Monday, May 23, 2011

Bang for Your Grocery Buck

As the cost of food rises, families need to get the most nutritional bang for their buck. As a registered dietitian, I’m worried the economic recession could lead to a nutrition recession. Americans are already overweight yet undernourished, which means they are not getting enough of the nutrients they need such as calcium and fiber to essential vitamins and minerals. 
The key is to choose nutrient rich foods first: they pack more nutrients per bite and can help you enjoy a healthier way of eating. I have 3 simple tips to get you started without breaking the bank. 
The first tip is to try and only purchase 5-7 days’ worth of food at a time. Specials and coupons can be a great way to save money but only if you need the item. Purchasing items just because it is on special and then not consuming it is a waste. Groceries that sit in your cupboard for weeks before eaten are also money on the shelf.  In tough economic times those assets could have been spent on something more appropriate.  When purchasing fresh produce it is best to only buy one week’s worth to reduce waste.  One trip to the grocery store a week will reduce drop in money pits. You know… You run in on your way home from work mid-week just for something quick for dinner and spend a Benjamin.   
Second, beware of beverages. These designer drinks, sodas and fruit drinks are not only filled with hidden calories, sugar and caffeine, but are a major expense to both your health and your wallet. 
A study in Pediatrics found that 84 percent of teens consume sugar sweetened beverages everyday contributing an extra 356 calories to their daily diet. This means no other single food provides more calories to a teen’s diet than sodas and fruit drinks. In fact, they provide more than cakes, cookies and other sugary foods. Assuming the teen takes in adequate calories from solid food the extra 356 calories from sugar sweetened beverages would yield a thirty plus weight gain in one year! Although this was as study done on teens it is safe to say with 60 million Americans obese the same theories apply. 
The biggest problem with these sweet drinks is that they are replacing real health drinks like milk and unsweetened tea in the diet. Americans spend $56 billion annually on sugar-sweetened-beverages!  
Milk is one of the most economical sources of high quality protein (protein is one the most expensive parts of the diet) and calcium which are important for the growth and development of bones and teeth. You get so much more bang for your buck. It’s the original functional beverage packed with 9 essential nutrients including vitamin D, vitamin A and potassium.  The 2010 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend drinking three glasses of low fat or fat free milk each day. At just 25 cents per glass, it’s one the best beverage bargains in the supermarket. 
Unsweetened tea whether cold or hot has health benefits. All teas regardless the color (black, green, oolong etc.) contain some form of antioxidants. Tea has less caffeine than coffee and research suggest it may reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke. Unsweetened tea can improve your smile and improves your immune defenses protecting against cancer. Unsweetened tea is naturally calorie-free and green tea has been linked to increasing your metabolism.  At just pennies per glass when stepped at home, it is also a major bargain in the supermarket. 
And let’s not forget the most healthy, environmental friendly and cost effective beverage of them all. TAP WATER! Approximately 25% of bottled water is actually tap water that has been treated by using reverse osmosis or deionization and packaged in disposable plastic bottles.  So why would you pay for something that you can get for free?  That is why opting to use stainless steel drinking water bottles save you money as well. You plus a stainless steel water bottle can truly change the world… 
Finally, the easiest way to blow your budget is in the snack aisle… so make snacks count. Snacks like fruits, veggies, grab-n-go yogurt and string cheese, whole grain granola and wheat crackers. Pack a nutrient rich punch.  Why are snack items creeping up in price? The more processed the food more energy it takes to produce the product. The more energy it takes the more gas required and the more gas required the more the price goes up. This is just to get the processed fake food packaged. Now it gets in a gas sucking train, plane or automobile to use more expensive gas to travel half way around the world to land on a shelf in a store near you.  Put no fret they are rolling back prices so you can roll up the pounds on the scale. 
FUEL TIP: The bottom line to stretch your food dollars, you really need to focus on nutrient rich foods and beverages first.  

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