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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Column: Nutrition on a budget

If your student wallet is like mine, it is probably full of wishful thinking instead of money. And if you love to eat, an obvious shortcoming is not being able to afford pricey foods. Yet in an effort to stay healthy, many students continue to overspend on nutrition. In an effort to save money, many others turn to fast food for a solution. In truth, both are expensive.

While one makes you overpay immediately, the other is filled with external costs. Weight gain aside, a fast food diet low in nutrients will likely result in poor health, costing you more through supplements, doctor visits, fitness trainers and over the counter drugs. Even to save money, we obviously need good nutrition. The problem is that many students don’t know how to buy cheap and healthy at the same time.

Luckily, a nutritious diet does not have to poke your paycheck with a fork. Or stab it with a knife. A few simple grocery rules will do. Not only will these tips lower your expenses, they will also save you hidden costs by leaving you with an optimal brain, body and immune system.

First off, simply cutting your meat consumption in half will do wonders to your bill and self. For one, this is typically the most expensive food group in your shopping cart. Second, leaning toward plant proteins like mushrooms, peas, soybeans, tempeh, beans, nuts and oats can lower your risk for heart disease because their healthy oils and fibers lower cholesterol. Wheat gluten, low fat dairy and eggs can also be cheaper and great sources of protein.

What’s more? Doing this probably won’t deprive your body of protein, as the average adult already eats about 55 percent more protein than he or she needs. So consider adding the above foods to your diet. It may be tempting to instead buy a protein bar but, unless it is your way of avoiding even more expensive takeout, remember that pre-made and over-packaged anything will up your bill.

Speaking of which, your next solution is to go as raw and simple as possible. Do this, and the better off you and your wallet will be. You can pay for the wrapping and time spent putting ingredients together, or you can do it yourself. You can also buy food that is no longer recognizable, or you can buy un-tampered foods that are cheaper and healthier. Vitamins are often added to processed foods, but no matter how fortified they are, the starting ingredients are likely way more nutritious than the end products. Even the process of canning, for example, zaps out up to 90 percent of vitamin C in canned fruit.

If you want natural foods that are higher in vitamins and minerals, an easy solution is to first look down at your grocery cart to see what you have. Examples of over-processed and over-packaged foods include energy bars, canned soups, pre-made and frozen entrees, shakes and snacks in to-go cups. Hopefully, you will instead see most of your foods as close to their natural element as possible. I say, 15 ingredients or less is a good goal to shoot for.

Foods in their natural element, of course, will easily spoil and be thrown out when bought in bulk, which many of us do. Not only do Americans love buying in large amounts, but the average household also wastes 14 percent of its groceries –– money simply lost in the trash. While I still encourage buying in bulk, your budget is solved with this: only buy dry foods in bulk, not fresh.

Purchasing fresh foods in reasonable amounts will make them eaten, not thrown away. Super-sizing on dry foods, though, will give you better deals. Even organic foods, such as cereal, in bulk, will likely fit your budget. But is organic worth it?

When it comes to organic, higher price tags often convince us that organic products are superior. It turns out that some organic foods can boost your longevity, but there are many times when buying it won’t make sense. Next Wednesday, find out why and when to go organic.

THERESA RICHARDSON is bringing you the latest research to keep your college waistline and health in check. For questions or comments contact her at terichardson@ucdavis.edu.

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