By Bob Gaydos
Since I began eating more healthful food (and writing about it), I've been paying more attention to the things people say and the choices they make when it comes to taking care of themselves. I've noticed they don't always coincide.
While many acknowledge that a regular diet of red meat, fried, processed, salt-laden, sugar-soaked foods is not healthy, "eating healthier" often doesn't eliminate the problem. Instead, the choice may be to eat less of the foods we say we shouldn't eat, rather than eating more foods (fruits and vegetables) that are actually be good for us. We tweak. We cut down on the potato chips. Switch to diet soda. Try "low-calorie" prepared dinners. Get a small order of french fries instead of large.
This may be better than doing nothing and may cut a couple of calories. It also may save a little money.
Ahh, money. Personal finances can certainly affect the choices we make. In many quarters, the notion persists that eating healthy, while it sounds great, is just too expensive. This belief is fed in large part by TV commercials for the corporations that control our food supply. We are inundated with commercials designed to make us feel good about the particular food product (cereal, soda, fast-food, lunch meat). These are often aimed at children, who can influence parents' food choices.
The products are marketed as inexpensive and good for us. But the processed foods that make up the bulk of the diet of most Americans are loaded with salt, chemical preservatives to prolong their shelf life and a variety of natural and artificial sugars to make them more palatable -- and addictive. Large food corporations get big tax breaks and huge factory farms, which expose animals to disease and abuse, get government subsidies, which helps them to keep their prices down. Spraying crops with chemical pesticides lets big growers sell produce cheaper than organic farmers who don't use chemicals. It makes Monsanto richer, but can hardly be considered good for our health.
Because of this government/corporate partnership emphasizing mass production of what is described as "affordable" food, many people who sincerely want to choose more healthful foods may feel they can't afford to eat "all that organic, natural, chemical-free, grass-fed, free-range, non-GMO stuff."
In truth, Americans can't afford not to eat what used to be called, just plain food. Think about it. Why should food with nothing added to it have to carry labels that, thanks to years of brainwashing, make people think "expensive"? Why not just "apples," "melons," "grapes," "berries," "steak," "chicken"? Why not, instead, require foods with all that stuff added to carry labels that say: "Added sugars, natural and otherwise;" "Loaded with salt;" "Chemical additives;" "Genetically modified;'' "Full of fat;" "Sprayed with toxic chemicals;" "Fed tainted grain;" "Natural flavors produced in laboratories;" "Raised in warehouses;" or "No nutritional value"?
In a recent column, I offered what I called "the new breakfast of champions." Instead of Wheaties and a banana, it consisted of a bowl of coconut/vanilla Greek yogurt, two sliced bananas, a big bunch of halved, red globe grapes with seeds, a mound of whole ground flaxseed meal, a healthy serving of blended trail mix (almonds, cranberries, cherries, raisins and pistachios), and a generous topping of all-natural chocolate granola.
Among the responses I got was this one from Marshall Rubin of upstate New York: "I have no qualms about your "Breakfast of Champions,' especially since it's way more healthy than my morning bagel with cream cheese and a can of lightly-salted V-8 vegetable juice. But one thing wasn't mentioned: the cost of your meal. I'm a retiree watching my quality of life decrease as I continue to get no COLA raises from Social Security and my NJ state pension. My bagel breakfast costs less than $2. What does your breakfast cost?"
Excellent question. First, let me note that I, too, get a Social Security check and a pension check each month. Now, let's deal with the breakfast: The Greek yogurt cost $1 for the cup, so that's already half your cost, Marshall. But all the other ingredients are bought in more than single-serving sizes -- bananas at 59 cents a pound; grapes were on sale at $1.69 a pound; a one-pound bag of ground flaxseed meal (free of everything and delicious) cost $14. The trail mix and granola are pricey at $4.99 and $5.99 a bag, respectively. But, like the flax seed, they provide the healthful ingredients for many breakfasts. It all depends on how hungry you are.
Ordering this delicious breakfast (which can be changed for taste and variety reasons) -- if you could find a restaurant offering it -- would absolutely be expensive. We call it our $8.50 breakfast, but the cost is probably just a little more than the $2 bagel-and-V-8 breakfast. There is no comparison, however, in the health benefits. That's what gets missed in the discussion about the cost of healthful foods.
Eating all that salt, sugar, chemicals, preservatives and other additives has made billions of dollars for those food/chemical corporations, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and fast-food companies while producing millions of overweight, out-of-shape Americans. Recent surveys show that, as a people, we are fatter and less fit. Also, prone to diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. But if we chose to spend money on more healthful foods to begin with, that would cut down on doctor visits, insurance costs and the need for so many drugs to keep from getting seriously ill, never mind staying healthy.
Again, it's a choice. Tweaking an unhealthy diet is not enough. It seems to me that the only way to bring down the cost of eating healthy is for enough people to demand better choices from the major suppliers of food and more government support for providers of healthful food. (A calorie-counting campaign by the First Lady is not enough.) Some of this pressure, largely through social media sites, is already being felt by the food giants, but much more needs to be done.
Meanwhile, here's a brief look at the health benefits of that breakfast of champions of mine: