Saturday, March 13, 2010

Put Your Money Where Your Health Is....

Every time you and I spend money on food, we are literally speaking with our dollars. We are deciding what kinds of foods we want to put into our bodies, we are making choices which move the food industry, and we are letting distributors know what types of food products we want more of. And although we might not truly perceive how our personal choices affect change, every time we spend money on food items, we are making a statement.

According to The New Yorker, the average American spends $5,267 per capita on health care and an average of $6,133 on food costs annually. Yet, there is much scientific research and evidence proving that the more nutritionally sound our food choices are, the more we contribute to our health and well being while reducing medical expenses. Unfortunately, our current eating trends are the source of many medical maladies.

When evaluating the Standard American Diet (SAD), evidence shows that it is high in animal fats and high in unhealthy fats--both saturated, hydrogenated. It is also low in fiber, low in complex carbohydrates, and low in plant-based foods. In other words, most Americans exist on a diet full of carbohydrates (processed grains, cereals, pasta, breads, cookies, cakes), processed meat products, and consume relatively few fresh fruits and vegetables. Ironically, this type of diet is the exact opposite of what doctors and food nutritionists recommend for a healthy, active lifestyle.

Research also shows that the Standard American Diet is a major cause of many diseases which include Obesity, Heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and certain cancers. SAD can also cause a wide range of other symptoms such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Disease, Depression, etc. In my opinion, it is rather contradictory for a country whose population has access to the healthiest and disease preventing foodstuffs, to advertise and sell even more foods that are profit driven and not health promoting.

Although the United States has spent more money on cancer research than any other country in the world, the Standard American Diet contributes to the very diseases that money is being spent to prevent. Yet, the time has finally arrived when more and more people are waking up and realizing just how unhealthy their diets and lifestyles truly are. Consumers are changing their spending habits and are incorporating more healthy foods into their diets.

Yet, unfortunately our food system is set up for consumers to easily spend their money on highly processed, unhealthy convenience foods. A trip to the grocery store shows that 9 out of 10 items available are less than par when it comes to being healthy. This is evidenced by the plethora of packaged foodstuffs on many aisles and a much smaller fresh fruits and vegetables section. Yet, as more citizens are demanding healthier choices, positive changes are being made.

The Daily Collegian Online reports, "Nationally, farmers markets have increased in popularity during the economic downturn. At a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern, farmers markets have been able to prosper as a source for "healthy, fresh, locally grown food." The number of farmers markets has increased to over 5,000 nationwide in 2009 and this trend continues to grow.

This is a positive sign that consumers are learning to speak with their dollars. They are demanding fresh, organic, and locally grown foods, which are proven to be more nutritionally sound than conventionally grown products. They understand the importance of making a connection with the farmers who grow their food and they are able to see and taste the difference between produce that was harvested close to purchase time.

"I think people are more aware that their food isn't checked like it used to be, so if people want fresh and healthy, they buy locally." Once consumers realize the improvement in both taste and in nutritional value of their food, they begin moving away from shopping in grocery stores and want to buy as fresh as possible. It is truly a good sign that more and more people are beginning to understand how what we eat is truly the foundation of our health and wellbeing.