You Don't Have to Be Rich to Make Healthy Food Choices

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Ward Alper is a type 2 diabetic and chef who lives and eats decadently in Portland, Maine. Since his diagnosis more than four years ago, he has refocused his recipes and eating to support his diabetic health. In this article, Ward explains how you can eat healthfully without breaking the bank.

"The wealthier and better-educated county types such as the Monied 'Burbs, Industrial Metropolis, Boom Towns and Campus and Careers counties all have diabetes rates below the national average," says Dante Chinni, director of Patchwork Nation. "As we have noted in more detailed analyses, these communities are home to roughly 90 percent of Whole Foods organic grocery stores. That may be driven in large part by income, but it is also driven by desire. Not everyone can pay for organic arugula, but not everyone wants it either."

Some statistics (referred to above) seem to show that there is a relationship between diabetes and household income. That may be so. However, there is not necessarily a relationship between eating a good diabetic-compatible diet and your income. Or, to be clear, you don’t have to be rich to make healthier food choices.

Organic baby arugula may be a good choice, but to be honest, it is not my first choice for a leafy green. For me it is spinach. Remember that stuff that Popeye ate? That's right! Plain old cheap spinach, packed with nutrients, fiber, and most important, taste. I have to wonder if the creator of the Popeye cartoon (E.C. Segar) was giving us a hint about good nutrition by naming Popeye’s girlfriend Olive Oil way back in 1929.

Fresh or Frozen Spinach and Dozens of Varieties of Lettuce

I love spinach! I use it as a vegetable by itself, seasoned with lemon and olive oil, in a casserole with cheese, in a stuffing for chicken, fish, and mushrooms, mixed with cream cheese for a dip, and in an amazing spinach-tuna nicoise salad. I can’t even begin to list how useful it is.

And yes, in case you are wondering, I use fresh for salads and as a bed for rich dishes in place of rice or pasta. But I do use frozen spinach for most of the other spinach-based items. It is easier to use than fresh and, ounce for ounce, less expensive. I have boxes of it in my freezer for whatever and whenever I need to use it. Having it frozen does not diminish the nutritive value or fiber and does not change the flavor much either. And it lasts forever. I don’t have to plan to have it in the house.

Baby organic arugula may be great but so are other leafy greens. Most “stupidmarkets” have dozens of varieties of lettuce that are less expensive and still have serious value. I admit that I even have the much maligned iceberg lettuce in my refrigerator. For me, there is nothing to beat the “icy” crispness of iceberg lettuce on a turkey sandwich or over the top of a tortilla. You can’t make wedge salad with some fancy lettuce. It just ain’t right!

Way of Eating = Way of Life

Not to preach to you, but what you need to do is find a way of eating foods that are better choices for you as a diabetic and which you will actually look forward to eating. The dietary changes for a diabetic – or anyone who has a disease where what you eat makes a serious difference (celiac disease, food allergy, etc.) – are not the same as those diet many of us have tried in order to lose a few extra pounds. This way of eating has to become a new way of life.

What I've learned to do over the years, in order to stick with the necessary choices, is to make the items that I prepare as different and delicious as I can make them – except the dishes that I like the most. Those I prepare over and over again. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to taste great! It doesn’t have to be “gourmet,” but I think you have to have a lot of variety in your choices. Sometimes it helps to open your mind (and your mouth) to a few new and different flavors. Try something new. If you hate it, don’t ever make it again!

Enjoy, be happy, be healthy, BE DECADENT!

Click here for Ward's Turkey Sausage Meatloaf recipe!

Get more nutrition tips and recipe ideas from Ward Alper, the Decadent Diabetic, on his website.