One look inside a shopping trolley will show you how varied our food tastes are. One trolley might be full of fruit and vegetables and another might be groaning under the weight of processed items such as snack foods, confectionery and the like. There are a number of factors at play when we choose food, most of which we are completely unaware.
Income – people of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to choose processed foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt and are at greater risk of being overweight. Age – younger age groups choose more processed and junk food, whereas older age groups purchase less processed food and tend to make healthier choices. Education – as your level of education increases so does the likelihood of choosing healthy food. Lower levels of education affect food choice negatively across all food groups. Time – in today’s fast paced world, we are all impacted by time crunch, which can often negatively affect food choice. With more working parents than ever, convenience foods are playing a significant role in our diets and our fat, sugar and salt intakes increase accordingly. History – what did your parents do? If you were raised on a healthy diet, it is more likely that you will continue to do this as an adult.
I recently interviewed Maggie Beer, Cook, Author and Gourmet Food Producer and she is a passionate advocate of choosing and preparing food that is fresh, healthy, sustainable and home grown where possible. The beauty of this philosophy is that these types of foods are usually whole foods. Whole foods are those that are minimally processed and include wholegrain cereals and breads, vegetables, legumes and soy foods, nuts and seeds, fruit, dairy and lean meat, chicken and fish.
Protecting your health
Highly processed foods usually bring a couple of friends with them in the form of refined sugar, fat and salt which are not naturally present in the ingredients before they are processed. A regular and excess intake of these leads to weight gain and increases the risk of every lifestyle disease.
Grow your own
Whether you have as little space as a balcony in an apartment, a suburban backyard or acreage, the principles and basic needs of growing vegetables remain the same with only minor variations. Planting tomatoes in a pot, growing herbs on a windowsill or integrating silver beet amongst a flowerbed are just a few ideas to get you started. The taste of homegrown food is sensational and is a great way to educate kids on where real food comes from and how it grows.
Make it yourself
Wherever possible, use fresh produce and cook it from scratch. For example, homemade tomato pasta sauce can be made with much less salt and more taste than commercial varieties. It might seem convenient to buy prepared custard but making your own is significantly less expensive, contains less sugar and takes only three minutes to prepare in the microwave. If you have children make sure you involve them in the cooking to develop essential skills for their well-being as an adult.
Save your wallet
Whole foods are generally associated with plainer packaging and minimal intervention whereas the opposite is true of processed foods. Looking at supermarket shelves, it often seems like a competition to see who can have the biggest, brightest packaging with the most persuasive marketing – all of which you pay a premium for.
While we are fortunate that many foods are now available year round, this is only possible because the food is imported. There is a distinct disadvantage in purchasing out-of-season produce, as it is usually more expensive due to storage and transportation across long distances. Buying produce locally is cheaper, in-season and more likely to be fresher and of higher quality.
Helping the environment
Being less processed, the production of whole foods requires less energy. Packaging is often minimal (think fruit and vegetables) and contributes less to landfill. In-season produce grown locally has travelled less distance, resulting in less greenhouse gas emissions. Check out your local weekend growers market for a fantastic range of fresh food that hasn’t travelled far to get there at affordable prices.