…because the media has been suspiciously quiet on the subject. Foodbanks are booming in my area of the UK, with the use of Trussel Trust outlets doubling in the past year. Extortionate costs of accommodation, low wages and benefit delays are the major reasons, leaving many out of pocket and hungry.
Once housing costs have been taken into account, many families are struggling to afford basic and healthy food items, choosing instead to alleviate hunger first and leave health concerns aside by buying highly processed foods at the expense of fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables.
Can’t afford to eat a healthy diet?
Think again. A poor quality diet is known to be a risk factor for mental disorders, and with the rising incidence of many mental conditions in children and adults, mainstream psychiatry is finally taking note that the brain, like any other part of the body, requires “premium fuel” to function effectively. Access to the abundance of cheap unhealthy “fuel” affects mood, learning and behaviour AND is driving the obesity epidemic.
My updated 3rd edition e-book “Healthy Eating On A Budget” explains the new thinking we need to adopt in an era of increasing pressure on both finances and health.
What a sad indictment that one in three children in the UK are overweight or obese, with poverty being one of the main contributors. In fact, the prevalence of obesity in children living in the most deprived areas is now twice that of children living in the least deprived areas. The reason is that the cheapest ‘fillers’, the easiest to locate and those most addictive, are found in junk foods. It’s all about hunger, not health education.
Although in the midst of an “epidemic of nutritional poverty” with foodbanks a permanent fixture, we are being warned to live healthier lives or contribute to the costs of our healthcare. As increasing numbers of baby boomers reach their dotage, the NHS budget struggles to afford free medicine. The message is clear: if we want to avoid a physical and mental health crisis as pensioners, we have to adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle.
The promised ‘sugar-tax’ is a tentative first step towards the government taking some responsibility for shaping our healthy food choices – although the measure will not take effect until 2018. This two-year delay is presumably to allow the industry to figure out the immense technical difficulties involved in reducing the sugar content of their deadly concoctions (hint: put less sugar in the stuff in the first place).
Initial industry response to the sugar tax has focused on the effect it could have on “food costs” for the poorest in society whilst continuing to flatly deny that soft drink consumption can possibly have any deleterious health consequences such as above-mentioned obesity. Despite the sponsored inclusion of a look-alike can of coke on the government’s previous ‘eat-well’ plate, fizzy drinks are not, and never were, food. The volume and sugar content may alleviate hunger for a short while, but they have no place in a healthy eating regime, whatever your budget.
During the course of my work as a Nutritional Therapist I encounter many people, health and social care professionals in particular, who tell me it is not possible to eat a healthy diet on a low income. Fed up arguing with them, I decided to have a go at testing out their theory in 2012 by devising a menu plan with healthy recipes for a week. The food was bought from a local supermarket. The results were interesting, confirming that it was indeed possible to eat healthily on a very limited budget – and I discovered that, once stocked up with a few essentials, a week’s healthy eating for a single person costs less than £20.00.
My e-book “Healthy Eating On A Budget” contains a suggested weekly menu, recipes and a shopping list detailing the cost of ingredients, plus many tips on how to eat cheaply without sacrificing taste or quality. The recipes are easily adaptable to gluten- or dairy-free diets. This 2016 edition also includes a brand-new vegetarian section with menu and recipes, and uses food costs based on Aldi prices wherever possible.
The meals are designed to be economical and to support individual health rather than the health of the balance sheets of junk food manufacturers. I have incorporated leftovers as much as possible to keep costs down and reduce food waste. The only caveat – and a crucial one – is that you need to be able to plan your shop and make time to cook the meals! I would be interested to hear how you think my menu ideas can be improved.
About the Author
Martina Watts MSc Nut Med MBANT CNHC is a Registered Nutritional Therapist and works with children and adults to provide expert nutritionist advice. Martina’s key interest is the increasing impact of our technological culture on our diet, the established links with physical and mental health problems, and how these trends may be managed or reversed using food and nutrition. She is the author of “49 Ways to Eat Yourself Well. Nutritional science one bite at a time” and editor of “Nutrition and Mental Health: a handbook. An essential guide to the relationship between diet and mental health” and “Nutrition and Addiction: a handbook. Supporting recovery from food and substance misuse with nutritional and lifestyle interventions.”
 Food Statistics Pocketbook 2012, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
 Watts MK. (2011). Nutritional Therapy in Practice for Learning, Behavioural and Mood Disorders. Nutrition and Health.20 (3&4).
 Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet – England, 2016, Health & Social Care Information Centre, April 28, 2016
 Patrick Butler, Britain in nutrition recession as food prices rise and incomes shrink, The Guardian 18.11.12