As reported by the Guardian, austerity Britain is facing a nutritional crisis as escalating food prices and diminishing incomes are leading inexorably to unhealthier diets. With food prices up 32% over the last five years, it is inevitably the least well-off who are experiencing the tightest squeeze, resorting to frozen and processed foods in place of fresh fish, meat, and fruit.
The Guardian's analysis of the shopping habits of thousands of Brits found that consumption of high fat, high sugar, processed foods has soared, as consumers, specifically the least well-off, turn to cheaper foods such as instant noodles, coated chicken, meatballs, tinned pies, baked beans, pizza and fried food. Worryingly, the number of people achieving five-a-day fruit and veggies is estimated to have decreased by almost 1 million over the two year period examined.
All this adds up to a nutritional crisis disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable. What's for sure is that government and the food industry have a huge responsibility to tackle escalating food poverty in the UK. I for one won't be holding my breath, as bone-headed politicians and a recalcitrant food industry hardly have a glowing track record when it comes to doing what's genuinely in the best interest of the health of the nation.
So whilst we wait for political action that may never materialise, let's at least dispel the myth that healthy eating is necessarily expensive. Sure, if you want to subsist on wild salmon, organic goji berries and single estate olive oil, your food bill will be astronomical. But healthy eating doesn't require any of that, and here's my take on a selection of top notch nutritious foods on the cheap:
A much maligned food due to unfounded fears about their high cholesterol content (contrary to popular belief, cholesterol in our diet from foods such as eggs, has only a small and clinically insignificant effect on levels of cholesterol in our blood stream). With that put to rest, we can focus on what's good about eggs, such as the fact that they're bursting with high quality protein (making them a great breakfast inclusion for those looking for a satiating start to the day), and that their sunny yellow yolks offer a rich source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin (thought to proffer protection against the development of eye problems, notably age-related macular degeneration and cataracts).
Whether fresh from the sea, or out of a tin, sardines are a mighty food, packed full of the highly beneficial long-chain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA. These 'good' fats proffer a plethora of health benefits, from maintaining the health of the cardiovascular system, to benefits for the brain, mood and staving off dementia, to potent anti-inflammatory effects in the body. They also represent a great source of nutrients lacking in modern diets, notably the minerals selenium and iodine, and much-needed vitamin D.
High-fat foods are typically eyed with suspicion, which is a travesty when it comes to nuts. Packed full of 'good' unsaturated fats, fibre, vitamin E, magnesium and more, nuts are an archetypal cardio-protective food. Indeed, a review of the evidence from major epidemiological studies found that coronary heart disease was 37% lower for those consuming nuts more than four times per week, compared with those who didn't consume nuts. Peanut butter offers a cheap way to get your fix of nuts, but opt for sugar-free versions.
Rich in soluble fibre, notably a type called beta-glucans, means oats can be regarded as a favourable food for lowering cholesterol levels. Indeed, regular consumption of wholegrain cereals such as oats is associated with a lower risk of not only heart disease, but some cancers, diabetes and obesity. The fact that oats boast an impressively low GI completes the story.
Rich in protein, beans offer a viable alternative to massively more expensive meat. Unlike meat, beans pack a hefty dose of fibre, explaining why regular consumption is associated with lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Anything this green, and this leafy, has to be good for you, and kale doesn't disappoint. It's like the food equivalent of a multivitamin pill, packed full of bone-building calcium, magnesium and vitamin K, and a very handsome dose of antioxidant beta-carotene, and eye-friendly lutein and zeaxanthin. Last but by no means least; being a cruciferous vegetable, it's also a rich source of glucosinolates, a family of plant compounds strongly associated with cancer protection.
Perhaps the least likely candidate to be bestowed the glory of such expensive edibles as blueberries, onions have top notch credentials that give so-called 'superfoods' a run for their money. Specifically, they're provide a rich sources of flavonoids, a family of plant compounds being researched for their cardio-protective benefits. Onions are from the allium family, offering a rich source of organosulphur compounds, with research linking consumption with a reduced risk of stomach cancer.
Whilst they might be regarded as a rather frumpy food confined to those looking to relieve their constipation, cheap and cheerful prunes have as much to offer as any exorbitantly priced 'superfood'. They're up there with the best of them when it comes to their antioxidant and phytonutrients credentials, and what's more, intriguing research is now showing they may have specific benefits for bolstering bone health too.
Of course, sourcing these cheaper foods is one thing, making them into something truly tasty is another, and you need look no further than The 100 Foods You Should Be Eating: How to source, prepare and cook healthy ingredients for that.
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