With the new year around the corner, I spy with my little eye a whole lot of “I’m going to get healthy” resolutions. I love a hearty healthy meal. I grew out of my junk food and booze phase quickly after college, now I’m found scanning the vegetable section. After seeing my fair share of what “healthy food” is categorised into, I’m only beginning to realise that having a good diet is a whole different ball game altogether. I grew up eating only home cooked food and grabbing something from outside was quite occasional. As I grow older, I see this reverse, and in all honesty, it’s concerning both in health and finances.
I’m no chef and on most days I’m too exhausted to come up with a meal from scratch. I still want to eat healthy and started looking for easier alternatives. But it wasn’t until recently that I figured two things have changed the way I eat…or buy food.
1. Most packaged “healthy food” isn’t all that healthy.
2. This so-called “healthy food” might be burning a hole in your pocket.
One of the biggest shockers I had was when I saw the high sugar, salt, or fat contents in the healthy ready to cook foods or snacks I was picking up. The fat and salt in breakfast sausages or the sugar in yogurt was enough to throw me off. Sure, the calorie count might be less but overcompensation with either of these three is equally dangerous. Most “healthy packaged” food is far more expensive than regular items. Sometimes, it can be twice the price. I wanted to cut on dairy so I opted for vegan milkshakes or yogurts, and turns out they have as much or even more sugar than regular ones, for almost triple the price.
At that point I asked myself an important question which I think everyone who’s aiming to eat healthy should ask themselves – “Is this actually healthy? And if it isn’t, is it worth it?” And if it’s a no for both of these, you’ll find yourself leading to “How do I beat the loop? What can I do?”
Congrats for making it that far. To begin with, you can:
Instead of buying things like readymade yogurt, chips, muesli, make them at home! These are things you can make in bulk and store at home for regular use- and it would be much healthier and cost effective than the store-bought alternative. When you’re trying to make things more convenient for you, ask yourself if you’re being lazy or if you really can’t. I know ready to cook breakfasts are super attractive, but give yourself ten minutes in the kitchen instead of five and see how it effects your wallet and health.
Huge chains which hold everything under the sun at discounted prices are a dream, I understand. But remember the local markets we’d go to with our parents? Yeah, they’re actually far more ‘organic’ or ‘farm fresh’ than a hypermarket produce. Try to buy your groceries locally. Not only will you get things for cheaper, but you’ll also be aware about what food is more common in where you live, and if you want to give it a shot. And well, it helps small businesses.
Surprisingly, the one underrated drink isn’t your friend’s martini, it’s water. Staying hydrated makes up for most of your health. Don’t jump into the façade of packaged juices being healthy, most of them have the same amount of sugar as aerated drinks. Want a juice, make one at home (it barely takes two minutes) or get it from a local juice store. Swap those milkshakes, coffees and juices you have on the side with your food for a good old glass of water.
My cooking journey evolved from buying groceries and watching them rot as I order in or get a ready to cook/eat to actually using my groceries and cooking my meals, at least once a day. If you’re the type you can plan food for a week, kudos to you, and please continue. I’m not a fan of cooking full meals, freezing them and then eating them over a week. I like to do the basics, chop vegetables, knead dough, etc. Another pointer I’d like to make here is to not forget your traditional food. My concept of food shifted to a western idea for a bit when I realised that the diet I grew up on was more suited to my body. What identifying your type of food and prepping does is reduce your effort, apart from helping your health and money.
My dad would buy groceries like he has to sneak food from the enemy’s granary while at war. He’d walk in, know exactly where to go, what to pick, how much of it to pick, and bill it. I once saw him finish a month’s worth of grocery shopping in ten minutes. And that’s when I learnt the importance of listing things. When you’re that focused on cancelling items from the list, the other shiny things at the store don’t seem that attractive. What’s the result? You buy exactly what you need, because you’ve contemplated and created that list.
Health isn’t a one size fits all, so the stuff you eat in the name of it might just be completely off for you. The hard truth is that companies don’t really care about health, or even know about your health issues for that matter. Don’t fall for labels. It says “fat free” check the sugar and salt, it says “sugar free” check the trans fat. When it says “organic” try to find the source of it. There’s a sheer lack of transparency in the ingredients, sources, and even price structures of so many of these healthy foods. Don’t jump into a fad without doing your own research, and as a rule of thumb, try making your own food as much as you can. I’m not asking you to bid adieu to your favourite foods, just be more cautious before you empty your pockets behind the idea of health.