When it comes to implementing lifestyle changes one of the most common barriers is money! It is true that big food companies are taking advantage of words like “fresh” and “organic” as a means of ramping up prices. It is therefore important that we consumers are aware of such marketing techniques and learn to choose foods that will help our bodies function optimally and protect against disease, irrespective of whatever health claims may or may not appear on the packaging. So when it comes to making these choices, consider the examples below and learn how you can increase the nutritional content of your favourite meals and snacks while saving some hard-earned cash at the same time!
**Please Note - the yellow highlighting on the images does not necessarily correlate to the healthiest option (it could not be removed)***
1. Nut Bars ($25.00/kg) vs. Mixed Nuts ($15.70/kg)
A good quality nut bar is at very best, 75% nut (well if you are being technical it is far less than this because the majority of nuts comprising these bars are peanuts - which is actually a legume!). So what makes up the remaining +25% of these crunchy snacks? You guessed it - sugar! The subsequent 3 ingredients are literally sugar, sugar and sugar (precisely “invert sugar, glucose, honey”). So don’t be fooled by these expensive treats, there is a much cheaper and healthier way to do it. For less than two thirds of the price, you can stock up on a packet of unsalted mixed nuts which can be easily portioned into 30g zip lock bags and taken with you wherever you go! Eating just a handful of nuts a day can reduce the risk of developing heart disease by 30-50% (1-5). Even people who only eat nuts once a week have less heart disease than those who never eat nuts (4). In addition to these heart-protective properties, nuts also have a GI-lowering effect (6-8) which means that they help to stabilise blood sugars if consumed with carbohydrate. This is likely due to their contribution of fats and fibres which both slow digestion and thus, the release of glucose into the bloodstream. So, whether you eat them on their own as a snack or throw them into your natural yoghurt or smoothie, nuts are worth every cent when it comes to your health!
2. Potato ($4.00/kg) vs. Pumpkin ($1.50/kg)
Potato is a staple in many Australian homes and has been for many years. However, our population has also become increasingly insulin resistant as evidenced by the undeniable prevalence of large waistlines and the current epidemic of Type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance manifests after a chronic period of eating more carbohydrates than one’s body can handle. The pancreas ramps up insulin production to deal with or prevent abnormally high levels of blood glucose. Each person’s carbohydrate tolerance is different and you may well be insulin resistant despite producing “normal” levels of blood sugar. An easy non-invasive measure of insulin resistance is waist circumference, with Australian targets being < 94cm for men and < 80cm for women. This is because visceral fat (stored around our internal organs) has an extremely strong positive association with insulin resistance (9). So what does all this have to do with the humble potato, and why is pumpkin a healthier (and cheaper) choice? Well, 100g of potato contains 18g of carbohydrate while the same amount of pumpkin contains just 6g (10). At any one time a (non-diabetic) person has around 1 teaspoon (5g) of sugar in their blood (11). With the knowledge that carbohydrate breaks down to glucose in the blood, it is easy to see how potato will produce a much greater rise in blood sugar and ultimately require a much greater amount of insulin to deal with such. If you have insulin resistance then your pancreas has to work even harder to clear glucose from your blood, so it seems only sensible to choose foods that are lower in carbohydrate where possible. Pumpkin is also abundant in many essential micronutrients such as the antioxidants vitamin A, C and E. You can make the most of it by keeping the skin on, for extra fibre, and by roasting the seeds to sprinkle over your meal, for healthy monounsaturated fats, protein, iron and zinc. Pumpkin can be roasted, stir fried, mashed or pureed - just like you would use potato.
3. Packaged Crumbing Mixtures ($11.70/kg) vs Desiccated Coconut ($8.00/kg)
Everyone loves crumbed food, whether it be chicken, fish or even to crunch up the top of your cheesy oven-bake dishes! Well it’s time to clear the pantry of nutrient-void crumbing mixtures and say hello to desiccated coconut. Pre-made crumbs tend to be full of unwanted additives such as sugar, salt, artificial flavours and preservatives. Desiccated coconut on the other hand is literally just that - coconut! Coconut meat is high in medium chain triglycerides which are preferentially converted into fuel for the body to use for energy, with little chance of being stored as body fat. Coconut also contains fat-soluble vitamins A and E, alongside polyphenols and phytosterols (12). These properties of coconut meat may be a reason the Kitavans of Papua New Guinea or the Tokelaus of New Zealand, whose staple food is coconut, have no incidence whatsoever of stroke and heart disease in their respective populations (12). Not only is it good for your health and waistline, but desiccated coconut is a perfect alternative for those who many have allergies or intolerances to wheat, gluten or chemicals that tend to be hidden in these types of foods (and don’t forget, it’s cheaper!). Coconut forms a rich, crunchy coating and can be used just like any other crumbing mixture. It even adds depth with it’s unique nutty flavour and you might even like to season it by tossing through your favourite herbs and spices!
4. Frozen Yoghurt ($14.30/kg) vs. Natural Yoghurt ($5.00/kg)
There is a huge misconception that frozen yoghurt is somehow a healthy option, likely due to the inclusion of the word “yoghurt”. Not only is frozen yoghurt almost three times the price of natural yoghurt, it also contains quadruple the number of ingredients (17 vs. 4)! When you see a huge list containing numbers and words you don’t understand then you know you are not eating real food. The less ingredients that are listed on packaged foods, the better. This means that per gram weight of yoghurt, you get more of the good stuff such as calcium, vitamin B12, potassium and probiotics, because there is less of the bad stuff to dilute it. If you have a food processor, try blending some natural yoghurt with your choice of frozen berries. You will be left with a product that mimics frozen yoghurt but contains no added sugar (or other nasty chemicals for that matter). You’ll also be getting a lot more real fruit this way as ‘fruit-flavoured’ items tend to contain very little. Natural yoghurt has a smooth, creamy texture and not only is it a healthier and cheaper alternative to frozen yoghurt, but it can also act as a great substitute for things like sour cream or dip bases.
5. Lasagna Sheets ($7.70/kg) vs. Sliced Eggplant ($7.50/kg)
The final tip for today is to switch lasagna sheets for sliced eggplant! Sliced eggplant is cost-equivalent to home-brand lasagna sheets and a significantly cheaper option to wholemeal or gluten-free varieties. Eggplant is a rich source of fibre and contains B-vitamins which are crucial for energy metabolism. This simple switch will not just improve the nutrient profile of your lasagna, but it will enhance the taste and texture too! Roasted eggplant absorbs flavours from the other ingredients, intensifying the dish and resulting in a “melt in your mouth” texture (yum!). If you are suspicious about how this might turn out then the best thing you can do is to just try it for yourself. You may like to follow this super easy recipe from “Add A Pinch” as a guide: http://addapinch.com/easy-eggplant-lasagna-recipe/.
You should now be enlightened to that fact that so many of these overpriced products we think of as being “healthy” are actually falsely advertised as so, and to our benefit, there are much healthier and cheaper options available! If you require further assistance on how you can make healthier swaps at the supermarket that may just save you some cash, consult a dietitian for personalised advice.
*** Product costs and information (Ingredients List) retrieved from Coles online on 19 December 2016
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2) Ellsworth JL et al. Frequent nut intake and risk of death from coronary heart disease and all causes in postmenopausal women: the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Nutrition Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease 2001;11(6):372-7.
3) Hu FB et al. Frequent nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women: prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal 1998;317(7169):1341-5.
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10) AUSNUT 2011–13 Food Nutrient Database [Internet]. Food Standards Australia New Zealand. 2014 [cited 2016 Apr 06]. Available from: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/ausnut/foodnutrient/Pages/default.aspx.
11) Eades M. A spoonful of sugar [Internet]. The Blog of Michael R. Eades, M.D. 2005 [cited 2016 Dec 20]. Available from: https://proteinpower.com/drmike/2005/08/31/a-spoonful-of-sugar/.
12) Greenfield B. Secrets of the Superhuman Food Pyramid: Benefits of Coconut Meat [Internet]. Superhuman Coach 2013 [cited 2016 Dec 20]. Available from: http://superhumancoach.com/benefits-of-coconut-meat/.