Healthy is Hard Work

It’s not always easy to eat healthy! I will be the first one to admit that truth. I see patients in clinic who struggle with eating well and with incorporating healthy practices into their lives in a realistic and financially feasible way. And I am the first one to empathize with them: everyone struggles with nutrition. The struggle is on a spectrum and is unique to the individual’s social and financial situation.

Let’s be real: there a lot of factors even in a developed-world and resource-rich setting like the United States that hinder people and communities from living healthy lives.

  • First, the food and beverage industries have manufactured our collective gustatory desire for unhealthy high-fat, high-salt, high-refined sugar foods. These foods are fun to eat, but unhealthy if consumed chronically or regularly. These industries spend millions of dollars on marketing and research to compete for their share in our stomachs. Of late, neuromarketing has been a buzzword. This is when industries partner with science and medical researchers to learn how consumers’ brains respond to visually and cognitively to marketing. The information used from these studies goes on to create and market products that take advantage of how our brains work.
  • Second, government subsidies on corn and sugar incentivize the food and beverage industries to create many nutrient-poor products.  In other words, the most federally subsidized foods are also heavily processed. How does this happen? Well, the government subsidizes foods like corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, and sorghum, BUT many of these foods are not eaten in their whole nutrient-dense form. Most of them are turned into cattle feed or are heavily refined (like high fructose corn syrup which our livers cannot metabolize and may contribute to fatty liver disease), thus stripping them of nutrients.
  • Third, these forces have cumulatively created a culture and social environment that does not prioritize long-term health.

The result is that we are enticed and incentivized by the convenience and ubiquity of unhealthy foods: why walk over to the grocery store and pick ingredients after a long day at work when McDonald’s is open and provides quick, fairly cheap, and tasty meals? And yes, we’ve all been there.

Oftentimes, the struggle to fight obesity and lifestyle-related health issues has been framed in the context of individual will. In this perspective, individuals who struggle are faulted with poor willpower. That’s not the full story. We live in a world and with forces that have shaped our desire for unhealthy foods.

Here I admit my struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and I also provide a few tips on how to do a healthy and fairly well-priced meal prep on budget:

Vegan prep for the week of Jan 8 2017: the total cost came to approximately $25

Here are a few healthy tips for a plant based meal prep:

  1. Choose a serving of a nutrient dense grain: quinoa, brown rice, couscous, etc.
  2. Choose a serving of a nutrient dense protein source: beans, tofu, tempeh, etc.
  3. Choose one or a combination of fresh or frozen veggies: broccoli, cabbage, okra, kale, spinach, string beans, asparagus, etc.
  4. Choose a healthy fat: avocado, nuts, coconut oil, olive oil, white truffle oil (is a decadent favorite of mine)
  5. Choose one or a combination of flavorful (mostly vegan) seasonings:Sriracha, vegan mayonnaise, Tahini, vegan pesto, etc.
  6. Consider these extras: apple cider vinegar, nutritional yeast, chia seeds, etc.

The cost of the meal prep this week came out to approximately $25-30. All the ingredients are vegan, dairy-free and the meals are plant based. I used frozen veggies, cooked the quinoa in a rice cooker and added nutritional yeast and sesame seeds. What’s your meal prep looking like?!

Below is my lunch meal prep for the week of January 8, 2017. Each meal contains about 12 grams of protein, 31 grams of nutrient-dense carbs, a serving of fresh veggies, a fresh lemon for some extra zest, healthy fats (sesame seeds) and some seasonings (nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar):

On a personal note, as a medical student, being on a budget is something I strive to yet struggle with accomplishing and maintaining. Since moving back to New York City from Vermont, I am keenly aware of how much City living costs. In Vermont, my monthly food budget has been $260 and that includes monthly probiotic and vitamin supplements. I’d occasionally go over budget because let’s be real, I give myself some leeway to live a little! But since living back home with my mom in NYC, more realistically, I probably spend close to twice that on food (that includes unexpected restaurant dates, outings with friends, and the occasional sweet indulgences). So this new year, I’m making more of an effort to prepare homemade meals instead of choosing the convenience of the healthy but expensive items from Whole Foods or the wonderfully tempting organic food stores that dot the streets in my neighborhood.

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