Have you seen the article about the unemployed, overweight woman in the UK who wants more government benefits in order to help pay for a healthier lifestyle? She asserts she can’t afford anything but junk food for her and her two children, and joining a gym would be out of the question for the same reason.
I have to admit, I have a problem with this woman's logic. Let's break it down…
Is healthy food prohibitively expensive?
Sure, high-end healthy food options are more expensive than junk food. That’s why so many refer to the Whole Foods grocery chain as “Whole Paycheck.” You’ve probably noticed that organic veggies cost more than non-organic. It's really a bummer that it costs less for food that hurts us, and more for food that helps us.
If you’ve ever eaten fast food, you know you can go to the drive-through of the nearest one and get a surprising amount of food for about 20 bucks, all without having to lift a finger to do any cooking. Of course, that food is also pretty awful for your health.
So, before we surrender to the golden arches, let’s take that $20 and think about what you could buy with it.
At most grocery stores you could get a small bag of rice, two cans of beans, two green bell peppers, a couple of onions, a head of garlic, a bottle of spice, and a pound of grass-fed ground beef. With all of that, you could make a pot of chili that would feed a family of three for at least two meals. This would pack a far more nutritious bang for your buck, even leaving plenty of rice from that bag left for other meals as well.
Junk food is making poor people dumb
Most folks know that a bad diet and minimal exercise is the fast track to disease and an early death. But did you know that junk food can actually lower your IQ too?
While this may seem like a no-brainer (pun intended) for health conscious folks, for those who are blasé about their food choices, these findings just may be a bit of a surprise.
An American study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health in 2010, showed that children who consume junk food before the age of three may end up having lower IQs than children who ate home-cooked meals with fruit and vegetables. (source)
A second 2012 study from the University of Adelaide in Australia, examined the eating habits of more than 7,000 children at six months, 15 months and two years, and measured their IQ at eight years of age. They found those who were breastfed at six months and had a homemade diet, featuring home-cooked foods, had an IQ that was up to two points higher. (source)
Yet another study from the University of London observed 5,000 Scottish children, ages 3-5 years old, to determine whether fast food vs. home-cooked foods actually affected cognitive development. They found that not only was more home-cooked food linked to a higher IQ, but also it was the higher social-economic groups that typically provided higher quality food for their children.
This final study explains a subtle but important fact: those with more financial means seem to have an easier time feeding their children healthy foods.
There's the conundrum. Healthy living does not have to be expensive, but having more money certainly seems to help. Yes, it will take a bit of extra thought and effort, however the long-term payoff of smart lifestyle choices is a more deeply rewarding, healthy life.
3 simple ways to be healthy on a tight budget
#1 – Make better food choices.
Organic produce and pasture-raised meats may be unaffordable for some folks, but that doesn't mean you need to subsist on TV dinners and Twinkies on the sofa. It’s really not a simple choice between either junk food or healthy food. There’s a whole range of choices across an entire spectrum of healthiness.
Rather than feeling defeated by your budget, work smartly to see how you can optimize your choices and make the most of what you've got. Plan out your meals each week rather than making rash, last-minute decisions – which often results in a trip thru the drive-through or a call for cheap takeout.
#2 – Do cost-free exercise.
When it comes to physical activity, you clearly do not have to spend money on a fancy gym membership to get a good workout on a regular basis. Walking, jogging, dancing, gardening, and many other activities don't cost a thing. Many community centers have free or low-cost exercise classes too.
You do, however, have to have the willpower to make it happen. So, get up and move – every day.
#3 – Learn to cook.
It can be challenging to turn away from the convenience of junk and fast food, but the fact of the matter is, home-cooked meals are far healthier and don't have to be complicated or expensive.
That said, if you don't cook yet, learning to cook is the keystone to you reclaiming your healthy life.
If you are a complete newbie in the kitchen, start simply and go from there. Learn to scramble eggs, use a slow cooker, and steam veggies. Make a big salad and dress it with some lemon and olive oil. Teach yourself how to roast a chicken.
Then, as often as possible, sit down with family or friends to share your meals – because families that eat together are healthier, smarter, and happier too! (source)
When you know your way around the kitchen, you’ll easily see just how far you can stretch your food dollars into delicious and nutritious homemade meals.
What do you think?
Is income a REAL barrier to good health?