A couple weekends ago, we found ourselves glued to an unsettling CNN special called "Blacks in America." One thing that instantly struck a cord with us was the discussion of how difficult it is for some people in this country to find fresh food. One woman said that it would be easier in her neighborhood to find a gun than a fresh tomato. It takes her an hour on the bus to find a place that carries fresh produce, and even that store she described as "despicable."
This is an issue that many Americans face, regardless of their race. We all know that fast food is cheaper and more accessible for all of us than organic produce, and many of us aren't lucky enough to be in a position to choose between the two. As a result, the latest statistic is that one third of Americans are obese and suffering from obesity related illnesses. Sure enough, the woman on CNN looks twenty years older than she is and has various health problems that are connected to her weight. And the only three things to eat in her neighborhood are fast food, frozen food and canned food.
So while we wait for the next President to hopefully help us fix this problem, what are we supposed to do when we are living or visiting or working in a town where healthy, fresh food is non-existent? Even in the worst circumstances, there are some foods that are better for us than others. Here are our tips for making the best food choices even when there aren't any good ones.
1. Can The Canned
Any vegetable that has an expiration date two years in the future should not count as an actual vegetable. The canned ones are full of sodium and preservatives that will raise your blood pressure and do worse things for your body than any vegetable can counteract. Of course, not all canned veggies are bad. There are some new organic ones that are good for you, but they're probably only available at the same places that stock fresh vegetables, so that doesn't really help. If you have the choice, always pick frozen vegetables over canned. Freezing vegetables keeps them from spoiling without the addition of scary preservatives, so it is always the better choice.
2. Convenience Store Stars
Even if the only food store you can find also sells gas, there are some decent finds in those tiny aisles. First of all, go nuts. Sure, nuts have lots of fat, but they are natural and high in protein and come straight from the earth. Skip the candied peanuts that are covered in high fructose corn syrup and get some plain roasted peanuts or almonds or walnuts. Many convenience stores also have bananas. These are rare fruits that have a long, natural shelf life, and even a beat up gas station banana is much healthier than Cool Ranch Doritos. This is also a time when it's a good idea to eat a meal replacement bar. Yes, we know we wrote a whole column about why you should never eat them, but this is the one time when you should. Concentrated food bars are high in calories and filled with strange ingredients, but a wrinkly old Power Bar is still better for your body than a bag of Pork Rinds.
3. Know Your Junk Food
When all else fails and you are left with no other choices but junk, read labels relentlessly and remember that some forms of junk are still better than others. Pay attention to how many calories you are ingesting. If you're at McDonald's, choose an Egg McMuffin with only 300 calories over a Big Mac and Fries with over 1000. At the grocery store, buy a package of English Muffins, which have less than 200 calories each, instead of frozen bagels with more than 300. Snack on a package of plain popcorn that has only 30 calories a cup instead of a Hostess Fruit Pie that has over sixteen times that. These small changes will add up over time, and if you manage to eat crappy food in moderation, you will suffer from far fewer health problems than someone who over eats the same crappy food.