When health is unaffordable

In the ever-changing world of advice for a healthy diet — last week eggs were horrible for you; this week they are an important source of protein — the journal Lancet has thrown a new wrinkle into the conversation. The problem is not so much all the unhealthy things we DO eat, like red and processed meats, tons of salt, sugary drinks, trans-fats, etc. The problem is more about what we are not eating.

Among the examples given were whole grains, seeds, nuts and fruits — though even in this shifted thinking, too much salt is still a problem.

In fact, according to Lancet, one in five deaths globally in 2011 was because of a lack of those kinds of foods. (Others on the list include vegetables, milk and other foods high in calcium, legumes, omega-3 fatty acids in seafood, and other foods higher in polyunsaturated fats.)

Fantastic … have you ever gone to the grocery store and looked at the difference between a basket full of things like ramen noodles, 80/20 ground beef and 25-cent drink mix packs; and brown rice/quinoa blend, salmon and bottled water? Throw a few avocados, almonds and clementines in there and you’ve racked up quite a grocery bill. Not the healthiest thing for your wallet, if you’re on a budget.

It would be nice if some of these studies came with recommendations from economists and policymakers about ways to make the healthy stuff more affordable. This particular report was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I hear they might have a connection or two.

There is too much talk about awareness and education, changing what is available to kids in schools, modifying habits, and the like; and not enough talk about finding a way to make those kinds of foods accessible and affordable in places like, oh, say, West Virginia.

Now, to be fair, there are plenty of people in the Mountain State who do have the access and the money to include more of those foods in their diet and avoid it. Try getting someone who is a fearful/picky eater to taste an avocado for the first time.

It doesn’t matter how much money you have to spend when your fully adult palate is still tuned to chicken nuggets and french fries dipped in ranch dressing. That IS a matter of parents who are able helping their kids learn to appreciate a variety of foods and be brave in trying new things. But I digress.

The U.S. ranks 43rd in terms of diet-related deaths. Israel, France, Spain, Japan, and Andorra have the fewest. According to the study, the biggest problem in the U.S. is a lack of whole grains in most people’s diets. Again, have you ever noticed the difference in the price for a basic white bread versus a multi/whole grain bread?

If you have plenty of money for grocery shopping, please, go try some new things. Add a few of those healthy options to your list. You won’t regret it. Just typing this has made me hungry for a sliced avocado or a spoonful of pomegranate seeds.

But more importantly, if you have influence; if you are a decision-maker for a grocery store, or a supplier, for example; or if you are a policymaker who could adjust regulations … start thinking about this. Start figuring out how we can make it easier for those with less to spend on food to eat healthier — all year long.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com