We get it: They don’t call Whole Foods “Whole Paycheck” for nothing. Healthy, organic foods not only tend to be more expensive, but those of us who live in “food deserts” (which are typically low-income areas), may not even have access to groceries, delis and restaurants that carry healthy foods at all.
What’s the Deal?
Imagine how dull and dehydrated you’d look after months in the desert. That’s what can happen when you live in an area where healthy, nutritious food— the kind that boosts skin, hair and puts a sparkle in your eyes—is scarce or prohibitively expensive. These locales tend to have easy access to the kind of over-processed, fast food that’s made to be supersized and makes you look and feel “blah.” You there, shopping the dollar menu, we’re talking to you! Step away from the budget burger and listen up.
“If you’re eating a processed, high-fat diet, chances are, you are not consuming lots of fruits and vegetables. The foods that you are not eating contain antioxidants, vitamin C, beta carotene, quercitin and omega-3 fatty acids,” says nutritionist Keri M. Gans, author of "The Small Change Diet." “You are not eating enough of those foods that have been found to help skin look healthier.”
But even if you don’t live in a food desert and are just strapped for time (and hey, they say time is money), when you’re making food choices on the fly, it’s easier to go for cheap and easy, which rarely seems to include the luscious, fresh foods that contribute to health and beauty.
Is Anyone Doing Anything About it?
The government and activists are working to turn America’s desert-ous food landscape into an oasis where good food isn’t limited to those with the cash to shop at fancy organic specialty shops. “Being able to afford fresh, healthy food is a huge barrier for poor people in this country,” says Judith Bell, president of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute. “If you look at the cost of fast food versus the cost of fresh food, it’s much lower.”
And she acknowledges that access is another problem. “For more than 23 million people, you’ll find block upon block or road upon road with no place to purchase this fresh, healthy food,” adds Bell. That entails a greater risk of obesity and related health problems.
President Obama’s 2011 and 2012 budget included the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), a public-private grant and loan program (divided among the U.S.D.A., Health and Human Services and the Department of the Treasury) that helps bring new and better supermarkets to underserved areas, improves existing small stores, supports farmers’ markets and helps link up farmers and consumers. HFFI is also a pillar of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, which aims to raise healthier kids by, among other methods, by promoting healthy eating.
“Forty five million dollars in the agencies’ current budgets is in the process of being distributed, and the president has proposed $330 million for the 2012 budget,” Bell says. “These one-time grants and loans—not constant subsidies, but public-private partnerships—remove barriers to entry into the marketplace and help the entrepreneur to be successful.”
The point? To help make the healthy choice cheaper and easier for everyone.
How to Help Yourself
“I think people need to realize that healthy eating does not have to be expensive. It’s really how you approach shopping and planning for meals,” says Gans.
Plan ahead. “If there’s no thought going into prep for a meal and you’re grabbing something that’s convenient, it can cost more,” says Gans. “If you plan and budget, your dollar can go a long way to create a better meal for yourself and family so you’ll look and feel better.”
Buy what’s in season. “Chances are it will be less expensive,” Gans points out. Stock up when the shelves and market bins are overflowing, and freeze fresh fruits and veggies to eat later. Berries can be washed, popped in Ziploc bags and frozen, Gans says. Flash-frozen options (not in fattening sauces) or even canned (with no salt or sugar added), give you many of the benefits while keeping costs low.
Identify the “cheap” version of a health food. For example, we know omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon are good for us inside and out. “They do all kinds of great things like decrease inflammation in skin and throughout your whole body,” says Marguerite Germain M.D., a dermatologist in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. “Inflammation makes you look and feel bad for sure, and causes chronic conditions like acne and rosacea.” They’re also found in the gorgeous wild salmon fillets that will totally empty your wallet at the fishmonger. However, you can find the helpful nutrients in budget-friendly canned salmon. Or, says Gans, get them in cheap-o canned sardines. Nuts are also sources of omega-3s, but can be pricy. The answer? Buy them in bulk at a discount. The same goes for olive oil, a healthy fat, Gans says. It’s cheaper in the large-size metal tin, and can be decanted into a smaller, stove-side bottle.
Everyone talks about the benefits of green tea, says Germain. Buy a gigante green tea with soy milk at your local coffee shop and get little change back from a tenner. “But good old, inexpensive black tea (like Lipton) is full of antioxidant flavonoids,” she says.
Consider your vanity. Many women are more likely to splurge on fancy face creams than prioritizing foods that will make them look better. “To eat pretty, you need to fuel your body with fruits and vegetables because of the antioxidants they contain,” Gans advises. For example, the vitamin C in fresh citrus and berries is a building block of collagen. “That’s what supports our skin.” The beta carotene in carrots and sweet potatoes is thought to stimulate new skin cell growth, nourish skin and repair sun damage.
Take advantage of H20. Luckily, some of the best things in life are actually free. If you’re dehydrated, Gans says, your skin can look parched and sallow. The good news: Tap water, basically, costs nothing.
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