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The struggle to eat healthy on a tight budget

We have a significant percentage of residents here that are on a fixed income or receive supplemental benefits each month. Feeding a family healthy and nutritious food and saving money seem to be diametrically opposed concepts. Most of the foods that we can purchase inexpensively are not all that healthy for us and cause us to gain weight.

The United States has a real problem with obesity and a lot of that can be traced to what we are eating. Just walk around Walmart and you will see people that are struggling with their weight. Jillian Michaels from the hit TV show “Biggest Loser” famously stated at her workshops that she holds around the country, the secret to weight loss is simple: Eat Less, Move More!

While that sounds easy enough, when you are on a tight budget you are trying to make your dollars go as far as possible.

Unfortunately, the cheapest foods also happen to be some of the worst foods for us. Walk into any grocery store and look at the aisle-end displays and you will see cereals, breads, crackers, desserts and other foods that are highly processed and loaded with unhealthy carbs. It’s not the grocery store’s fault that they showcase these types of foods, it’s what consumers buy and they are in the business of selling what people buy.

A closer look

The consumption of foods that consist of white flour, salt, refined sugars, fats and preservatives is not a recent trend. I have a longtime acquaintance that is a licensed dietitian and supervised a large school district school lunch program for many years.

She was always under pressure from federal and state officials to offer healthier choices on the school lunch program but the healthy fruits, vegetables, and meats were never consumed by the students and instead ended up being thrown away. What did they eat? Pizza, fried foods, hamburgers, wings, tacos, fries, and other “fast-food” like items. And as adults those habits have continued with many of our daily meals now being purchased at fast-food restaurants.

So, what can we do? We have been taught since we were kids about the food pyramid and that our diets should consist of fresh fruits and vegetables, then proteins and dairy. That really hasn’t changed much over the years but it has been modified to consider newer science and organic foods. Science is now telling us that many of the processed foods we eat are lacking in the essential nutrients that we need to be healthy and control our weight.

There are increasing choices when you shop for organic foods but they are generally more expensive. Whole Foods is a great market to find organic foods but it also has a less than attractive nickname with consumers, “whole paycheck”. Mainstream grocery chains are carrying more organic products but what they carry is strictly based on if people are buying it or not.

Losing weight

Weight loss is really a simple equation. Your body requires a certain number of calories to maintain your health. Your activity level, age, metabolism, and overall health determines the number of calories you will burn on any given day. Eat more than you require daily and you will gain weight, eat less and you will lose weight.

A pound of weight is equivalent to 3,500 calories. If you want to lose a pound of weight in a week you must take in about 500 less calories a day than you are currently. The best method is a combination of diet and exercise where you consume 250 less calories and burn 250 calories through exercise. The exercise can be as simple as walking, it doesn’t have to be running a marathon.

So, what do we do to eat healthier and cut down on calories while staying on budget?

■ Eat more foods that are at the bottom of the food pyramid. Fresh vegetables and fruits are low in cost. And if you want to try and go with organic, start with thin-skinned or leafy varieties. They benefit the most from organic growing methods. Try shopping farmers’ markets or even better, plant a garden and reap the benefit of fresh produce. Try juicing your veggies and fruits. Juicers are inexpensive and it’s a fantastic way to get a lot of nutrition.

■ Stay away from fast-food restaurants. It’s not cheaper than making food at home and it’s a major source of calories.

■ Bake rather than fry your meats. Chicken and turkey are less expensive than beef so you can save money by eating high protein meats with less fat and calories.

■ Read labels when you buy food. Stay away from foods that contain ingredients that you can’t pronounce. They are manufactured chemical ingredients that add no nutritional value.

■ Cut back on sugar, flour, and processed foods. They are a major source of unhealthy carbs that add fat and lack the essential nutrients we require.

■ Don’t diet, just change how much and what you eat! You and you alone have the ability to control what foods you consume and how much.

The benefits of healthy eating, weight loss, and exercise have proven to reduce adult diabetes, joint pain, kidney and liver issues, and heart attacks.

So, when you are sitting in your car blocking traffic so you can get that parking space nearest to the front door of the store you may want to consider parking at the back of the parking lot and burning a few calories while walking to the front of the store!

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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