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Comparing the cost of common foods is important; especially now that overweight or obese is a looming epidemic in Nigeria and many low-income families are struggling to put foods on their tables. But the belief that healthier foods are always pricier further adds to the problem.
Even though many variables such as personal preferences, convenience, and cultural factors play a role in determining family meals, cost may play an even greater role in food choices of many individuals. Paradoxically, it is a common perception that healthy foods are more expensive than less healthy foods—and this perception, real or hypothetical; prevent many individuals from choosing healthy foods.
Are healthy foods really more expensive? Evidence suggests that this is not really the case. It really depended on how an individual measures the cost of food or compares one food with another. For instance, when comparing the quality and nutrition of foods, healthy ones are far cheaper.
Interestingly, the results of a study on 4,439 foods in the United States of America by its Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, which analysed the cost of healthy foods based on price per calories (as previous studies had done), price per edible gramme and price per average portion also corroborated that healthy foods are far cheaper.
The study defined healthy foods as containing at least half of a serving size of one of the five food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and proteinous foods) and must have only moderate amounts of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium. It defined unhealthy foods as foods high in saturated fat, added sugars, and/or sodium.
The researchers found that when they used the price per-calories analysis, fruits and vegetables appeared more expensive but this changed when the price per edible-gramme and price per average-portion were considered.
Based on the study, food items such as carrots, onions, pinto beans and mashed potatoes were all less expensive per portion than ice cream, sweet rolls, pork, chops and ground beef. In fact, proteinous foods and food high in saturated fat, added sugars and sodium were all more expensive than fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains based on these measures.
Although portion size could be a determinant of many people’s choice of foods they take, the body does not need all the food that is taken by many individuals. It ends up being stored as fat. In fact, smaller portions containing all the five food groups are far better.
Really, cost should not be the determinant of what food is taken as well. Of course, there is a range of prices for any type of food in the market or grocery shop. There are expensive food items and inexpensive ones, as well as expensive and inexpensive junk food.
While cost is a common excuse offered for not eating nutritionally, it is not the only barrier. Mr Tunde Ajobo, a dietician, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State, stated that dearth of information on how best to maximise the health benefits of common foods available as well as the notion that the more expensive a food is the more nutritious it is were also big challenges.
According to him, often times, people forget that irrespective of the name a food item may bear, what is most important is its nutritional benefits to the body.
While several food options abound in every locality, he stated that the cost of the food items should not be the determinant of what should be bought. “Whether, it is corn flakes, oat, pap or even yam, all supply carbohydrate to the body. What the body recognises is that carbohydrate is supplied to it, “said Mr Ajobo.
Even though many people would rather buy the packaged vegetable oil from the shop, for instance, he stated that the fact remains that the packaged oil had been bleached and had lost its vitamins and mineral. This, he said, cannot be compared in terms of its nutritional benefits to palm oil.
According to him, eating variety of food items was the best option to eating well. “You can imagine if a plate of rice is garnished with green leafy vegetables, egg, carrot and so on. The different colours are appealing to the eyes. And of course, each colour on the plate indicates presence of different vitamins that the body needs.”
Unfortunately, many people hardly give any consideration to what each food item actually does inside the human body. In addition, some people just don’t want to make the effort to buy food items such as fruits and vegetables.
“Simple things such as having a backyard poultry or vegetable farm can help to agument the nutritional needs of the family,” said Mrs Funmilayo Olusa, Deputy Director, Nutrition, Oyo State Ministry of Health.
Mrs Olusa, who reiterated that people need not have plenty of money to eat healthy, stated “if individuals have adequate information on what adequate nutrition is, then meeting the body’s daily nutritional requirement to remain healthy and grow well based on available food items in the community would not be a challenge.”
She classified basically all food items into three groups. There is the body building foods like beans, locust beans, egg and milk. The other groups include the energy giving foods (yam, bread, fufu and rice) and foods that help to protect the body from infections (vegetables and fruits).
“All individuals will be able to afford one food item in each group of food classes at every point in time. All that is important is that we should learn to combine food items from these three groups to make an adequate diet which is required to sustain growth and remain healthy,” she stated.
But healthy eating is more than just what one eats. The entire cost of their diets needs to be considered. Foods that provide large amounts of nutrients will preserve health, ensure less prescription medications, less doctor bills, and thus will save money in the bigger picture.
Nutritional economy and caloric economy are two different things. Eating to be filled without regard to nutrients will cost more in the end in the form of increased health care costs and compromised health. So individuals need to be more flexible about choosing less expensive fruits and vegetables that are in season to sustain their health.Share