Saturday, December 14, 2013

Eating Healthy: Does it really cost more?

With a new year fast approaching you are likely thinking about lifestyle changes that will help propel you toward your personal goals for 2014 and beyond. You may want to exercise more often or more efficiently with a better game plan.  Losing weight or eating healthier may also be prime targets on your radar for living your best life.

Another goal heading into the New Year may be to get your finances in order. But eating healthier foods such as organics are generally more expensive than the less “healthy” varieties.

On the surface it may seem that in order to eat healthier you need to make other cuts to your budget. However, according to recent research these cuts do not have to be draconian in nature.

The healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets, according to new research from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

The researchers found that healthier diet patterns—for example, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts—cost significantly more than unhealthy diets (for example, those rich in processed foods, meats, and refined grains). On average, a day’s worth of the most healthy diet patterns cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.

The researchers suggested that unhealthy diets may cost less because food policies have focused on the production of “inexpensive, high volume” commodities, which has led to “a complex network of farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities that favor sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit.” Given this reality, they said that creating a similar infrastructure to support production of healthier foods might help increase availability—and reduce the prices—of more healthful diets.

“This research provides the most complete picture to-date on true cost differences of healthy diets,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author and associate professor at HSPH and Harvard Medical School. “While healthier diets did cost more, the difference was smaller than many people might have expected. Over the course of a year, $1.50/day more for eating a healthy diet would increase food costs for one person by about $550 per year. This would represent a real burden for some families, and we need policies to help offset these costs. On the other hand, this price difference is very small in comparison to the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases, which would be dramatically reduced by healthy diets.” [1]

It’s not always easy to figure out when to pay more for higher quality foods, but there are certain foods that you should consider paying a little more for. For example recent research revealed that organic grass fed milk is more nutritious than conventional.

Washington State University researchers have found grass-fed cows may provide milk with healthier fats than conventionally raised cattle. The team studied about 400 samples of whole milk, both conventional and organic, and found organic milk seems to have a much higher proportion of omega-3s compared with omega-6s.

Americans consume 10 to 15 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s.

The researchers attribute the difference to organically raised cattle eating more grass and greens instead of processed grain feed. [2]

I view paying a little more now for higher quality food as an investment. In the future you will likely be rewarded with robust health without the need for any expensive medical procedures due to lifestyle choices that can lead to losses in productivity and quality of life. And don’t take that to mean that eating higher quality food now will only bare fruit in your “Golden Years.” There is simply no intervention that can have a bigger impact on health and performance than high quality nutrition.

No one understands the benefits of exercise and fitness better than I but we only exercise 4-6 days a week in an ideal scenario. At minimum you will have over 20 feeding opportunities during the week. Each one of these feeding opportunities positively or negatively impacts your immediate performance. Drink an energy drink of cola before bed and you will likely pay for it the next day with poor focus and concentration because you weren’t able to sleep the night before. Eat a high fiber meal before a workout or game and you will be making a lightning fast run for the bathroom. However, if you eat a well-balanced meal with protein, good fats and fruit or vegetable and all of these foods are a familiar part to your diet you will respond with sustained focus and energy. With sustainable focus and energy you are better equipped to make good choices throughout the day. These small choices add up over weeks, month’s even years and result in health and vitality that continues to build and endures for a lifetime.

I also agree with the researchers that the current food policy in our country promotes poor dietary choices. However, while changing said policies may be a good idea it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for the ways things are. We have the power to impact our families today by choosing to eat locally raised (when feasible) food from farmers/artisans that are committed to raising and growing high quality, unprocessed whole foods. At the very least we need to abandon the highly processed and packaged stuff that passes for food. Our spending behaviors ultimately speak louder than any political strategies ever will. The health of our families is far too important to wait for the infrastructure to take shape and support what we truly want and need. Start by shopping for whole unprocessed foods and you are off to a great start because you are modeling the change you want to see in your family and community.

Speaking of the processed food infrastructure one of the hot topics nationwide lately has been the issue of whether or not genetically modified foods should be labeled…
It’s a heated debate and for simplicities sake if you want to avoid them seek out organic foods. It used to be if you just avoided package food you were safe but even salmon and apples are being experimented with and are very close to becoming a reality.

According to the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund:

The biotech industry keeps promising to solve major problems, from world hunger to malnutrition. Instead, they’ve given us herbicide-resistant and pesticide-producing crops, increasing Americans’ exposure to toxic chemicals. What’s the latest genetically engineered crop that’s heading for your plate? Apples that never turn brown.

Like all genetically engineered crops, these new apples have not been proven safe for human consumption. Even worse, they use a troubling new genetic engineering technique, which has even greater potential side effects for the environment and human health. The genetically modified (GMO) apple has been produced using a new technique known as RNA interference (RNAi). This method uses genes from the same species in order to trigger a “silencing” mechanism that stops a certain protein from being produced.

But the technology doesn’t just silence the genes that are intended. There is mounting evidence that the RNAi technology can have effects on other genes as well, preventing the production of proteins of many types. A 2012 Cell Research study indicated that ingesting RNA material from certain plant-based foods can have unexpected effects in mammals.

Humans should not have to serve as the guinea pigs for this technology!

Although these GMO apples are primarily targeted to the fresh-sliced apple market, they could also find their way into juice, baby foods or applesauce at the processing level–all products frequently eaten by children and babies who are at increased risk for any adverse health effects.

Even the apple industry has opposed this genetically engineered product. The U.S. Apple Association, Northwest Horticultural Council (which represents Washington apple growers, who grow over 60% of the apples in the U.S.), British Columbia Fruit Growers Association and other grower groups have already voiced their disapproval of these GMO apples due to the negative impact they could have on farmers growing organic and non-GMO apples through contamination, and to the image of the apple industry as a whole.

If the apple industry doesn’t want GMO apples, and consumers don’t want GMO apples, then who wants these apples on the market? As usual, this product would only benefit the biotech industry and big food processing companies. [3]

Given the above information choosing certain fruits and vegetables that are grown organically may provide more piece of mind. For more information check out the link below:

In conclusion, if you have to choose between grass-fed meat and wild-caught seafood (as opposed to farm-raised) or organic produce due to budget reasons, personally I would recommend grass-fed meat and wild-caught seafood every time.  You can wash pesticides off of a lot of produce (though not all), but you can’t change fatty acid composition and vitamin content of meat and fish.

On a similar note, if you have to choose between grass-fed beef and pasture- raised poultry, I would go with grass-fed beef every time as well.  Poultry is naturally leaner, so the improvement in fatty acid composition and the associated fat-soluble nutrients from being raised on pasture is less pronounced than in beef.  

Having said that, I would still encourage the purchasing of “naturally” raised poultry from your grocer, as it is still an improvement over completely conventional, though not quite as good as pasture-raised.  At least the animals wouldn’t have been subjected to antibiotic use, and therefore will have significantly lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  You can also look into purchasing entire chickens rather than just breasts; it is more cost-effective.

 Phil Loomis
Youth Athletic Development/Nutrition Specialist

Related Topics

Is organic food more nutritious?

Can you eat healthy with $1?


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