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The satiated student

The grapefruit is out. The recession is in. According to Reuters, recession diets are one of the top food trends…

By Kerry Blackadar , in Blogoscopy: Student health in focus , on January 29, 2009 Tags: , , , , , , ,

The grapefruit is out. The recession is in.

According to Reuters, recession diets are one of the top food trends for 2009. And just like caterpillar eyebrows and skinny-jeans, the recession diet is a trend not worth hopping on the bandwagon for.

Simply put, a recession diet means consuming ‘cheap’ foods. With the economy heading south for longer than just the winter, people are finding ways to cut back at the grocery store. The problem with this phenomenon is that cheap foods also tend to be higher in calories and lower in nutrients. I can certainly attest to this: an organic head of lettuce cost me close to four dollars! With prices like this, we have confirmation that the rabbit really was silly; Trix are for kids.

The director of the Nutrition Sciences Program at the University of Washington in Seattle was recently quoted as saying “obesity is a toxic result of a failing economic environment.” I certainly hope people won’t blame their love handles on the shrinking dollar, but the link between one’s economic status and health is undeniable.

And, for college and university students, the recession diet is not a trend, but a lifestyle.

Some students are literally eating the same thing day in and day out. Stories of buying discount wraps to last for a week of meals, or eating relish from a jar with scissors (apparently the spoons were dirty) are not unheard of. But under the ‘rugged’ exterior of your off-gassing sweet pickled friend, is an unhealthy interior.

The health risks associated with poor student diets (at least those living away from home) became evident in 2003. A male student from Canada, who was attending an American college, developed scurvy. The boy’s mother is now the co-author of the book Good To Go: A Practical Guide to Adulthood, which offers tips on everything from boiling water to unclogging a toilet.

I eat ascorbic acid pills like candy, so I can proudly say I will never get scurvy, a condition that arises only after one to three months without (or very little) vitamin C. But smart, healthy shopping does not come easy to me. On days spent pouring spoiled milk down the sink, or hunched over the refrigerator scouting for ‘that weird smell,’ I think of my mother – a visionary grocery shopper, meal planner, and gourmet chef. One day, I hope to achieve greatness in cooking, as my mother has done for so many years. But in order to get there, I must first learn the basics: shopping for affordable and healthy foods.

The amount of online advice on this topic is overwhelming. StudentCook is one UK website that sticks out from the rest. It is particularly well-managed. When it comes to learning how to shop cheaply, they suggest:

  • choosing seasonal fruits and vegetables
  • shopping at local markets
  • only buying what you are going to eat
  • avoid shopping when you are hungry
  • bringing a calculator to the store and adding up as you go

StudentCook also suggests you stretch your shopping budget by:

  • planning meals
  • cooking double or triple and freezing the left over
  • allocating a small amount of money each week for perishable items
  • waiting until the afternoon to go shopping for bargains

I can’t see myself ever (and I mean ever) using a calculator (even if it were the one on my cell phone) in a grocery aisle. That’s taking nerdy-ness too far. But, they do raise some very valid points. Buying local food can make a huge difference in the overall cost of your shopping bill. I can also vouch that there can be great bargains later in the day. In my case, it involved six gooey, sticky, perfectly gigantic cinnamon buns for three dollars during an 11 p.m. grocery run – obviously not the complex carbohydrate I should have been looking for.

Another great site for students is Beyondbakedbeans, which has numerous articles on eating healthy, staying on budget, as well as easy recipe ideas.

With hard economic times ahead, perhaps all budgeting Canadians can benefit from these tips aimed at student shoppers. It is my hope that the trend of the recession diet will not be widespread, but that we remain wise enough to keep our health ‘in the black.’ The first step for me is to make a food budget that I can honestly stick to.