It signifies a sad state of affairs in our country that it actually costs less to eat junk food than a healthy meal. Processed food consumption is a vicious cycle; as we eat more and more of these items, their production costs decrease, making them cheaper and more readily available.
However, America’s rising healthcare costs, along with our growing rates of preventable diseases, show the true price of choosing these items over a healthy diet. While it may cost more up front to eat whole, organic foods, the long-term savings on medical care that our nation will enjoy make the initial spending well worth it. Additionally, there ARE ways to eat organic on a tight budget.
Health care in the United States is the most expensive of any country in the world. We spend 15.9 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) on it. According to 2012 statistics published in the journal Health Affairs, approximately 75 percent of the 2.2 trillion dollars that the U.S. spends on health care goes towards the treatment of chronic conditions that are often preventable by diet and lifestyle changes, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancers.
The American Diabetes Association calculated that costs related to diabetes alone set the U.S. budget back over 174 billion dollars per year, while obesity treatment expenses total a similarly egregious 147 billion dollars per year.
Although we spend so much on healthcare, heart disease is the leading cause of death in our country, and an entire third of our children and adults are overweight or obese. Sadly, these statistics continue to grow each year.
Carol Wagner, a nutritional consultant for businesses in the Chicago area, points to our nation’s large-scale consumption of fast foods and processed foods as the culprits for our sad state of health and overwhelming health care expenditures.
She summarizes, “far too much of the Western diet today involves processed and refined foods, and we’re paying the price in our high obesity and chronic disease levels, as well as in rising healthcare costs. When foods are processed, chemicals are used, important nutrients are removed, and sweeteners are added. This tricks your body’s ability to regulate how much you eat and makes you want to eat more… In fact, people tend to eat less when they eat unprocessed foods. Chances are, if your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food… you should steer clear.”
Judith Frampton, Registered Nurse and Vice President of Medical Management at Harvard Pilgrim agrees: “the single most important way we can improve our health is to improve the way we eat.”
The simple and obvious remedy to our nation’s crisis is clear: we must all make an effort to avoid processed foods, and instead choose natural, organic ingredients for healthy, unprocessed meals.
There are many significant benefits to eating organic. A long-term analysis of approximately 100 studies, including over 40 published in the last seven years, shows that organic produce provides 25 percent higher levels of about a dozen vital nutrients than non-organic produce of the same varieties, and none of the risks associated with pesticide use.
Lab studies on rats fed an all-organic diet had stronger immune systems, less body fat, lower overall weights, calmer demeanors, and more restful sleep patterns than those on a non-organic control diet.
Furthermore, a study backed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested children’s urine for pesticide levels before and after they switched to an organic diet. Five days after the switch, the chemicals that were present before the switch had decreased and were nearly undetectable.
One of the principle reasons many of us fear a switch to an organic diet is the potentially higher grocery bill. Especially within today’s tight economic conditions, the higher price tags of organic produce seem impossible on a budget.
However, there are ways to eat organic without breaking the bank. Check local food markets and farmers’ markets for organic produce before going to the grocery store. Especially if the particular item is in season, these locales often have better prices.
Another solution is buying organic foods in bulk, as many warehouse stores now offer organic options, sometimes for a significant price reduction. Also, your local grocery stores, along with the websites of specific manufacturers, often provide coupons and promotions on various organic products.
Finally, the best option: grow your own organic fruits and vegetables! If you’ve got a little bit of space, and a little bit of extra time, there is no better way to enjoy fresh, natural, chemical-free produce that straight from your own backyard or window box. This way, you have the freedom to plant whatever varieties you want, and you can always freeze what you cannot immediately use.
It is strongly in America’s best interest to go organic, and to forget the cheap, processed foods entirely. If each one of us does our part, and educates our families to do the same, we can all begin enjoying better health, and more money in our nation’s budget for other important expenses.
-The Alternative Daily