According to a study by Dr. Frank Voelker and Dr. Rona Ruben at the University of Waterloo, “healthy food doesn’t always cost you money—in fact, it can actually save you money.”
The two researchers found that when people choose healthier options, they end up eating less (saving money) and they are more satisfied with their choices (saving time). They also found that healthier foods tend to cost more than junk or comfort foods.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “You are what you eat”. So why is it that so many of us continue to waste a fortune on food we don’t really need? The truth is, the foods you consume have a huge impact on your wallet as well as on your waistline. A healthy diet can actually save you money by reducing your monthly expenses.
Ok, let’s get it out of the way before you continue reading. Yes, I’m biased, I run Malta’s top healthy food meal prep and delivery company and have an obvious vested interest. Truth is it’s actually the other way round.
I founded Plan H purely as I realised that most of us, me included, struggled with the same issues. We all lead hectic lifestyles and not enough time to dedicate to eating healthy food. I caught myself instinctively eating quick, easy foods, fighting stress with sugar, dining out far more than i should. What did my eating pattern result in? Over-processed, nutritionally lacking, high sugar and high saturated fatty foods. Oh, and an ever expanding wardrobe.
Health vs. Junk Food
As it turns out, it’s quite easy to define what junk food is. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is a food that is low in nutritive value, high in fat, sugar or sodium, and does not provide a balanced diet.
Additionally, some staples considered as “healthy” and we insist on feeding our children, are actually junk foods too. Breakfast cereals, I’m looking at you! A balanced diet is not going to be healthy if it includes empty calories, salt, and saturated fats.
Malta – the land of pastizzi, figolli, mqaret and more fast food joints than you can shake a stick at. The statistics paint a pretty grim picture. According to the World Health Organisation, 64.3% of adults (> 20 years old) in Malta are overweight and 28.8% are obese. Even scarier, a study of 6-year olds in Malta found that 34.3% of boys and 29.3% of girls were overweight. Additionally, 14.7% and 11.7%, respectively, were obese.
The correlation between these numbers and our reality is self-evident. Junk food, when considered on a mass scale, is a relatively new phenomenon in history. Today, we have processed foods and fast food restaurants, but it’s not long ago that these were unheard of.
Now we’re constantly inundated with the idea that this is what we need to eat. These “junk foods” are so prevalent because of their ease of consumption. They are readily accessible, affordable, and come in a variety of flavors that we find appealing. But they are also highly processed, lacking in nutrients, and calorie dense, translating into an immediate impact on our body.
The Cost of Junk Food
Junk food is all about that instant gratification. Unless you’re stuck at a Mc.Fried.King drive-thru on a Saturday evening, junk food is immediately available. These foods require zero storage, cooking and cleaning up. For some it’s a weekly (therefore not exactly occasional) treat. For others junk eating is basically the order of the day.
Why is junk food so appetizing? The instant sugar hit, the taste bud carpet bombing of delicious processed sauces, that feeling of sudden warm fuzziness.
There are a number of things going on when we’re eating junk food. There’s a quick burst of the hormone dopamine when we eat it. The brain responds to the hormone by signalling the release of an insulin spike that sends energy back to itself. This makes us feel good. Another reason we eat junk food is because of how quickly it gets digested. It’s easy for the body to digest and absorb calories.
This dopamine rush is actually addictive (and surprise, surprise, intentional). The feeling of satisfaction, of euphoria, makes us want to have more of it. Junk food can make us feel good, and we want to do it again and again.
Studies have shown that it’s more difficult to say no to junk food than to healthy foods. The reason is simple: “People who eat junk food feel good about themselves”. As determined by Lisa Cordileone, a psychologist who studies eating behavior at the University of Michigan. And that feeling of well-being—that warm, fuzzy feeling—makes you want to indulge in something sweet.
This chemically driven indulging, the ease of access and zero-preparation, makes us overlook the true cost of unhealthy foods. Quick dare – open your food delivery app and look for pizzas and burgers. You’ll be inundated, with prices varying from around €6 to €15 and above. A pizza, burger, couple of soft drinks and the delivery cost can easily bring your total dinner for 2 to over €20. That’s well over 1200 calories each and you’ll be itching to eat again in a couple hours.
And yet we think of healthy food as being inherently expensive. Nothing could be further from reality – a ready to eat, roasted whole chicken feeding 2 is around 5-6 Euro. A fresh fish feeding two can be had for well under 10 Euro. A lovely salad for 4, including parmesan shavings and parma ham? Under 8 euro.
I can hear the objections as i type away. I can’t/won’t/don’t have time to shop, cook, eat at a set time. I can’t live off salads and chicken. Keep reading.
Comfort Food. At what cost?
Right off. What IS comfort food? Comfort food can include anything from baked goods and pasta dishes to ice cream and chocolate cake. As a definition, it’s something that you feel like eating when you are feeling down or sad. You need to eat it even if you don’t want to, because you think it will make you feel better.
It’s a way to fill your stomach with something sweet after an emotional or physical struggle. Comfort food is just something to fill the hole in your heart when you need it. Comfort food is also used to describe something that makes you feel good, but isn’t always healthy. You could say comfort food is “that food that makes you happy”.
We tend to think of comfort foods as innocuous while they actually not far off your take out. Entire volumes have been written about the impact and dangers of sugar in our diet. From the obvious soft drinks, to sweets, to the cheap daily staples in our kitchen, sugar is literally everywhere.
What we tend to forget is that our comfort foods are the same foods that have contributed to the rise in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease throughout the developed world. A study by the UCSF found that people who ate the most processed foods were more likely to be obese. Processed food is often high in sugar and low in fiber, both of which can lead to weight gain.
Unlike junk foods, most of the foods that fall into this category are actually pretty cheaply available. A kilogram of pasta is around 2 Euro. A slapdash tomato sauce to go with it and your cost to overfeed 5 is around 6 euro total. A half kilo slab of supermarket ice cream can be had for under 2.50.
Beyond price, at what cost do we indulge to feel better?
The Benefits of Healthy Food
There is no doubt that eating the right, balanced diet is important to a your health and well-being. However, most people don’t understand how fundamental it is. Let’s look at a few benefits of healthy food. A healthy diet helps you maintain a healthy weight, which is a major contributor to a longer, better life. Second, a healthy diet can help prevent many health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. It can also help maintain strong bones and teeth. People who eat well are more likely to be physically active and have a healthier quality of life.
A healthy diet helps you to feel better, both physically and mentally. Healthy food is your body’s best medicine, and it’s also one of your best sources of nutrition. A healthy diet gives you energy, helps you stay focused and productive, and makes you feel happier and less stressed.
Healthy food is the key to staying healthy. When your body is healthy, it’s more likely to be able to fight off sickness. Unhealthy foods can lead to cravings and missed meals, which can cause unhealthy habits. Your body needs proper nutrition to stay in top shape!
Eating healthy doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to eat any fun foods. It just means that if you do, you should eat them in moderation and in sensible quantities. The fun part of eating healthily is that it tastes better than junk food.
The Secret Behind Eating Healthy by Yourself
Economies of scale always come into play in the kitchen. it is cheaper per portion to feed a whole family than to cook for just yourself. Besides the awkwardness of, say, buying 2 carrots, rather than the prepacked tray, some foods just aren’t portioned for one. Roasting a whole chicken means eating the same thing over for 2 lunches and 2 dinners. There’s only so much salad and fish you can cook for one before the food turns, or before you do. To say nothing of the fact that the essence of healthy eating lies in a balanced variety. This feat is almost untenable if you live alone or are cooking separately for yourself, while the family secretly pities you by digging into a bowl of spaghetti.
This, to tie right back in what what I way saying earlier, is why Plan H was founded. Let’s imagine you manage to find single portions of your raw ingredients. And you really couldn’t care less about the food waste. And you even get to ignore the extra cooking time and cost. The pressure for you to give up, to take the easier, cheaper, headache-free route can be overwhelming.
And that is why we fail. The very same reasons we consume junk foods or seek comfort by eating are conspiring against us living healthier.
It’s been said that 90% of people who diet will fail. Of those who do succeed, only about 20% of them will keep it off for more than a year. And most dieters regain most of their lost weight within the next couple of years.
Plan H offers 100% whole foods, in calorie- and macro-controlled meal plans tailored for your goals, body and activity levels. Besides guaranteeing a variety of flavours, dishes and recipes at a fraction of what they’d cost to cook at home, we also offer with plant-based and pescatarian options for most of our plans.
Have a look at this week’s menus for our most popular plans to see what I mean. We’re here to help you succeed, whatever your weight, health and fitness goals are. Our team of experts are moreover at hand via email, chat, or on 1-to-1 meetings to discuss your specific requirements.