Being a hypochondriac I wondered about getting some nutritional advice before I change my eating habits for the frugal food challenge. I’ve always had a delicate stomach. Plus I’d read how you should consult your doctor before starting a new diet.
So sheepishly, I contacted the British Nutrition Foundation for advice. The kind lady on the other end of the phone seemed bemused by my ramblings about shopping in Aldi and eating wartime rations, but she put me through to Lisa Miles, a senior nutritional scientist, who put my rather pathetic fears at rest.
While she admitted she wasn’t an expert on wild food, Lisa assured me that changing my food shopping habits shouldn’t affect my health. It was down to me whether I was eating healthily. “With any approach to food shopping you need to ensure you are getting a healthy diet,” she told me. “A third of your diet should be starchy foods – potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, while a third should be fruit and vegetables and a third meat and fish or beans – protein – with also some fats and sugary foods in addition. Shopping on a budget you should still be able to meet your requirements. You could use canned and frozen or dried fruit and vegetables and make sure you eliminate as much food waste as possible.”
The idea of using canned or dried foods is a good tip. But my concerns weren’t entirely unfounded. Lisa also told me that there is a clear correlation between low income and malnutrition. “People on lower incomes tend to have poorer diets,” she says. “That’s quite well known. Obesity tends to be more of an issue.” And she sent me a frightening study by the Food Standards Agency which demonstrates the fact.
The Low Income Diet and Nutrition Study carried out between 2003 to 2005 and published last year makes for depressing reading. According to the report, the people on low incomes interviewed tended to consume more processed meats, pizzas and table sugar as part of their diet and less the national average amount of fruit and veg. On average men consumed 2.4 fruit and veg portions a day and women 2.5. They also ate excessive amounts of fatty foods, and smoked and drank more alcohol than the wider population. One fifth of the children interviewed were obese and 14 per cent overweight. 38 per cent of men and 41 per cent of women had an increased waist circumference associated with diabetes.
Admittedly, lack of exercise was also an issue – 76 per cent of men and 81 per cent of women did less than 30 minutes of exercise a week. And shockingly, 39 per cent said that they had feared their food supplies would run out before they received more money, while 36 per cent said they couldn’t afford to eat a balanced diet. 22 per cent admitted they cut down on or skipped meals altogether, while 5 per cent said they hadn’t eaten for an entire day because they had no money for food. I’m still shocked from reading the 50 page study.
And while you might say, ‘well, these statistics are from 2005’ it seems that more UK children and pensioners than ever are living in poverty. According to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions this week, 3.9m children were living below the bread line during 2006/07, up 100,000 on the year before, while the figure is 2.1m for pensioners – up 200,000. It makes you wonder just how many of these 6m people are eating a poor diet. Sad and truly horrifying stuff.
What can be done to combat poverty in the UK? Should the government be doing more? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.