Lifestyle

Rising food prices will make It even harder to eat healthily | Timi Gustafson, R.D.

A record drought is destroying America’s harvest this year. Over 50 percent of farmland is now in moderate to severe drought condition, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/). In some states it’s well over 60 percent and rising.

As a consequence, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts substantial price increases for food next year, if not sooner. In its just released Food Price Outlook (http:/ /ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings.aspx), the agency forecasts inflationary trends for food costs across the board.

Animal food products will be especially affected due to more expensive feed. Inventories of beef have already been low this year and are being further reduced because of dried up pastures. Indirectly, this will drive up prices for dairy products as well. The ripple effect is widespread and it is impossible at this point to see how far it will reach, according to USDA food economist and spokesperson Richard Volpe.

Because of the use of corn and soy in many processed products, even canned and packaged foods could become more expensive. This leaves individuals and families who are already struggling to make ends meet in an ever greater bind.

“We are deeply concerned about the impact of rising food prices on low-income households,” said Sophie Milam at Feeding America (http://feedingamerica.org) in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) (http://www.npr.org/2012/07/25/ 157382534/usda-predicts-food-prices-to-rise-in-droughts-wake). “Poor households are already forced to make tradeoffs between what they can afford and the nutritional value of the food they buy – at higher prices, even in small percentages are a challenge.” She warned that food banks for the needy could seriously become impacted as well.

In terms of worldwide food supply, the potential damage is even less predictable.

Because America is a major supplier of a wide range of agricultural goods, lower yields mean shortages for countries around the world that depend on imports. Prices for staples like wheat, soy and rice could dramatically increase if international markets begin to panic.

While there is not much to be done about price hikes on the consumer level, taking prudent action can mitigate some of the fallout. The USDA has compiled several guidelines (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/TenTips/ DGTipsheet9SmartShopping.pdf) for smart shopping to keep items like fruit and vegetables affordable even on a tight budget. Here are some examples:

Careful planning is an important part of limiting one’s grocery expenses. Make shopping lists for several days or longer and stick to them while you are in the store.

Some foods are better bought in bulk. Rice, beans, soups and other canned goods are in this category. Perishables like fresh produce, meats and fish should be purchased in appropriate amounts, so nothing goes to waste. Preferably, buy items you can use for a number of meals, such as side dishes, salads, soups and stews.

Always get produce that is in season. Imports are more costly and often less fresh than their locally grown counterparts.

Frozen dinners or deli foods may be more convenient and save you time. But the preparation done by someone else adds to the price. So, put in the little extra work and make your meals from scratch whenever possible. It’s worth it.

Look for sales and use coupons. There is no shame in being a smart shopper. Stores wouldn’t offer these incentives if they still didn’t make a profit off you.

Eating out is expensive. Whether you patronize a gourmet restaurant or a burger joint, you almost always pay more than you would if you ate at home. So, be discriminating.

Going out to celebrate or to take a break once in a while is important. But when you face budget concerns, you are better off running your own kitchen.

What matters most is not to neglect your nutritional needs. It is better to stick to simple but wholesome meals than trying to cut corners with junk food that only makes you sick. Nothing would be worse than losing your health at a time when everything else is getting tougher.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter (http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD) and on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/TimiGustafsonRD).

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