Eating Healthy and Fresh Foods—Without Breaking the Bank

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There’s quite a food fight going on due to a post about blog experiment Fifty Bucks a Week, in which three writers discuss their struggles and adventures while limiting their weekly food expenditures to (obviously) $50. Apparently, the topic hits a nerve. Everyone would love to eat well without spending a fortune. So how do you do it?

It’s not easy, especially during stressful economic times. (See the recent coining of the phrase “recession obesity.”) Generally speaking, we all have less time and less money than we did not so long ago. And generally speaking, food that’s cheap and quick is bad for you. People also tend to grab instant-satisfaction snacks that’ll make them feel good, if only for a moment, hence the strong sales of donuts and McDonald’s throughout the economic downturn. All of this means that people are more prone than ever to putting on weight and becoming less healthy overall.

A USA Today story calls on the advice of Dr. Adam Drewnowski, director of the University of Washington Center for Public Health Nutrition, for practical advice on what to do. Understanding that people may not have much time or money, Drewnowski offers simple solutions such as iceberg lettuce if spinach doesn’t fit into the budget, lean hamburger that’s drained well in lieu of pricey salmon, frozen veggies if fresh ones aren’t available, and lots of protein rich eggs and potatoes—just not the french fried version.

Also, on the obvious side but still worth repeating: If you can, have a vegetable garden. First Lady Michelle Obama has planted one at the White House, and is making a priority out of introducing fresh, healthful foods to the nation’s children.

The irony is that many people eat poorly because they are poor, and yet poor health costs us all as a nation. Health care spending on obese Americans increased 82 percent from 2001 to 2006, up from $167 billion to $303 billion. Meanwhile, the number of hospitalizations for childhood obesity nearly doubled between 1999 and 2005, and the cost for those hospitalizations has more than doubled. These stats are troubling, especially as we attempt to get more people health care and rein in health care costs.

How did we get so fat in the first place? And in the South particularly? Two new books reviewed this week in The New Yorker have some of the answers, along with more interesting stats: American men, on average, are 17 pounds heavier today compared to the 1970s. Women are 19 pounds heavier. Kids are even in worse shape, quite literally, with the proportion of overweight children doubling or even tripling in certain age groups.

Part of the problem has to be that people don’t have easy access to stores where food is healthy and reasonably priced. And guess what I just read in a real estate story: There’s a big expansion coming of 7-Elevens.