The same day Dr. Mercola posted his latest commentary on food industry politicking and spin, we ran across another industry press release touting a study to praise its own products – in this case, potatoes.
But whereas the previous study was funded by the UK Potato Council, not (apparently) published in a scientific journal and on the ingenuous side, this one was backed by the US Potato Board, published in PLOS ONE and straightforward. The analysis
showed that beans and starchy vegetables, including white potatoes, were cheaper per 100 calories than were dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables. Fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables had similar nutrient profiles and provided comparable nutritional value. However, less than half (n = 46) of the 98 vegetables listed by the USDA were were consumed >5 times by children and adolescents in the 2003–4 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey database. For the more frequently consumed vegetables, potatoes and beans were the lowest-cost sources of potassium and fiber.
The most frequently consumed vegetables? Some fast food staples: fries, iceberg lettuce and raw tomatoes.
Of course, potatoes can be a good, inexpensive source of nutrients – potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and folic acid in particular. But as we wrote before, no single food is nutritionally perfect. That’s why we need to eat a varied diet – to make sure we get all the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytochemicals and the like we need for good health.
Yet as this study suggests, many of us don’t do that so well – and for any number of reasons: pickiness, lack of cooking skills, lack of time or energy, lack of availability, sheer habit. But cost? Not so much. Multiple studies have shown that low income earners who are taught how to choose and prepare healthy foods tend toward improved diets and health outcomes. As Michael Pollan writes in Cooked,
Other research supports the idea that home cooking is a better predictor of a healthful diet than social class. A 1992 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that poor women who routinely cooked were likely to eat a more healthful diet than well-to-do women who did not. A 2012 Public Health Nutrition study of the elderly in Taiwan found a srong correlation between regular cooking and superior health and longevity.
Nor, says Pollan, is “convenience” food necessarily cheaper or quicker than home cooked meals. A family experiment of eating a processed dinner cost $27 and took “nearly an hour” to get on the table, since each family member’s meal had to be heated (and sometimes reheated) separately. Pollan also discusses the cost to family bonding when everyone’s doing their own thing rather than sharing a common meal. But in sheer dollars and cents?
Later that week I went to the farmers’ market and found that with $27 I could easily buy a couple pounds of an inexpensive cut of grass-fed beef and enough vegetables to make a braise that would feed the three of us for at least one night and probably two.
Books like Pollan’s are helping change our ways of thinking about food – and, slowly, how we eat it. The rise of more healthful, even vegan fast food options – recently portrayed in an interesting NY Times feature – suggests that there’s indeed interest in eating more broadly and healthfully. Though some might question whether there could ever be such a thing as sustainably created fast food, the fact that people are even trying to make it work speaks volumes…