Want a Better Diet? Get Wisdom.
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. –a proverb of King Solomon
In our throw-away world, quality is expensive. We expect to pay more for well-made clothing, premium stadium seating and ace legal advice, so it might follow that good food is pricey food. This is, however, not the case. Good food requires wisdom more so than cents.
We know that a healthy diet includes these things: high fiber, low salt, low fat, fresh vegetables and organic fare. We know that the best diet takes into account such things as lifestyle and personal history. Perhaps you cannot eat gluten. Maybe you’ve given up red meat or cheese. It may be that you are in the midst of a raw food transition. No matter your personal dietary needs, or living situation, you can increase nutritional intake with a little wisdom. Following are five enabling ideas.
Good bread cannot be baked out of bad wheat. –Mischle Yisrael
Learn to read labels.
Many bread labels will blaze the words “whole wheat”, but please note that not all whole wheat breads are created equal. The fastest way to judge bread is by its cover. If the loaf in question has a stingy amount of whole wheat, the label will reflect that in the fiber content. Bread containing less than 5 grams of fiber per slice is not a great source of fiber, no matter what else the label may claim. Read about dietary fiber here.
A label may honestly claim ‘all natural ingredients’ and be far from a healthy food. Salt, for instance, is natural, as are non-hydrogenated fats. Few people in the industrialized world are eating too little fat and Americans consume sodium at heart-stopping rates. MSG, a natural flavoring, may actually be listed by those words. Read what the Center for Science in the Public Interest has to say about ‘all natural’ sodium enhanced chicken.
Educate yourself about what label jargon means, and you’ll quickly decide it time to cook from scratch, which leads me to my next point:
Learn to cook from scratch.
Commercially processed and packaged foods tend to contain unhealthy amounts of salt, sugar and fat, never mind the preservatives and genetically modified food stuffs. Mind you, not every food that you’ll find on the grocer’s shelf will kill you, but mass producing foods economically generally means use of fillers. Making sure those foods will look fresh, though they’ve been in transit or in storage for more months than you care to know, requires conditioners, additives and preservatives. Need to know more about food additives? Check out this informative chart of food additives by Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Much has been said about the use of additives in commercial foods. Studies have indicated that salt, fat and sugar are not only cost effective ingredients, they improve the manufacturer’s bottom line another way. They are addictive.
Is salt addictive? Read more here.
Is sugar addictive? Read more here.
Is junk food addictive? Read more here.
It’s a good day to cook from scratch!
In my area, a loaf of locally made organic whole wheat bread costs about the same as five pounds of organic flour: $4.40. Take about sixty cents worth of the flour, add a bit of salt and yeast, a teensy amount of sugar, a few tablespoons of butter, some water and milk and you’ll bake yourself a couple of fine whole wheat baguettes for a fraction of the cost of that one loaf of store bread. Not counting energy usage, I save roughly $27 on the 8 baguettes I make from five pounds of flour.
Last June I purchased a fifty pound sack of pinto beans for $30. At the time, commercial brands of canned beans had jumped to over $1.60 while organic beans were going for $2.30 a piece. I’ve been cooking up big batches of beans from that bag and still have around 20 pounds remaining. So I’m not only skipping the salt and fat often added to commercial beans, I’m skipping the BPA lined cans altogether. These healthier homemade beans are costing me pennies.
- Not all grocery store organics are more expensive. Recently I found organic bell peppers for $1.58 each. These were huge, bright peppers in prime shape. It took me roughly half a second to decide they belonged in a big pot of from-scratch shrimp jambalaya, each heaping serving of which I figure cost around $1.35.
I’ve given a few examples of how cooking from scratch will save wads of cash while brightening your family’s nutritional landscape. Looking for more inspiration? Chef Daniel Koontz shares high quality, low cost recipes and food ideas daily on his blog, Casual Kitchen.
Learn to grow some of your own food.
Planting edibles is not only the cheapest way to eat outside of dumpster diving or bumming off one’s friends, it provides a satisfying pastime that at once improves your quality of life and offers greater control over your food. You may not have a suitable yard, but perhaps you could get a plot at a community garden, or negotiate a sharecropping deal with someone whose garden needs workers. One fellow I know tilled, fertilized, planted and tended an elderly widow’s long-ignored backyard garden and split the bounty with her. One year I grew tomatoes in an empty suite on the third floor of my office building. Rent free.
Seeds are inexpensive, and free gardening tips abound online. Localized tips are available through your Cooperative Extension office, plus your library almost certainly has a trove of tomes to get you digging it.
Learn to buy in-season foods.
Foods that are in season are fresher and usually less expensive.
Find out what’s in season in the UK
Find out what’s in season in your area of the US.
Live elsewhere? Maybe you should lobby the makers of this handy iPhone application to add your country.
Learn what you are better off without.
The saying goes that it is not occasional, but daily habits that define a life. Some can live without music while others manage sans books. Many get along well outside of America’s car culture. We’re happy to live without a cell phone, TV, housekeeper, club memberships and fast food. We brush our teeth with baking soda (fifty cents for six months!), use $2 a gallon vinegar to clean virtually everything in the house, wait for movies to come out on DVD, and dry our clothes on a line. Why? We are choosing to invest resources into growing, buying and cooking great quality food.
Wise eaters prepare meals from unprocessed ingredients, buy in season and grow fruit, herbs and vegetables. Follow suit and soon you’ll experience the joy of a little extra moolah in your pocket. If I were you, I’d spend that cash on the ingredients for a yummy, low fat, high fiber, organic treat.
This article was originally published by Luciole Press magazine.