Monday, May 01, 2006

Eating cheap vs. eating healthy

It seems that eating cheaply and eating heathily are often at odds in my life.  

Oh, there are lots of times when they work together.  Making food from scratch is usually both cheaper and healthier than eating prepared, processed foods.  And eating healthy will probably pay off in cheaper medical costs, but that's usually so intangible!  But in my day-to-day, "What will I buy at the grocery store today?" routine, I often feel like I'm weighing my purse against my health.  I really want to eat more healthfully, but that little frugal (cheapskate?) voice in the back of my head keeps getting in the way.

Here's one example: at work, I snack a lot on Saltines.  I've always been kinda proud of myself for going for a more healthy snack like Saltines instead of potato chips or some other "junk food."  And of course, I get store-brand Saltines instead of paying more for name-brand.  But I was reading the nutrition facts the other day, and I realized that my store-brand crackers have trans fat in them!  The name-brand crackers, which cost almost twice as much, don't have trans fat.

I have noticed this as a general trend, actually.  With the advent of trans fat labeling, many name brands have reformulated their recipes to decrease or eliminate the trans fat in their products.  (Which is great!  Huge kudos to the activists behind this movement.)  But it seems like most store brands haven't.  Which puts me, the queen of "never pay for a brand when you can get store-brand cheaper," in a tough spot.  I've started coming down on the side of paying more for the non-trans fat foods.

(Tangentially, one of the results of this is that I get to buy Oreo cookies-- which I adore but have always been told are horribly bad for me-- and say I'm doing it for health reasons!  Yes, I know that Oreos still aren't healthy.  They still have 7g of total fat per three-cookie serving.  But they've gone down from 2.5g trans fat per serving to 0g, and the store-brand cookies I used to get usually have 1-1.5g trans fat per serving.  I know, I know, I should eat fresh fruit or something for dessert.  But Oreos are sooooo good...)

It isn't just about trans fats, of course.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive.  Organic and natural foods are more expensive.  Where do you draw the line on spending $5 on a super healthy natural version of something when you can buy the regular, store-brand kind for $1.50? 

Eating more healthily is a big goal of mine.  But because I am lucky enough to have a metabolism where I don't really need to watch my weight (at least at this point in my life), I don't really see much tangible payoff from healthy eating, just the knowledge that hopefully I will live a longer, healthier, happier life.  Which is really important, of course!  I just sometimes struggle with balancing those more abstract payoffs against cold hard cash in the bank at the end of the month...

(I know there are tons of posts out there about these issues, but I don't have time right now to dig them up!  But if you know of any, let me know, and I'll add links.)


Tiredbuthappy said...

For me, the healthy-versus-frugal battle has a third contender. I need food that is healthy, frugal, and FAST. One job is an inhale-food-while-working job. The other job is a fifteen-minute-break job. That means I need microwaveable meals. I hound the sales at Acme to buy Lean Cuisines when they're affordable, and then overstuff the freezer when they do go on sale.

Mom2fur said...

A lot of shelved baked goods have those nasty fats in them. This is how they keep them fresh for months at a time. Does your store have a freshly-made bake shop? Not to say there wouldn't still be fat, but I think the trans fats might be a lot lower because these things aren't expected to have much of a shelf life. It's worth comparing labels. Oh, and another thing to watch out for is those 15 cent ramen noodle packs--boy, are they loaded down with nasty stuff. (But they taste good, LOL!)
Do you remember the phrase: "Why is it that everything I like is either illegal, immoral or fattening?" Seems it applies today more than ever.