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Building Health on a Budget: How to Eat Well Without Spending Much Money

money_as_foodThere are lots of things that people can live without, but food is not one of them. Americans have an absolute love affair with fats, refined sugar and flour and other processed foods that continue to increase the numbers of citizens living with obesity, heart disease, diabetes and gastrointestinal maladies.

Jerome Stancil, a fitness trainer and founder of the social media consortium Nakidfine, said that the seductive lure of choosing a $1 double cheeseburger versus a $3 or $4 salad can be difficult to overcome. “As Americans, we prefer sugars and fat versus natural sugars and healthy fats like in fruits and almonds,” the married father of three said. “In my family, one of the more constant understandings is that we don’t eat fast food with the exception of reasonably priced chicken and salad at a restaurant on Sundays after church.”

The median income for a family of four in the United States was $48,561 per a Census Bureau report from 2006, but a 2012 Gallup survey says that Americans spend an average of $151 per week on groceries. Considering that organic vegetables are sometimes double the cost of fresh vegetables, how can a family stay within a reasonable budget without breaking the bank?

Shopping with a strategy can often help to keep a household from rolling the dice between eating or going without another necessity. For instance, the week of July 1, Kroger had a buy-10-items-and-save-$6-at-checkout special where Ronzoni pasta would be 49 cents and Ragu pasta sauce would be $1.19. Three boxes of pasta and three sauces together came out to be $5.04 during a test shopping trip. The only thing that needed to be added was a vegetable or a choice of meat.

Also, stores like Kroger and Ingles have extra value cards where coupons can be downloaded for use at checkout. For example, if there was a coupon for 40 cents off of two boxes of Ronzoni and it was a part of the “buy 6 sale,” then the customer’s total sale before taxes would be reduced to $4.64. Stancil said that, while he doesn’t use coupons often, he recognizes that people aren’t educated enough about their choices.

“The people with the best-looking bodies in the magazines and televisions have diets that are so restricted it is disturbing to some,” he said. “The ‘I can’t eat limits for them,’ the food must be prepared in advance and taken everywhere versus the average American who would like it hot, fresh, and in a paper bag. Now, if a person wanted to be 100 percent committed to buying healthy food choices they will run into the issue of pricing.”

The Maine Organic and Farmers Gardens Association compiled a list on its website that compares the price of organic produce to those grown where pesticides are used. A dozen eggs were $2.59 per dozen on average, but organic ones were $4.18. A head of romaine lettuce was regularly $1.78, but the organic was $3.54. While it may appear foolish to some to pay more for what appears to be the same grocery item, scientists have been stating for decades that prolonged exposure to pesticides or processed foods are linked to cancer and other diseases mentioned in a report by ABC News in April 2011.

Though most consumers hate reading food labels, they should also be aware of a 2011 report by NPR.org that stated that the average American consumes nearly 1,996 pounds of salt per year, which is largely from dense potatoes or other starches, sweets and cheeses. In a healthy diet, an adult should not consume more than 2,300 milligrams per day, but people have to actually look for the serving size to know how much the package actually contains.

Nicole Wesson, a special education teacher who resides in Douglasville, Georgia, said that planning a weekly menu, buying in bulk and watching out for weekly sales are some of the ways she keeps herself and her two children healthy without breaking the bank. “I think people complain about affordability of healthy food because organic food has a bad rap for being expensive,” she said. “Vegetables can be bought in bulk or at local markets which are much cheaper.”

Wesson also said making the weekly meal prep cuts down on the temptation to eat out, and, thus, exposes them less to fast food as an option. “A budget can be met because you’re only buying food for several meals,” she said. “Also, some days can be leftover meals, which saves on costs.”

In addition to cutting costs, DrWeil.com listed these 15 foods that consumers do not have to buy organic because they have the least exposure to pesticides: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, domestic cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.

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