Food challenge: the low income diet

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. 

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9 Responses to Food challenge: the low income diet

  1. sharron says:

    my comment is a simple 1 this time piper
    when you get a fair wage for a fair weeks work people would not be in poverty …but then this country is not fair
    we have high taxes .. high fuel costs .. high food costs …. and they will probably keep on rising …… along ith the government salery
    i wish i could earn what the government do for making people suffer , i have a feeling ive read this senario before while at school oh yes .. the potato famine springs to mind .. british government sat on thier wad\’s of cash then too
     the cost of existing rises weekly .. shame the wages dont follow the same trend

  2. Lawrence Newman says:

    I\’m no economist, but it takes no genius to deduce that we are beginning to experience severe problems with regard to escalating living costs.  The cost of groceries, utilities, fuel, etc. are increasing, but wages aren\’t rising to compensate.  I\’d go so far as to say that this situation will cause an increase in crime – people need to feed themselves and their families.

  3. Karen Jennifer says:

    My workplace has just cut the nursing staff\’s wages. They no longer now get overtime pay, or time and a half pay for for Bank Holidays etc. Some staff are losing as much as £7 per hour. Needless to say some staff have left, those that cannot afford to do so continue to do the same thankless task for a lot less money. Where will it end?

  4. Christine says:

    I\’ve been in the situation where the money ran out before there was enough food in the house a number of times over the years. We\’ve also had to collect sea coal and free wood to heat the house when things were very tight. It\’s no surprise to me that people fiddle their benefits to cover situations where money is below what is required to even feed the family properly (often is on benefits believe me). I run an allotment which after 15 months is beginning to pay for itself really well and the fruit/vegetables make sure that the budget goes covers all the bills with some juggling. Some of these avenues are not open to a lot of people. Also there is a lack of knowledge about growing your own in many cases. Unless you are very medically unfit, if you have a garden (or even a yard) you can learn to grow cheap cash crops to supplement the income but so many people miss the opportunity – why do you think that council houses were built with generous gardens? It was to allow the poor to grow their own food.

  5. Richard says:

    Eating fruit and veg IS cheap if people bothered to open their eyes when they shop, 8 apples = £1 , 9 pears = £1-29 , 7 bananas = £ 1-10 , I snack on dried fruit such as prunes and dates and one weeks fruit intake cost is about £4. I start the day with porridge, winter and summer, a 1kg bag costs 59p and lasts 9 days…..a large bowl of porridge will keep you going ALL THROUGH THE DAY.
    4 slices of wholemeal bread and a handfull of protein rich Brazil nuts completes my daily intake, plus 2 EPA fish oil and 1 garlic tablet.
    Did I mention that I am disabled and survive quite easily on benifits ?.

  6. vera says:

    Try living on a low income and coping with a gluten free diet and eating healthily. i have roughly twenty pounds a week to spend on food. i can get bread and flour etc on prescription but this has to be a monthly amount which doesn\’t store well especially the bread, recently Asda have started selling gf bread it was 1.88 per 14 slices but has gone up to 1.99 per 14 slices, these being smaller than a normal small sliced loaf. I love fruit and veg but because I\’ve lost most of my teeth through not being on my diet as a child chewing with ill fitting dentures is a nightmare. So I dont eat very well, suffer from depression and trying to grow my own as a kind of therapy for the depression, and trying to save enough to put some lino on the kitchen floor. ( been here just over a year with ply wood boarding cant wet it too much it warps) Lucky Christine below can eat porridge, thats not gluten free, neither are cheap sausages, burgers or pizza, and wholemeal gf bread is over 2.00 a loaf and falls apart before you can make a sandwich.

  7. Diane says:

    What surprises me about the survey is that those on the lowest incomes smoke and drink more alcohol, obviously at the expense of a proper diet! This doesn\’t make sense to me.  I\’ve been a single parent of two for 8 years now and it\’s been tough.  I\’m extremely careful with everything (I even tear the kitchen towel sheets into 2 to get more out of them). I have cut my electricity & gas bills almost in half since times got really hard and that\’s during the period of huge price increases. My shopping bill is half what it was 5 years ago as I take advantage of all the special offers, coupons, etc yet there is always food in the cupboards and freezer and we have a very balanced diet. My children don\’t get the high profile \’name\’ brand clothes unless they are in a sale but they still are fashionable.  However, they have friends who they tell me are poor and yet they have 50" lcd tv\’s, name brand clothes, the latest mobile phones, Xbox 360, yet my kids tell me that the food cupboards in their houses are empty and that the electric is sometimes not on because they don\’t have money to put in the prepay meter.
    My furnishings are the same as when my husband left so I have to repair & repaint them whereas these \’poor\’ families seem to have all the latest furniture and fittings.  One \’poor\’ family I know has had their hall, lounge and kitchen completely redecorated and refurnished twice in eight years! 
    If I treat myself to the cinema I take my own food & drink and go to the pre-lunch showing which is £2.50 cheaper.  If I buy new clothes they are Primark & Asda but most of the time I just keep wearing \’old\’ clothes and yet everyone thinks I dress really well (they obviously don\’t notice that I\’ve been wearing the same clothes year in year out)
    My point is that my costs have been drastically cut without anyone really knowing that my family is any worse off than before.  My kids and I eat healthily.  We don\’t have holidays or many treats but we\’re ok
    It\’s amazing what you can do if you are prepared to go without the latest \’accessories\’ – there is no need, in many cases, for families to go un-nourished! 

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