by Joshua Taylor August 18, 2021 5 min read
It is probably safe to say that most people would choose to be healthy and fit, considering that diet and exercise were part of over 58% of recent New Years' resolutions, according to statistica.com. Sadly, the rising obesity rate tells us that these resolutions and most diets are failing.
Today we're going to talk about one of the biggest perceived reasons it is hard to be healthy: the cost of healthy food.
And yes, I said "perceived" – because the cost of food does not have to be a barrier. Almost anyone can turn a diet around without paying more for your food – and in fact, will end up saving money in the long run.
The reasoning behind this is simple:
But the question remains for most people – how do you eat healthy without breaking the bank?
The answer is to start slowly and apply basic nutritional science.
The average American consumes 3,600 calories per day, up from 2,880 in 1961 - compared to the recommended daily intake of 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men. Unsurprisingly, the correlating rates of heart disease and obesity have skyrocketed on a parallel track.
And while there are likely many causes, a major one (which is highly relevant to our topic today) is the hormonal disturbance caused by sugar and empty carbs.
Your metabolic appetite is primarily regulated through the hypothalamus, which has a complex set of hormones and neural pathways. To boil it down, however, we can look at two highly relevant hormones: ghrelin and leptin.
Ghrelin, also known as the "hunger hormone," is created by your stomach when it is empty or your body's blood sugar is low – both of which are natural responses to ensure the body gets the nutrients it needs. When you enjoy a healthy, balanced diet, this hormone does its job well, and your body lets you know when you need food. However, when you add fructose and high-GI foods to the equation, you get an unbalance that leads to an ever-increasing appetite.
Two of the most common ways that ghrelin can become unbalanced are:
Leptin, on the other hand, is produced by fat cells once they reach a certain "fullness," and it tells your brain that you are "full," naturally decreasing your appetite. Unfortunately, numerous studies have shown a vicious cycle in which people become desensitized to the effects of leptin and less able to experience the sensation of being "full."
This all ties directly into the cost of food, considering that eating healthy and nutritious foods helps to keep the ghrelin/leptin system balanced – which can greatly reduce your appetite.
The more you eat low-quality food, the hungrier you will be. Translate that into cost, and you can see that cheaper foods in higher quantities can easily cost the same (or more) than healthier foods in smaller amounts.
Over the last few decades, studies have recognized that there are two distinct appetite mechanisms: Metabolic (your body being hungry) and Hedonic (a desire for the pleasure of eating).
While we aren't going to dive too deep into the science behind these two types of hunger, it is particularly important to understand that eating junk food not only disrupts the hormonal balance of your metabolic appetite but can also cause a "food addiction" through dopamine stimulation.
The more junk food you eat, the more you want to eat, and the more your body craves the pleasure sensation of consuming sugars and other tasty but very unhealthy foods.
The last and most crucial factor in the cost of healthy eating is the health ramifications, both long and short term.
In the short term, a healthy diet gives you the physical energy and feeling of wellbeing to thrive in life. A poor diet may appear cheaper at the grocery store, but it inevitably results in fatigue, lack of energy, and an inability to live life to the fullest.
Extending that concept over years and decades of life, the healthcare costs and physical limitations associated with type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, and the thousands of other symptoms caused by a long-term poor diet can be astronomical.
One statement from The American Heart Association really puts this in perspective:
"… study that analyzed the effects of 10 dietary factors, including consumption of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and processed meats. The study found the annual cost of cardiometabolic diseases caused by poor diet is about $300 per person, or $50 billion nationally. A poor diet accounted for 18% of all heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes costs in the United States."
A comprehensive study done on the actual cost of eating healthy indicated that it costs, on average, $1.50 per day per person more than eating junk.
When you factor in the health risks, your health in general, and the ability to gradually wean yourself to a more reasonable quantity of food to restore a healthy hormonal balance, I would argue that it is significantly less expensive to eat healthy for the long term.
Eating healthy doesn't have to be complicated. You can apply tips and tricks such as:
All in all, taking the plunge to switch to a healthier, more nutritious diet might have a small upfront investment, but believe me – neither you nor your bank account will regret it.
by Dr. David Minkoff
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