs more than less healthy options; healthy eating requires planning and dedicated time and effort; and healthy eating requires at least some food preparation skills and a means to prepare such fare. I’ve known these things, but this journey has increased my awareness of these issues, allowing me to better articulate them.

    Nutrition education is critical if one is to make healthy choices. Though nutrition labels are now included on all packaged foods, what does all of that information mean? What is the appropriate number of calories one should consume in a day? How many servings of fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, meats or other proteins, and fats or oils are appropriate? Is consumption of oils even acceptable? What’s the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates? With the plethora of diet and nutrition programs on the market, there is a lot of conflicting information. In this technological era where information is literally at our fingertips on a touchscreen, it is easy to get overwhelmed. As I have read and researched nutrition options recently, I realize that there is a lot of misinformation out there and determining which sources are reliable is critical.”

    Our next unit in Biomed is on diabetes and we spent a fair amount of time on exactly what you have written here. We start with nutrition information and how to read labels. We look at calories and actually do a lab that allows students to find the number of calories in a piece of food. We look at the molecular make-up of fats, carbohydrates and proteins and how the body metabolizes each. I think that what you have written would be a perfect introduction to the unit, but I will not use it without your permission and I will also not use your name.

    Jen

    • Robin Dillon says:

      Jen, of course you may use it! I would be honored. And feel free to use my name, too, if that would be beneficial. Your Biomed class sounds great. I am glad to know that this information is included in school curricula!!

  2. LW says:

    Right on target. People make cracks about “poverty” but people are overweight so they can’t really be poor. Access to grocery stores in poor areas is often slim so going to the local fast food joint or mini-mart seems to become habitual – as it would for me. The food industry is its own huge issue; doing any research into the industry of food will discourage anyone both at a personal and systemic level. The power plays there are just as significant as with oil companies and Wall Street tradiing. Oh yes, you have uncovered a huge, unmentionable dilemma…

    • Robin Dillon says:

      Thanks, LW. When I taught in the inner city, there was limited access to grocery stores. Transportation was a huge issue. The “corner stores” stocked some healthy food, but to purchase any food at these places was quite costly. It was cheaper to order from the dollar menu at the local fast food establishments. The complexities are endless. “Big box” chain stores have made business impossible for local owners. Indeed the power plays in the food and distribution industries are quite disturbing.

  3. cb05486 says:

    You raise important points. Increasingly poverty and obesity are linked until obesity becomes a marker of one’s social status. Here in Vermont people spend lots of energy pushing healthy,locally produced foods but no time pondering how to make those food affordable to those who need them most. Your comments brought back memories of serving in a soup kitchen in NYC where an older woman cried because the food that was being served was making her diabetes and high blood pressure worse. “I try to eat as little as possible and I am grateful, but my options are to not eat or eat food that is killing me..”
    I am proud of those in my local church who run Food for Thought a summer food program for kids here on the Champlain Islands. The program provides boxes of healthy nutritional foods ( and books!) each week to the families who sign up. The local farmers and orchards donate produce and eggs, there are loaves of whole grain bread, melons, greens, cheese and tuna. Kaight, who founded the program said that she was tired of seeing food programs hand out boxes of packaged macaroni and cheese to families and made a commitment to, each week,
    filling the boxes with the kind of food she feeds her own family

    • Robin Dillon says:

      Thanks, CB. The comment from the older woman at the soup kitchen makes me cry. Your “Food for Thought” program sounds amazing and could be a model for other organizations. We need more Kaights in this world!

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