Eating for better health: Don’t let budget concerns derail your diet
Special to The Union
Avoid Food Waste
Whether you are looking to lower your grocery budget or just want to be a better steward, identifying ways to reduce food waste is smart. Americans throw away 90 billion pounds of food every year. Simple steps can help reduce that number.
• Plan your meals based on the foods you already have on hand.
• When shopping, purchase only what you need for your planned menu.
• Plan ahead to use all leftovers either for snacks, lunches or a repurposed dinner.
• Be mindful that fresh produce has a short shelf and buy accordingly.
Most Americans are familiar with the connection between a healthy diet and a healthy body. Unfortunately, national statistics show that for many Americans, eating a nutritious diet is still a challenge. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services reports that Americans eat less than the recommended daily amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and healthy oils. Barely more than half (57 percent) of all Americans eat fruits and vegetables regularly.
And, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the nation’s unhealthy eating habits are taking a toll. More than 678,000 deaths are attributed to nutrition- and obesity-related diseases every year, including deaths related to heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
March is National Nutrition Month – a great time to identify those hurdles that may be keeping us from eating a healthier diet. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, one of the most common challenges is budget.
“For many people, it can seem cheaper and easier to eat heavily processed food, like what we find in fast food restaurants or in the center aisles at our grocery stores,” explains Noel Slaughter, RD, Director of Nutrition Services at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “Fresh produce and whole foods, when not purchased strategically, can be expensive. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make healthy food both affordable and convenient.”
First and foremost, when it comes to price, it matters both where and when you shop.
“Shopping for produce can be tricky,” says Slaughter. “Do some comparison shopping at local grocery stores and farmers markets – see whose produce is most affordable and who has which items on sale that week. Try to purchase fruits and vegetables that are in-season. They will be more affordable and better tasting.”
Slaughter recommends planning your menu around produce and lean meats that are on sale. If the price is really good, consider stocking up and freezing it for later use.
If fresh produce isn’t an option, consider frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. They are typically less expensive and have a long shelf-life. Just be sure that canned fruit is in 100% fruit juice and that vegetables have “low sodium” or “no salt added” on the label.
In addition to fruits and vegetables, whole grains are an important – and affordable – part of a healthy diet.
“Whole grains like barley, brown rice, oats and quinoa are all a great source of nutrients at relatively low cost,” says Slaughter. “The key is to buy the grains in their original form – not processed or with added salts and flavors – and then cook them yourself.”
For added convenience, many grains can be cooked in advance and simply reheated or eaten cold like a salad. Snack food can be another food that, while convenient, is actually a nutrition landmine. Rather than buying individual-sized yogurts, buy large tubs and mix in your own fruits, nuts or granola. For trail mix, purchase nuts, dried fruit and whole grain pretzels or cereal in bulk and package individually. Air popped popcorn and whole, fresh fruits and berries in season also tend to cost less compared to pre-packaged items.
When it comes to eating healthy without breaking the bank, the key is to keep it simple.
“Purchase fresh, whole foods and take the time to prepare them yourself,” says Slaughter. “By avoiding processed foods and fast food meals, you are investing in better nutrition, which in turn will lead to better health!”
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