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WalletHub featured Nutrition Professor Christen Cupples Cooper's helpful eating tips in "2021’s Most Overweight and Obese Cities in the U.S."

03/03/2021

WalletHub featured Nutrition Professor Christen Cupples Cooper's helpful eating tips in "2021’s Most Overweight and Obese Cities in the U.S."

What are some tips for eating healthy without breaking the bank?

Each year I have my students take the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Challenge. This means that they must eat on a food stamp budget, following the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan. The exact amount varies by state, but typically runs around $4.15 to $4.30 per day. Many of us spend that amount on a single morning beverage. My students, who report experiencing, hunger, headaches, nose bleeds, mood changes, anxiety, and other discomforts, end the week astounded at how having too little to eat affects their lives and overall sense of well-being. They also learn that healthful food is often inaccessible and expensive and that using tips and tricks for getting the most nutrition they can on a budget is necessary. One tip is to avoid purchasing prepared foods and take the long route to make meals, starting from scratch. Dried beans and rice are inexpensive and provide a complete complement of protein. They are also very healthy for the gut and digestive system. Thus, they are a go-to when eating on a tight budget. Purchasing frozen veggies is another way to save, and most frozen produce is flash-frozen, which helps to retain nutrients. Eating on a low budget can seem boring and mundane but much of this perception comes from North-Americans’ attitudes about food: that we should be able to eat whatever we want when we want it and exactly the way we like it. Most people in the world eat the same thing almost every day, spend much less on food and have better health.

What are the biggest mistakes people make when trying to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle? 

I believe the biggest mistake people trying to achieve a healthy lifestyle make is believing that health is a bipolar concept. That is, believing that eating healthfully and exercising regularly means eating only healthful foods and exercising as hard as possible all of the time. Many people burn themselves out before they can adapt to small changes, which are actually shown to be more effective at improving health because they are easier to achieve and maintain. Adding additional servings of fruits and vegetables to meals or eating meatless a few meals a week can help us save money and also add valuable nutrients to our diets. Another mistake folks make is believing everything they read on labels, online, or in advertisements. Organic foods, for example, are healthful if they are fresh and not highly processed. But an organic cookie is no better than any other cookie. Food manufacturers want us to think it is better, but it is not—it is just more expensive.

According to the CDC, obesity worsens the outcomes from COVID-19. What measures can individuals take to prevent severe complications in the event they contract COVID-19? 

The science seems to point to having a healthy weight as being protective against COVID-19 since adipose (fat) tissue is inflammatory and COVID is an inflammatory condition. Diet therapy to prevent severe complications is still under scientific study. We believe that those with nutritional deficiencies in calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, folate, and zinc, typical in elderly populations, are predisposed to more severe complications from COVID-19. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low in processed foods and red meat—a Mediterranean-style diet—may provide the antioxidants and produce lower levels of inflammation than a typical Western diet. Therefore, that is what is currently recommended for the best health outcomes.

Read the full WalletHub article.