Healthy Food: Challenges, Accessibility and Affordability
Which Foods Are Healthiest?
We should establish which foods are healthy. Studies and surveys often compare nutrient-dense diets and energy-dense diets, because nutritious foods are healthier than energy-dense ones. We owe our health to nutrients, in more ways than can be adequately explained. Unbelievably, many people survive on fatty, energy-dense foods like cake and fried chicken. But these high-calorie foods cause disease, and generally provide little value to the human body, especially if we can’t burn off the empty calories these foods typically contain. Ultimately, nutritious, whole foods provide more benefits to our bodies. We need protein, carbohydrates and fats (macronutrients), along with vitamins and minerals (micronutrients), to help regulate our bodies’ processes, and help build, repair and energize our cells to sustain us. So, the conventional virtue of a balanced diet isn’t baseless; a meal with tuna, farro and green beans is always more nutritious than a bacon burger with fries, but it isn’t always more accessible.
Why Do People Eat Poorly?
People eat unhealthy foods for many reasons. Convenience, addiction, high costs and stress are all commonplace, research-backed reasons people cite for their poor eating habits. More recently, academics suggest that irresponsible marketing feeds into the unhealthy eating trend, along with, unsurprisingly, social factors like loneliness and depression. Reassuringly, health awareness has helped Americans make better wellness choices lately. The IFIC’s (International Food Service Council) 2022 survey finds that thirteen per cent more people follow a regular food regimen compared to the previous year, and five per cent more people buy groceries every week (International 4). Unfortunately, though, stress is still high among Americans at fifty-six per cent, and it’s a common phenomenon people attribute dietary problems to (7).
Availability of Nutritious Foods
People still make the same excuses for eating badly as usual. We can only speculate about the biggest reason for people eating unhealthy foods since most studies and surveys cite similar factors, like convenience, addiction, costs and stress, that effect peoples’ health across the board. Based on the IFIC survey, we might reasonably assume that the growth in numbers of people on a dietary regimen, and regularly going to the grocery store, suggests that people have more stability, time and resources compared to previous years (4, 7). Perhaps we can attribute these trends to the democratization of knowledge, which might have empowered people to take control of their health over the pandemic period. Regardless, people increasingly developing habits conducive to better health is reassuring, because it means there may be fewer roadblocks to health than we thought.
However, stress remains a self-reported problem with implications for peoples’ diets. The IFIC survey suggests one in four American adults reports eating snacks to cope with stress, with sixty-seven per cent of people being evening snackers who consume unhealthy foods like cookies and candy (7). Yet, fifty-four per cent of respondents suggest they try to manage their stress by eating healthier (13). Perhaps the stress causes people to contradict themselves; the preponderance of respondents cannot claim to manage stress by simultaneously eating better and snacking on cookies and candy. So, respondents might get closer to practicing what they preach by only buying healthy foods. That way, they only convenient snacks available to them are healthy ones.
Moreover, a substantial forty-six per cent of Americans think healthy food is too expensive, according to a recent Cleveland clinic study addressing heart health. Incidentally, ten per cent of Americans from the same study opt for a fast-food diet because they think it’s the healthiest food option (“Americans Cite”).
Enemy Number One?
Many of us can attest to affordability being an obstacle to eating healthy, especially if we are used to eating a lot of calories in a day. Even so, eating healthy doesn’t have to be a financial burden. In fact, better lifestyle habits are a step toward a better diet, and this means being realistic about what we eat, and why we eat. For instance, the Cleveland Clinic says that many people buy fast food mostly because they don’t know how to eat well (“Americans Cite”). So, maybe ignorance rather than affordability makes people unhealthier; however, some might argue they go hand in hand.
If ignorance about which foods are healthiest is the biggest limitation for people to eat better, then we should feel confident about our technological resources that can help people be more educated about taking care of their health. Knowledge is both abundant and powerful in the world, and we need to empower our communities to look for the valuable information that can free them from ill health. Ideal health is hard to achieve for anyone, but people are closer to eating healthy than they might think. Sometimes, all we have to do is omit or alter some ingredients in our meals. Even then, we will either spend less, the same or slightly more for a meal we buy at the grocery store with healthy ingredients, which we will get far more nutritional value from than a burger and fries.
What Can We Do to Eat Healthier on a Budget?
Learning how to cook empowers us to take control of our health, because we learn which foods are healthy, and we learn how to incorporate healthy foods in different meals. People who already make regular trips to the grocery store probably know how to cook, and they clearly have the time and interest to shop for foods they like. Shoppers don’t have to radically change their shopping patterns; in fact, finding healthy options is often simply a matter of reaching for black beans instead of baked beans on a shelf. Here are some tips:
- Pick the biggest variety of nutritious, whole foods as possible. Having vegetables, grains and proteins in each meal ensures you get adequate amounts of protein, fats and carbs.
- Don’t buy too much of one type of thing, especially sugary foods, or foods with saturated or trans fats. Having a plan to buy a variety of foods helps us to resist the urge to buy a lot of frozen foods, cheese and bread.
- Exercise discipline at the store. Don’t shop to fulfill momentary hunger, shop proactively for your appetite later.
What Can We Buy Instead?
Ideally, we should look to consume five hundred to seven hundred calories in a meal, though caloric intake varies per person. We don’t help our bodies perform well by eating too many disposable carbohydrates. Ultimately, the biggest benefits of eating healthy are not about calories, but about optimizing our bodies against disease by getting nutrients, vitamins and energy to help us feel awake, sharp and fit.
Fortunately, there’s many ways people can buy healthy foods cheaply. Prioritizing consuming healthy foods, whether we eat a lot or little, reinforces sustainable habits that will eventually have greater benefits for us. We should eat smartly, which means eating the right foods instead of simply satiating our hunger. Of course, we can do both. But eating healthy takes a disciplined mindset; we can’t be proactive about our health when we short-sightedly eat what we crave, when we want.
So, here’s some tips for your next supermarket visit:
Buy Bulk: You can proactively buy bulk beans and grains that will last until your next supermarket visit at the very least, and for the same price as a fast-food meal.
For instance, a four-pound bag of nutritious black beans is the same price as a fast-food burger, except black beans can be used in a variety of meals. They have less calories than a burger and fries, which is good because they can be mixed with other nutritious foods with similar calorie counts to make a full, healthy meal. They are packed with protein, fiber and vitamins, and they have less calories per serving than a burger.
On that note, Replace Meat with Legumes on Occasion: Meat is good and healthy, but it’s often expensive. Conveniently, you can replace many meat recipes with legumes, so you don’t have to strain yourself trying to find a bunch of new recipes. Beans and Lentils are cost-effective and tasty, and you have a lot of freedom to use different nutritious spices and herbs to add more flavour.
Buy Canned Fruits and Vegetables: You still get the nutritional content, except your food lasts longer, which means less trips to the store for expensive, fresh produce that quickly goes off. Using canned vegetables also saves time you might take to prepare fresh vegetables for a recipe.
Snack on Healthy, Readily Accessible Foods like bananas, nuts, and yogurt. If you must snack, these foods are easy to find and are often cheap, and they are also rich in antioxidants, which helps prevent heart disease. Also, having these snacks on hand instead of sweets might curb our tendency to stress snack, because we only have the option to snack on healthy foods, or nothing at all.
Prepare Freezable Meals like stews, chilis and soups in bulk. You can make these with many inexpensive ingredients. And when you don’t feel like cooking, you’ll have a nutritious and convenient meal prepared, which prevents you from making bad eating decisions later.
Quick Tip: Buying and preparing healthy, whole ingredients helps us with portion control. Portion control is based on the premise that peoples’ instinct is to eat more food than necessary. We can bypass that instinct by getting adequate amounts of macronutrients and micronutrients, which makes us feel more satiated than if we were to eat a bunch of processed food. Our goal isn’t to eat enough to feel full; most of the times we feel hungry we can probably attribute to not getting enough nutrients in our food. So, we can optimize our health by changing our food philosophy from eating enough to feel full to eating requisite amounts of nutritious foods.
Don’t Give Up
Everyone deserves to be healthy, even during difficult psychological and financial times. People underestimate how important a good diet is for our behaviours and attitudes in life, so it’s not a good idea to cut corners on our health where it matters the most. Being proactive about our health today also means preventing stress later in life when health issues typically place the most financial burden on us. Again, the path toward better health is a matter of trying; we don’t need an ideal diet brimming with the highest quality, most expensive foods. Rather, we need an adequate diet that meets our metabolic needs. Thankfully, many businesses today focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle, and these businesses provide a genuine public service by giving customers ideas about how to develop better habits. Knowledge is power, and the more people take ownership of their health, the better for our collective wellbeing.
International Food Information Council. 2022 Food and Health Survey. 18 May. 2022, https://foodinsight.org/2022-food-and-health-survey/.
“Americans Cite Cost of Healthy Food as Biggest Barrier to a Heart-Healthy Diet, According to Cleveland Clinic Survey.” Newsroom, Cleveland Clinic, 1 Feb. 2023, https://newsroom.clevelandclinic.org/2023/02/01/americans-cite-cost-of-heathy-food-as-biggest-barrier-to-a-heart-healthy-diet-according-to-cleveland-clinic-survey/.