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COLUMN: Nutritional thrift

Do you feel that the contents of your wallet must dictate the contents of your dinner plate? It’s a common belief that healthy eating is not only confusing (they keep changing what’s good!) but very expensive. Read on and discover how a family with a strict food budget need not fear venturing beyond the processed food aisles (where, unfortunately, coupon cutters find much of their quarry) and into the land of fruits, vegetables and lean, clean protein.

This is how America currently eats: About 80 percent of the calories we consume are derived from refined flour products, refined sugar, refined seed oils and fatty meat — a very processed lineup. A diet based on these food choices contributes to a state of systemic inflammation in our bodies, a condition now thought to promote a long list of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, depression and cancer. If “food” made from the above components were free, it would still be expensive, when regularly consumed, due to the great cost of treating the diseases towards which that dietary road leads.

This is how we should eat (short version): lean meat, poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables of various colors and nuts. You can add some things to this list, like I do, such as some whole grains, eggs, olive oil, plain yogurt, red wine and dark chocolate, but the short list is the foundation (vegetarianism can also work well, and if you are so inclined, I’m sure you’ve done your homework).

Is this diet, which is actually anti-inflammatory, a prohibitively expensive way to eat? Not if you use the same shopping skills it took to find the 2-for-1 mac and cheese. A big bag of frozen carrots, broccoli and cauliflower can go a long way, as can a large container of pre-washed organic salad greens, both inexpensive per serving. Chicken, even organic free-range, is quite reasonable. Other organic choices worth considering are berries, apples and bell peppers. But don’t let fear of pesticides keep you hiding in the microwave entree case! Eat as close to nature as you can, but conventionally-grown onions, avocados, cabbage, asparagus, eggplant, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, pineapple and watermelons, to name a few, tend to be low in chemical residues, so fill the cart! Snack foods should be fruit or nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, cashews and pistachios. If you cook your own food, you know what’s in it. Take back that choice from the take-out joints.

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