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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

Do Not Feel Intimidated by Healthy Eating: Here Are Some Easy, Delicious, and Affordable Tips to Shop Healthy

Despite Americans having some of the greatest access to nature and fresh food, statistics point a concerning trend: we are one of the least healthy of the developed countries, and Americans are continuing to suffer from rising rates of health-related disease. While inequities and lack of access to nutritious foods pose a barrier for many Americans, there are many ways to shop for the healthiest, highest quality foods without breaking the bank.
When you head to the grocery store, you are presented with so many different options of foods to buy. It can be overwhelming. How do you know what to look for when navigating the aisles? (Photo Credit: Harrison Keely, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

Take a stroll through some of the national parks of the United States. Americans have the opportunity to trek across hundreds of millions of acres of forests, elevating their mental and physical health.  The United States has some of the most beautiful, diverse wildlife in the world. We have Yellowstone National Park, ranging across four different states, the Grand Canyon National Park spanning across Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, the Yosemite National Park in California, and so much more. This excludes the millions of acres of local farms producing fresh food every single day, ranging from all sorts of fruits and vegetables to milk, eggs, butter, and cheese. Anyone unfamiliar with the United States would assume that Americans are some of the healthiest people in the world given our extensive access to nature and fresh food, but in reality, the opposite is true and is only getting worse. 

The United States is currently experiencing one of the worst public health crises in its history. Over 40% of Americans are currently facing obesity and this number is on track to approach 50% by 2030. The U.S. currently has the 12th highest rate of obesity in the world; however, among high-income nations, it is ranked #1. 

Obesity has been linked to many diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Currently, 1 in 3 Americans are prediabetic and nearly 12% of the population is diabetic. Heart disease and cancer are the first and second leading causes of death, respectively, with these two diseases killing over 1.2 million Americans every year. 

In addition, life expectancy in the U.S. is at its lowest since 1996 with an average life expectancy of 76.4 years. Mortality rates in the U.S. have actually risen since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The CDC attributes this to COVID-19 deaths, increases in drug overdose, and Americans putting off doctor appointments. 

What is behind the massive rise in obesity and other obesity-related diseases in the U.S.? The unavailability of healthy foods, along with misinformation about health, may be a factor. 

Many Americans lack access to proper grocery stores, and even with access to grocery stores, many Americans find it difficult to afford the premium cost of healthy foods. In fact, 53 million Americans currently live in “food deserts,” which are  neighborhoods that lack access to supermarkets. 

For example, in New York City, neighborhoods in Brooklyn such as Bed-Stuy and Brownville are classified as food deserts. My neighborhood of East Harlem used to be a food desert until the opening of a Food Bazaar supermarket in 2022. As a result, residents of these neighborhoods must rely on delis and bodegas, which are both more expensive and provide fewer healthy options. Low-income Americans, along with people of color, are more likely to live in food deserts and consequently suffer from higher obesity rates, along with diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. 

“I never used to eat healthy like this,” says Mr. Licardo, an English teacher at the Bronx High School of Science. Mr. Licardo is dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle. He explains that he used to eat a lot of fast food.  “When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of healthy options.” 

Mr. Licardo is mindful about caring for his health. He plays pickleball on weekends, averages 13,000 steps a day (easy when you’re a teacher),  and tries to eat mainly whole, unprocessed foods high in protein and lower in refined carbohydrates. He consumes a mostly plant-based diet with some chicken and fish, limiting red meat and processed foods. He makes sure to read the labels on the products he purchases, specifically to check for sugar content and allergens. 

“I do understand that healthy foods are more expensive, which is a problem. It’s cheaper to eat processed foods, leading to more health problems and medical costs. As a society, we can deal with the cost now or later in terms of medical bills. Not everyone has the ability to spend more on healthful food now which is one of the unfair things about our society. Some neighborhoods don’t have access to healthy foods or even a reasonably good grocery store,” Mr. Licardo explains. 

In addition, even at the grocery store, healthy foods are often significantly more expensive compared to their less healthy counterparts. In fact, a study conducted by Harvard University found that eating healthy costs an average of $1.50 more per day compared to the cost of eating unhealthy foods. While this may not seem like a large increase, it amounts to 2 to 3 times the cost of eating unhealthy food. 

“I’m in a privileged place to be able to afford healthy foods. Some people work multiple jobs and they don’t have the time to shop or cook or exercise or sleep all the things needed for good health. Our society makes it hard to keep healthy,” said Mr. Licardo. 

The price of healthy foods is also much more volatile compared to that of unhealthy foods. For instance, a resurgence of the avian influenza virus in hens has resulted in egg prices soaring to record highs. In addition, a massive olive shortage in Europe has resulted in the price of olive oil nearly doubling within the span of just a few months. Unhealthy foods, which are often heavily processed and contain lower quality ingredients, do not use these healthy ingredients and as a result, are much less likely to see rapid price increases.  

Following the rise of social media usage, many doctors, dieticians, scientists, researchers, and health influencers began creating health-related content online to encourage people to live a healthier lifestyle. While this has undoubtedly helped many people improve their health, certain influencers who lack medical knowledge or experience have built up a cult-like following and have essentially tricked a substantial portion of the population into believing absurd health disinformation. Some controversial influencers include Carnivore MD Paul Saladino and FlavCity with Bobby Parrish. Both influencers have hundreds of thousands of followers across various social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram and are known for fear-mongering about foods and drugs which are completely safe. Both argue that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are toxic and should be avoided; there’s no substantial evidence to suggest that GMOs themselves are inherently bad. Many ultra-processed foods contain bioengineered ingredients, which is why many may believe GMOs are harmful, but bioengineered foods aren’t inherently toxic and have actually helped us boost food production, reduce world hunger, minimize disease outbreaks, and reduce our reliance on harmful pesticides. They also demonize many perfectly healthy foods, such as leafy greens, broccoli, hot sauce, and more. This can be extremely detrimental for those who already suffer from poor body image and eating disorders. Both influencers also sell overpriced supplements and manage to sell it to thousands of people by exaggerating the benefits of these supplements and by convincing followers who don’t know any better to ditch healthy foods in favor of their supplements. 

The effects of this cannot be understated and have proven to be detrimental. Misinformation has led to increased rates of vaccine hesitancy, eating disorders, and other health-related issues. 

While eating healthy may seem overwhelming, especially given the dire state of health in the country, it actually can be quite simple, affordable, and delicious if you use a few basic tips.

Shop for items when they are on sale

This is arguably one of the most important tips to use to save money on grocery shopping. While healthy foods usually cost more, many grocery chains offer amazing deals on these products. For example, at my local grocery store, a 3 liter tin of extra virgin olive oil normally costs around $60. However, it is occasionally on sale for around $25 to $30, half the original cost.

In addition, the cost of a dozen eggs in New York City is around $5.37. However, grocery stores around the city frequently offer sales for eggs, with prices sometimes dropping to as low as $2 a dozen. When such items are on sale, it may be wise to bulk up on them. 

While that may not be practical with perishable items, for pantry items such as flour and oil, this is a very useful way to save money. 

Avoid wasting money on unhealthy items

“The recommendation for healthy grocery shopping is to shop around the edges of the supermarket, where there’s meat and produce, whole foods,” said Mr. Licardo. “Just eat [whole]  food, not processed food, not all the packaged stuff in the middle in the boxes which are artificially made, like cereals high in sugar. If a machine makes it and it doesn’t grow naturally, it’s not [whole] food.”  

It is very tempting to impulse shop your favorite cookies or candy, but not only is this unhealthy, it is also very expensive! Take Mondelez, for example. Mondelez owns many popular snack companies including Ritz, Oreos, and Sour Patch Kids. In 2022, Mondelez raised the prices of their products by 7%. For example, a 13 ounce pack of Oreos normally costs around $4.59 at my nearby Target. This means that prior to 2022, that same pack of Oreos would cost around $4.29, indicating a 30 cent increase. While 30 cents may not seem like much, if you are constantly buying Oreos every week, those cents add up. 

“The supermarket’s central isles are all full of processed foods. It’s delicious. They know how to get you,” Mr. Licardo explains. “But it’s possible to develop a taste and even a craving for natural foods.”

Ideally, you should try to avoid purchasing snacks and instead, load up on fruits, vegetables, and full meals. By avoiding unhealthy snacks, you can potentially save hundreds of dollars in a year. Again, eating healthy does require you to invest your time, which can be difficult for those working multiple jobs who have little time to cook at home.

If you enjoy snacking, there are many healthy foods to snack on. Fruits and vegetables are arguably one of the greatest snacks of all time. If you are craving something sweet, grab an apple or a banana and snack on it. If you want more calories, try dipping fruit in peanut butter (it tastes amazing, trust me). If you are allergic to peanuts, try sunflower butter. If you like potato chips, try sweet potato chips cooked in avocado oil or plantain chips cooked in coconut oil. Both chips only contain a few ingredients and are made with healthy oils. Sweet potatoes and plantains are also very nutritious, with vitamins and antioxidants. If you want soda, try Zevia sparkling water as it has the same flavors as most sodas (Cola, orange, or lime) without any added sugar, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, or artificial food dyes). 

 Fortunately, there are alternatives for people who are working all day. Many grocery stores offer frozen meals (frozen chicken, pasta, noodles, rice, etc) which are both nutritious, quick, and affordable. Later on, I will get more in-depth on other tips to prepare quick and healthy meals. 

Create a list and stay on budget

Many grocery stores purposefully set up their products in a way that is designed to lure customers into spending more than they intended. The dairy aisle, for example, is purposefully located towards the back so that customers must navigate through the aisles to reach the aisle. The hope is for the customers to notice additional products not on their list and to purchase them on an impulse. 

To resist the temptation, create a grocery list in advance, with items separated by aisle. This will involve meal-prepping, which may involve discussions with family members on what to eat. This is a very simple step and should only take a few minutes a week. 

To meal-prep, consider which grocery store you are shopping at and what deals they are offering for the week. Consider making meals with ingredients on sale.

While it can be beneficial to slightly vary your daily meals, it is important to keep consistent with the amount of macronutrients and micronutrients you are consuming. It is fine to vary your protein source from chicken to fish, for instance, but make sure your meals contain at least one protein source, one carbohydrate source, and one fat source.

A balanced meal will look different based on your dietary needs. Athletes and people who are trying to workout will require a higher protein diet with moderate amounts of carbs. Non-athletes may not require as much protein to sustain themselves, but should still get a healthy amount of macronutrients. A balanced meal could be something as simple as a plate of rice with grilled chicken and veggies. If you have milk or a protein shake, that adds to your total macros for the meal.   

Shop generic brands

Generic brands often produce items of similar quality for much more affordable prices. Generic brand products are usually 25-30% cheaper compared to their brand name counterparts. In addition, many generic and name brands share the same manufacturer, ensuring that the quality of both products are extremely similar. An example of this is Kirkland Signature, which is owned by Costco Wholesale and partners with other manufacturers, such as Starbucks. 

While the difference in savings may not seem like much, when you are buying dozens of items every week, those savings add up. Shoppers can save more money purchasing generic brand items on certain household products, such as flour, oil, sugar, salt, eggs, etc. At my local grocery store, for example, a 5 pound bag of generic all-purpose flour costs $4.29, compared to $6.99 for the same amount of Pillsbury flour. That is $2.70, or nearly 39%, in savings. 

Invest in your health

While it’s sadly not possible for many Americans, those who have the ability to splurge a little more on healthier alternatives to conventional foods should absolutely do so. Building healthy habits now can save you thousands of dollars in medical bills in the future, in addition to the emotional distress caused by disease. 

Ultra-processed foods contain many harmful additives which have been linked to diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, dementia, liver and kidney disease, etc. In particular, make sure to look out for foods that contain:

  • Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and acesulfame potassium
  • Artificial food-dyes such as Red-40, Yellow-5, and Blue-1
  • High fructose corn syrup (or corn syrup in general)
  • Cane sugar as one of the top ingredients
  • Hydrogenated oils (such as hydrogenated vegetable, soybean, canola, sunflower, cottonseed, peanut, or safflower oils). 
  • Preservatives/additives such as potassium bromate, titanium dioxide, polysorbate-80, brominated vegetable oil, azodicarbonamide (also found in yoga mats), etc. In general, if you cannot pronounce more than a few ingredients on the ingredient list, avoid consuming the product.

Buy frozen, canned, and seasonal items in bulk 

While some believe frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are not as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, this often isn’t the case. Frozen produce is flash-frozen immediately after being picked. This means that farmers will pick them out at full ripeness, which is when produce contains the most nutritional value. On the other hand, fresh produce needs to be picked a few days before peak ripeness in order to reach grocery stores before spoiling. This results in not only inferior flavor, but also results in it being slightly less nutritious. While the difference is not significant and fresh produce is still a great buy, frozen produce will save you lots of money. 

As mentioned before, many Americans work long hours and may find it difficult to invest in healthier foods. Frozen foods are a great way to save money as it can be both nutritious and affordable. 

Frozen produce are typically half the price of their fresh counterparts. The amount in savings can be even greater at wholesales such as Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s. Frozen fruits are a delicious add to yogurt or smoothies and add more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to meals. Frozen vegetables are great for meal-prepping and can be added to many dishes, such as rice, pasta, noodles, steak, and salmon. 

Invest in an air fryer

While it may seem unnecessary, purchasing an air fryer is one of the smartest decisions you can make. You can cook virtually anything in an air fryer, from vegetables to steaks and so much more. You don’t even need to buy an expensive air fryer; simply choose one that has all the features you want and is big enough to feed your household. There are so many options that I can’t go over in this article, so make sure you know what air fryer you want before buying one. 

If you’re trying to lose weight, an air fryer can help you cut calories by reducing the amount of oil you’re using in your cooking. Air fryers are also much faster and more convenient compared to using a conventional oven or deep frying on a stovetop; they are also easier to clean and maintain and require less energy. This is excellent for people who don’t have time to cook at home. Many nutritious meals can be cooked in an air fryer in much less time compared to using a stove or oven.

Shop at wholesale retailers

While I recommend shopping locally to support your community and receive fresh groceries, for the most affordable option, shopping at a wholesale or retail store such as Costco, Aldi, Sam’s Club, BJ’s, Walmart, or Target is recommended. 

For example, as mentioned before, Costco’s private brand, Kirkland Signature, offers groceries at unbeatable prices. The same applies to many other items, such as salmon, chicken, beef, bread, and toiletries. Other wholesales such as Sam’s Club and BJ’s offer similar deals on everyday products. 

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which foods are the healthiest for you. Different people have different dietary and nutritional needs and as long as you are fulfilling your nutritional needs while minimizing exposure to harmful ingredients, you will be living a significantly healthier lifestyle. 

Don’t stress out too much

While living a healthy lifestyle may seem intimidating, given the overwhelming contrasting health advice from doctors, influencers, family, and friends, it’s important to understand that eating healthy will look different based on your dietary goals. In general, as long as you feel happy, energized, motivated, and refreshed physically and mentally, you are doing a great job living a healthy lifestyle.

Health Misinformation 

 There are many differing health opinions, which are often exaggerated or completely false. Some big ones include: 

  • Red meat, butter, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol will clog your arteries and give you cancer and you should eat plant-based as a result: this is heavily exaggerated and for the vast majority of people, eating red meat and butter a few times a week is unlikely to cause any long-term effects. The relationship between saturated fat and dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol is complicated and to put it simply, scientists don’t know much about this link. Red meat also contains many beneficial nutrients, such as Vitamin D and B12, choline, and selenium. These nutrients are often difficult to find outside of meat.
  • Vegetables and leafy greens are dangerous because they contain anti-nutrients: this is a popular carnivore talking-point and is overemphasized. While certain leafy greens and whole grains contain small amounts of phytic acid (more conventionally known as anti-nutrients), the amounts are small and unlikely to significantly hinder your body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients. In addition, phytic acid in small amounts may even be beneficial for human health. 
  • Seed-oils are extremely healthy: there is a fierce debate ongoing about the safety and benefits of consuming seed-oils (such as canola, vegetable, grapeseed, peanut, soybean, safflower, sunflower, and cottonseed oils). One side argues that seed-oils contain a disproportionate amount of Omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to inflammation and even dementia, while the other side argues that there is no legitimate evidence to suggest that seed-oils are harmful and in fact, can be beneficial in lowering blood cholesterol. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. In general, if cooking at home, try to use alternatives such as olive oil, avocado oil, butter, ghee, or beef tallow. However, if a certain product contains seed-oils, it is not the end of the world.  

Ultimately, it is up to individuals to decide what items to shop for. If you want some affordable, healthy, and delicious options, go to your nearby wholesale or retailer and look for the following items. In the gallery, you will find the benefits of each food and the amount of each vitamin it contains (% DV, expressed as a percentage of the recommended daily intake).

When you calculate the total cost of all of these items, you are purchasing months worth of food for a family for under $200. Not terrible, given rampant inflation in today’s economy. Granted, you’ll still want to purchase other grocery products but even after adding additional costs, the total cost is on par with the average amount American families spend on groceries.

While eating out is delicious and convenient, try to limit how often you eat out in order to save money and eat healthy. When you do eat out, choose a restaurant that prioritizes healthy options such as chicken, beef, turkey, salads, rice, soups, etc. Find a small business to support which specializes in healthy, delicious dishes, but if only big chains are available, here are some healthy and delicious options at fast food chains. In the gallery below, you will find why these fast-food options are healthier than most other fast-food chains along with examples of how to order at these places. 

Chipotle burrito bowl

Five Guys/In n Out lettuce wrap/bowl:  

Ultimately, making America healthy again will require systemic change. We currently live in a society which values profits over lives. Unless the government places regulations on what is allowed in our food or people begin spending their money on healthy foods instead of ultra-processed foods, this cycle of sickness will continue. 

“A surefire way to create change in a capitalistic society is to have big money at stake. International food corporations have to respond if people stop buying junk food and instead make healthier choices. Companies will then sell what people demand, at competitively lower prices. Maybe protests will work, but in a free market society money talks,” explains Mr. Licardo. 

In order for companies to prioritize healthy foods, Americans must be willing to give up their processed, unhealthy diets, which many are simply not willing to. 

“Didn’t Mayor Bloomberg try to ban large sugary sodas? People buy them because they’re super cheap. There are videos on YouTube showing just how much sugar is in these sodas. There’s so much refined sugar in soda. I haven’t drunk regular sodas in decades. But with a ban like that there’s going to be pushback. People claim their right to drink big sugary sodas despite the inevitable medical costs” stated Mr. Licardo.  

Farah Alam, an undergraduate of Boston University who will be attending medical school this fall, emphasizes the importance of education and the availability of resources to address America’s health epidemic. 

“Something that should not be ignored is the importance of educating everyone on healthier eating & healthier eating habits and the consequences of eating unhealthy,” she said. “I also want to advocate for making healthy food options more affordable & accessible within minority/under-resourced communities.”

In regards to the rising trend of childhood obesity, Alam argues that schools should “incorporate healthier foods in school lunches.” 

While we should strive as a society to make each other healthier, we cannot solely rely on the government or corporations to do the right thing. We need to use the resources at our disposal to elevate our health, beyond the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in the West. Our country has the potential to be some of the healthiest people in the world. It is up to us to make that a reality.

While eating healthy may seem overwhelming, especially given the dire state of health in the country, it actually can be quite simple, affordable, and delicious if you use a few basic tips.


About the Contributor
Maheen Alam, Staff Reporter
Maheen Alam is a News Editor for ‘The Science Survey,’ using his writing and editing skills to effectively convey important news events impacting his community. He believes that journalism is key in communicating with his community in making sure they are aware of important issues that are relevant to them. He uses journalistic photography to help readers visualize real-life events occurring around the world. He enjoys traveling around New York City, and asking students about their thoughts on important events in the city and in the world. Outside of school, Maheen enjoys watching documentaries, cooking videos, skits, and he enjoys listening to political commentary. He also likes volunteering and traveling around the city. While Maheen is still contemplating his future, he hopes to pursue a career related to the social sciences and to become a change maker in his community.