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.
As a personal trainer I am used to my friends and family asking me for fitness and nutritional advice on the one hand, and on the other, knowing that they desperately hope I won’t judge or comment when they don’t eat well or exercise. I make a point of keeping my professional perspective and opinions out of our interactions (unless of course I am asked). That doesn’t mean it’s easy for me to stay silent (though I do) when I hear that they are “experimenting” with a new approach to their nutrition that I know is not a great choice for achieving lasting fat loss.
But lately I’ve noticed just how badly so many people eat while simultaneously thinking they are eating well. I realize this is due to the widespread misunderstanding of nutrition with most Americans. The average person queried on the street could not tell you what the difference is between organic veggies and non-organic; or what’s so bad about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or what GMO’d food is.
There’s a habit for many to blindly accept mainstream advertising when it comes to what’s healthy and what’s not. Let’s take a look at my first meal of the day (one of six): every morning I have a small bowl of bulk-bin organic oatmeal (not Quaker) with a teaspoon of organic peanut butter (just peanuts and salt), a dash of organic cinnamon, and a drizzle of real Vermont maple syrup. A client of mine said she was eating the same thing, but when I dug a little deeper it turned out she was eating Quaker oats (GMO oats), Skippy peanut butter (filled with hydrogenated oils and refined sugar) and a Aunt Jemima Lite syrup (with HFCS and other unpronounceable ingredients).
Here’s where the confusion sets in. My version actually has more calories, carbs and sugars (if I ate their suggested serving size which is 2-4 times more than what I eat), BUT my version is free from high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and refined sugar. My version is also free of GMO’d products. Now comes big question: what’s wrong with all HFCS, hydrogenated vegetable oils, refined sugar, and GMO’d foods?
In a nutshell all food ingredients that have been altered/tampered by humans so that they can be grown and processed at a faster and cheaper rate, are slowly poisoning us all. Without going into great scientific detail, or quoting a myriad of biologically proven ailments that stem from these “poisons” I will simply give you some basic facts about some of these poisons (i.e., the ones stated above).
HFCS: when you alter the chemical compound of fructose (sugar) they way they have in HFCS, our bodies can no longer manage our sugars (how/when we use it and how/when we store it) in the same way we used to. Therefore you see elevated levels of everything from diabetes to obesity and all the “itises” in between (arthritis, bursitis, etc.)
HYDROGENATED OILS: when you shove hydrogen into a vegetable oil simply for the sake of turning it solid, our bodies see these molecules as foreign and cannot process them. If you eat too much HO, your body will store it in your fat reserves, but never activate it for use like healthy fats, leaving you with higher levels of unhealthy fat.
GMO: when you genetically modify the seeds of corn, wheat, soy, and oats so that they grow faster while having a higher resistance to over-ripening you will see (as we are) a rise in intestinal allergies and digestive auto-immune disorders (celiac’s disease, IBS, MS, etc.).
Now don’t take my word for it – read up on all of these rampant food insertions and changes that our Country is embracing, and decide for yourself. However, the next time you find yourself saying that you’re going to eat gluten free while still shoveling commercial pop corn and large Jamba Juices into your digestive tract, be sure about what you’re eating (or not) and why.