The first wealth is health.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Downsizing, layoffs, and frozen salaries mean challenging times for even the most cost-conscious penny pinchers. The current Consumer Price Index Inflation Calculator estimates that what we could buy with $100 five years ago now costs $113.21. Given that the cost of food is most Americans’ second biggest expense after the cost of housing, it’s crucial to have a money-saving mentality in the grocery store, particularly if you have diabetes. That’s because people with diabetes, on average, have medical expenditures that are approximately 2.3 times higher than those without diabetes, meaning that your resources must stretch farther. Savvy shopping ability is now a priceless skill!
Putting a financial priority on healthy eating is a good investment of your limited dollars because nutrition is a key factor in diabetes control. Research has shown that following a meal plan based on the principles recommended by the American Diabetes Association can decrease your A1C (glycosylated hemoglobin, or HbA1c) by about 1% if you have Type 1 diabetes and by 1% to 2% if you have Type 2 diabetes. A lower A1C means less risk of the expensive and dangerous complications of diabetes such as kidney disease, eye disease, and nerve damage.
Fortunately, a healthy meal plan for diabetes is the same as a healthy meal plan for the rest of the family: low-fat, high-fiber grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables with small portions of lean meat and other protein foods, such as fish and low-fat dairy products, and limited amounts of fats, sweets, and alcohol. No need to spend your hard-earned dollars on expensive “sugar-free” and “fat-free” foods or high-priced “diabetic” snacks. Just stick close to Mother Nature for the best choices for your body and your bank account.
It’s a common misconception that healthy foods are more expensive. A stroll down the produce aisle can lead to sticker shock, but savvy shoppers know that bargains can be found. According to the American Dietetic Association, a 1200-calorie meal plan based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans costs $6.99 per person for the entire day and $6.33 per day if that person is a vegetarian. That’s just about the same price of a single, drive-thru “value” meal, which in addition to being financially costly is likely to be loaded with fat, sodium, and carbohydrate.
Eating healthfully does require an investment of time to plan, shop, and cook foods that fit your budget and diabetes meal plan. But taking a few moments of your busy week to focus on planning and shopping earns you the benefits of healthier food choices and money in the bank!
Plan ahead, spend less
One of the most important tools you have for planning ahead is your personal meal plan. A number of meal-planning methods can be used as the basis of an individualized diabetes meal plan. Options include MyPyramid (www.mypyramid.gov), the Plate Method (www.platemethod.com), the exchange system (Choose Your Foods: Exchange Lists for Diabetes), or carbohydrate counting. No matter what method you use, a registered dietitian can help you determine the number of servings you need each day from each food group. This gives you the outline of your basic menus, which then becomes your shopping list. When you know your meal plan well, there’s no need to guess at what to buy and how much.