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The cost of being healthy

An interesting article was published in the BMJ late last year, looking at the cost (as in, affect on our wallets) of healthy diet and lifestyle patterns. The article’s lead author explained: “people often say that healthier foods are more expensive and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits.”

So… does it cost more to live well and, if so, by how much?

To answer this question, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 27 studies, from 10 different countries, which included information on price for individual foods and healthier versus less healthy diets. What they found was that healthier diets – rich in vegetables, fruits, fish and nuts – cost significantly more than unhealthy diets, rich in processed foods and refined grains. Averaged out, the healthiest diet patterns cost around $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.

$1.50

Now that doesn’t sound like much, does it – and for many of us it really isn’t. But for many others, it really is. $1.50 per person, per day, adds up. Particularly if you have a large family. Particularly if you don’t have much money. Often compounded by lack of choice and inadequate understand of what ‘healthy’ actually is (food marketing does an excellent job at bamboozling most people in this regard).

The researchers suggest the reason for this cost difference includes food subsidies and policies that favour the production of “inexpensive, high volume” foods over their healthier counterparts. In other words, we don’t have the infrastructure to support the widespread production and distribution of healthier foods. That’s certainly a factor.

Education and ready access to quality food is another one. Sometimes people don’t realise that the simplest changes will have profound effects on their immediate and long term health. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the information fed to us by food companies (food shouldn’t have to tell you it’s healthy FYI), family members, news articles, health blogs (yeah yeah, I know)… there’s a lot out there and messages can be mixed.

Although I will happily overhaul your diet and lifestyle, encourage avid consumption of leafy greens, espouse the virtues of chia and and get you to down some herbs if I can; it doesn’t have to be that, shall we say, radical. Cut down the amount of fizzy drinks you consume in favour of water, add a handful of veggies to just one meal each day, swap white bread out of your diet, eat one piece of fresh fruit daily… Seemingly small changes such as these can have big effects. ‘Being healthy’ can be quite simple, really. Start small, learn a few recipes, don’t be afraid to try new things and choose what you (and your family) like.

I’ve sort of gone off on a tangent from my original article discussion, but it is related. I suppose what I’m trying to say is: although healthy eating doesn’t have to cost the earth, it can be a very real stretch for some folk. Regardless, do what you can. If that means coconut water, organic veggies and meat, go nuts! Or if it’s frozen veggies and non-processed cheese, go nuts! Just do your best. You’ve got one life and one body to carry you through it, so look after it the best you possibly can.

farmers markets

some lovely produce at the orange grove markets

Reference: BMJ Open. 2013 Dec 5;3(12):e004277

Your sleep cycle. Your mood. Related?

Sleep is one of the most important factors for health and wellbeing. It helps your body recharge each day. When you don’t get enough, it can significantly impact your mood, energy, concentration, memory, appetite, metabolism and hormones. Sleep matters!

I often talk about sleep in clinic and you may have noticed that I often reference it as a therapeutic tool when discussing a number of different health conditions on this blog. I’ve also written about the importance of sleep hygiene for cultivating better sleep.

So we’ve established that getting sleep is important, but what about when you sleep?

Does your sleep cycle affect your mood and behaviour?

An interesting study was published this month, looking at the behavioural differences between people who go to sleep early and those who stay up late. Sleep chronotypes describe your preference for rising early or staying up late – the time during which your body functions best. Early risers are morning sleep chronotypes and stay-up-late folk are evening sleep chronotypes.

What the researchers found was that those individuals who identified as evening sleep chronotypes were more likely to exhibit personality and behavioural traits associated with the ‘Dark Triad’ (i.e. narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism).

My favourite quote in this paper, which is also the final line, is an absolute humdinger: “In short, those high on the Dark Triad traits like many other predators (e.g., lions, African hunting dogs, scorpions), are creatures of the night.” Creatures of the night! Take THAT night owls! Or should I say… night scorpions?

All jokes aside, this does highlight an interesting correlation between those who go to bed late and a number of unhealthy physical and emotional outcomes. However, is that what makes you stay up late (you creature of the night!) or are the negative health outcomes a result of irregular sleep patterns and an imbalanced circadian rhythm? I’d like to think the latter. Which means, by cultivating healthier habits and resetting your sleep clock (even marginally), you will be more in sync with the world around you and less likely to display those negative attributes you’ve been otherwise assigned.

Are you an early bird? A night owl? Do you reckon it impacts your health?

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REFERENCE: Jonason P et al 2013. Pers Individ Dif. 55(5): 538-541

Fast food children

Look, we all need to eat better. Well most of us do, or at least could, if only we would. It seems obvious to say that eating healthy food will give you better health. But I feel like I need to keep delivering this message, regularly and in attention seeking ways, as I see and speak to people who continue hoeing into processed foods without regard for what it’s doing to their short, medium and long term health.

*spoiler alert* bad things! sh#tty food does bad things!

A report was published on Monday has been in the health news all this week. This new study has linked regular consumption of fast food (as in, processed take-away food) with increased incidence of severe allergic conditions in kids. Things like asthma and eczema.

The study involved more than 319,000 13 – 14 year olds (from 51 countries) and 181,000 six – seven year olds (from 31 countries, including Australia). What the researchers found, on examining these kids’ diets, was that those who ate three or more servings of fast food a week had an increased risk of severe asthma. A 39% increase for adolescents and 27% increase for children. They were also at greater risk of severe rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema. Ouch.

Hey now but this is interesting: of the hundreds of thousands of kids surveyed, those that ate a minimum of three portions of fruit a week reduced their asthma symptom severity by 11% in the tweens and 14% in children. Even that small difference in basic nutrition made a dramatic difference in overall health!

Much like the study on early diet and IQ that I blogged about late last year, the outcome of this report doesn’t necessarily tell us that “fast food will cause allergy”, instead it provides an insight into correlation. Information such as this demonstrates that the way we feed our children can have significant and long-term impacts on their health.

So… seriously now. Stop eating crap and, most importantly, stop feeding it to your children. I’m sorry if that sounded harsh, but it’s a really important piece of advice that needs to be said many times over. Many times. That way it’s more easily remembered and, even better, more easily practiced.

So is veg. So are nuts. So. are. many. things.

So is veg. So are nuts. So. are. many. things.

Ref: Ellwood P et al. Thorax. (pub online 14 Jan) doi: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2012-202285

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