Eat Your Greens, Save Some Green

Murray, KY – Here's some sobering statistics. Kentucky ranks fifth highest in the nation for heart disease mortality and twelfth in the nation for stroke mortality. Also, a third of Kentuckians are obese, with another forty percent classified as overweight. Some wonder if instead of being the problem, food could be the solution. The National Center for Chronic Disease and Health Promotion issued a study in 2007 of Kentucky health habits and wellness. The report found fewer than twenty percent of residents ate five or more fruits and vegetables a day, which is the recommended amount. Rebecca Wright is a registered dietician at Murray Calloway County Hospital. Wright regularly councils patients who need to change their eating habits.

"If you need to feed your family and you're really worried about heart disease and cancer and all the obesity related diseases, you need to look at how can you increase the vegetables and the fruits in your diet."

Especially troubling to her are the instances of childhood obesity. Wright says at the beginning of her career, she hardly ever counseled overweight kids, but in the past six or seven years, that's completely changed. She says many Kentucky children are now suffering from the same obesity related illnesses as their parents and grandparents.

"They're already having Acanthosis Nigricans, which is insulin markings on the back of their neck or in their armpits which means diabetes is coming. Already 8, 10, 12 year olds are developing high blood pressure."

Wright says a healthy diet for kids and adults is linked to reduced risk of these health problems and others, including cancer.

"Specifically breast and colon is what I look at primarily. I know there are others and more research will be done to determine that."

She recommends her colon cancer patients reduce red meat and preservatives in their diets. As a dietician, Wright understands people struggle with buying fresh foods for every meal. A loaf of whole wheat bread can be as much as three dollars more expensive than a loaf of white bread. Also, with busy schedules, people don't always have time to prepare food from scratch. But the expense and time commitments do have financial returns. As people lose weight, they tend to stop needing their prescriptions.

"And I find that with so many of my patients. If they can lose about ten to twenty percent of their excess weight, they start coming off their blood pressure medicine, their cholesterol medicine. Sometimes their diabetes medicine is decreased and we've had some patients come off of that."

Patients save upwards of $25 dollars a month on medications. Wright says those savings can go toward buying more skim milk and bags of fresh fruit. She has other strategies for saving on food budgets. Those include eating beans instead of meat for dinner a couple times a week, making your own coffee and tea instead of buying the specialty drinks, and buying seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables.

The traffic at the Murray-Calloway County Farmer's Market picks up around nine o'clock. Customers buy fresh squash and new potatoes from local vendors. Murray resident Ramona Mileham says she and her husband have definitely seen the recession's impact on their budget and diet.

"That's the reason I turned into long my favorite flower bed into tomato patch this year."

Mileham says she comes to the Farmer's Market to get the vegetables she can't cultivate herself.

"We're on a limited budget like most people retired so we really enjoy it out here, talk to a lot of people, get a lot of advice. That gentleman there was telling me how to spray for Japanese beetles and I'm gonna try it."

The prices at farmer's market are often cheaper than those at the grocery store because vendors don't have to deal with cross-country transportation costs. Murray-Calloway County Farmer's Market president Curtis Bucy says many customers also like to know the people who grow their produce.

"People these days with the recession, they want to keep money locally and not have it going to big corporations and everything."

Bucy says the market has a lot of repeat visitors. Every day a few new people come check them out too as more residents learn buying and eating locally is good for their health and their wallet.

A balanced diet won't always eliminate diabetes, high cholesterol, or colon cancer. Family history and genetics are also factors. But it will improve quality of life, and maybe keep your medical bills low.

Other Healthy Eating Tips from Dietician Rebecca Wright:

* Be a coupon clipper

* Plant a garden

* Go fishing (and eat what you catch)

* For inexpensive protein, prepare dried beans / peas a couple times a week

* If fresh vegetables aren't affordable, buy frozen or canned ones on sale

* Make homeade bread. Or when you find it on sale, buy two loaves and freeze one

* Eat more meals at home

* Working moms can use crock pots for dinner meals

* Cut out soft drinks. Prepare coffee / tea or just drink water

* Look for skim milk on sale, comparison shop between stores (Don't give up milk becasue your bones need the calcium and Vitamin D)

* Shop for meat on sale and buy an extra package and freeze

* Take leftovers to work for lunch