Healthy food: Eat less dark-green, more orange

I want to point out an article from Feedstuffs FoodLink about the cost of healthy foods and what we can expect to pay this year for healthy food.

The article states that diets normally are a diverse makeup of foods — some that are more healthful and some that are not as healthful — and if the less-healthful foods are less expensive, individuals may have an economic incentive to consume the latter.

Three economists explored whether healthful foods cost more than less-healthful foods and if price differences vary across the country. Their examination looked at several food groups:

  • (1) whole grains versus refined grains
  • (2) dark-green vegetables and orange vegetables versus starchy vegetables
  • (3) whole fruits versus commercially prepared fruit snacks
  • (4) 1% and skim milk versus 2% and whole milk
  • (5) fruit juices versus fruit drinks
  • (6) bottled water versus carbonated, non-alcoholic beverages. They then compared prices per 3.5 oz. serving.

As expected, some healthful foods were more expensive than less-healthful choices, but in other cases, healthful foods were less expensive, the economists said. The full study is available at www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib78.

Time Study

Regardless of which foods they eat, Americans spend a lot of time eating.

More research found that Americans 15 years old and up spend 2.5 hours every day engaged in eating and drinking activities (Figure).

Slightly less than half of this time (67 minutes) was spent in "primary" eating activities like meals, and the rest was spent in "secondary" eating activities while driving, grooming, working, watching television, actually preparing or cleaning up after meals and in other primary activities, according to the research.

The complete study is available at www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib86.

Weight study

The number of children who are considered overweight has tripled over the past 30 years, and one factor influencing children’s diet and weight is likely food prices.

Food prices "have small but statistically significant effects on children’s BMI," they said, noting that lower prices for more healthful foods such as dark-green vegetables and low-fat milk are associated with decreases in children’s BMI, while lower prices for less-healthful choices such as starchy vegetables, sweet snacks and sodas are associated with increases in BMI.

Specifically, a 10% decrease in prices for dark-green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach were associated with a 0.28% decrease in children’s BMI three months later, a 10% decrease in prices for low-fat milk were associated with a 0.35% decrease in BMI and lower prices for sweet snacks were associated with a 0.27% increase in BMI.

A 10% increase in prices for sodas and a 10% increase in prices for starchy vegetables were associated with a 0.42% and 0.3% decrease in BMI one year later.

The full report is available at www.ers.usda.gov/publications/err118.

Children’s issue

The food industry is taking major steps toward improving not only the healthfulness of today’s food but how it’s promoted to children.

For instance, GMA said the industry has decreased the calories, sodium and sugar in more than 20,000 products in recent years, pledged to remove 1.5 trillion calories from the food supply by 2015 and set standards for advertising based on "strict nutrition criteria."

Moreover, GMA said the number of food and beverage commercials on shows viewed primarily by children has decreased 50% since 2004, with commercials for cookies and sodas down 96% and for frozen pizzas, candy and chewing gum down at least 70%. At the same time, GMA said commercials for cereals, dairy products and fruit juices have increased.

The Point

THREE new studies have pointed to problems Americans are having adhering to balanced and healthful diets and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight.

One problem is that there’s often — but not always — a trade-off between eating healthful foods and the higher costs of those foods. However, consumers can make up for this with strategies such as eating fewer dark-green vegetables, which are healthful but more expensive than starchy vegetables, and eating more orange vegetables, which also are healthful but not as expensive.

It should also be noted that the costs of healthful foods are coming down as food producers focus on making them more competitive and, therefore, available.

Indeed, it’s known that as the costs of healthful foods come down, so does a person’s body mass index; unfortunately, the converse is true in that less expensive foods like fruit drinks and sweet snacks are associated with increased indexes.

Nevertheless, food producers are making foods healthier, with fewer calories and less sodium and sugar.

Another problem is that Americans may spend too much time eating — up to 4.5 hours per day — and eating in the wrong ways, such as eating while watching television or even while preparing or cleaning up after meals.

Accordingly, consumers need to make conscientious decisions not only about what to eat but when and where.

Information on the healthfulness and safety of the U.S. food supply is available at www.FeedstuffsFoodLink.com.

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