As a fitness professional who focuses daily on healthy-nutritional choices (for myself and my clients) I am saddened to see healthy food choices are still costing so much more than junk food. I understand that junk food is called “junk” because that it is made up of man-processed and highly-altered basic ingredients like refined sugar, sodium, high fructose corn syrup, etc. and that those ingredients are in abundance and therefore inexpensive to produce. I also understand that “fads” are great vehicles for capitalism to charge higher amounts for these newly in-demand items. But what worries me most is that very few people are factoring in the health costs that arise from eating the cheap stuff for years and years.
Recently I took my daughter and some friends to a water-park for a day of refreshing fun. The park very clearly stated on their website and at their gate that NO outside food was allowed in the park, so off we went with fingers crossed that there would be something decent to eat. When lunch time rolled around, the choices were black and white: fried, salty, sugary cheaply produced crap at a very affordable price, or one (and I do mean singular) option that was healthy but cost twice as much.
So my daughter had a slice of greasy cheese pizza and a large (only one size) lemonade (better than soda?) for $5.95. I had a small dollop of hummus in a plastic box containing 10 carrot and celery sticks, five triangles of bland pita bread, and a bottle of water for $12.00! So clearly sugary-water, and bread with a slathering of tomato paste and some generic cheese is cheaper to produce than a small scoop of garbanzo bean paste (humus) and some generic veggie slices?!
I perused the rest of the menu and found the most financially enticing options were for “families” – a whole pizza, 4 large sodas, and 4 churros (fried Mexican doughnut sticks) was only $19.00 = $4.75 per person for a family to ingest overly-processed and nutritionally void carbs, fats, sugars and salts. But hey, food is food, right?
This up-charging of “healthy” food choices happens everywhere from McDonald’s (sodas are cheaper than bottled water) to cafes and bistros (adding cheese to a sandwich is often free but adding avocado or brown rice costs $1.00 more). I remember the last time I went to Disneyland the snack items that were sugary and salty (popcorn, ice cream, etc.) were one price level, and the “healthy options” like fresh fruit, granola bars, and trail mix were a higher price. Just yesterday at a gas station we stopped at returning from a vacation, I bought two bananas – the cost $2.75 – but a bag of fruit flavored candies on display beside the fresh fruit was only 99¢.
What really frustrates me is that I do not believe that healthy food is more expensive to create or purchase by retailers. Granted, organic foods can cost more due to small production sizes, etc., but I know that this game of cost is all tied to the need of Americans to eat as much food as they can for as little money as possible. The majority of consumers don’t care about the quality of the food as long as it tastes good and is in abundance.
As I stated at the top of this rant, the “down the road” health ramifications, and costs incurred therein are very real, though most prefer to stay blissfully ignorant of the future. But you cannot escape the truth that consistently eating saturated fats, volumes of refined sugar and sodium will cause havoc on your insides and eventually result in the need for medical help and prescription drugs – all of which cost way more than that pizza you just ate!
Unfortunately, I do not see an improvement in this imbalance to the cost and availability of healthy food compared to junk until the masses demand a more balanced choice and price for their “on the go” meals.
We humans are the only creatures living on Earth who have elevated our need for sustenance to something close to worship. We obsess over food, turn it into art, and attach emotional elation to substances that pass over our tongue and into our system. The downside of this food obsession is that we actually give up much of our self-control to one of the tiniest parts of our bodies – the taste buds.
Taste buds are tiny microscopic hairs that send messages to our brains detailing how something tastes – i.e., bitter, sour, sweet or salty. Our brains then send us a message back (and this is where we differ from all other creatures save for maybe primates) and somehow we’ve assigned emotions to those messages. Food was not designed to be a vehicle for emotions, yet we humans combined the two nonetheless.
The problem is that we forget that WE are in charge – not our minds, not our tastebuds – and so we indulge and indulge and indulge. With so many foods being processed with sugars and salts that electrify the tastebuds and then the brain, we find it difficult to stop eating what tastes soooo good! Because of this, America in particular has suffered the worst affects from these over-indulged tastebuds, as we have the highest rates of child and adult obesity in the world!
Now scientists, nutritionists, and personal trainers like myself have been telling the masses for sometime that if you give yourself 5-10 minutes after completing a moderate sized meal or snack, that gnawing message from your brain to eat more WILL cease.
Our amazing systems also initiate a message from our stomachs to our brains when we are full. However, unlike the hyper tastebud the stomach’s signals cruise at a much slower speed, there’s a lot going on in the digestive track after all. Thus if you wait the recommended 5-10 minutes, the message finally gets through and the brain tells the tastebuds to calm down – we’re full.
So the next time you relish that decadent chocolate dessert or delightfully salty bag of chips, remember that your tastebuds are NOT in charge. Moderation is key, and after a few weeks of this “retraining” you’ll find the reward in your waistline!