If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, how do you avoid some of the worst effects of our industrial food system? If you are concerned about a vegetable or a fruit going bad in the grocery store, you can store it, if you wish, in the freezer, if you must. And if you know your “edible oils” are from GMO soybeans or sugar beets, you can purchase oil of your choice, or use extra virgin olive oil.
We’re always looking for a reason to eat healthy, or better yet, eat healthier — but then we often settle for a fast food-heavy diet.
But what if this time around, we could choose wisely from the whole list?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has just created a new index, or “food availability score,” to help consumers figure out which foods are becoming increasingly available as a complete food.
We asked registered dietitian Jennifer McArdle to break it down for us.
McArdle is a senior-registered dietitian for the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and the host of the blog Wellness Is a Warm Gun.
McArdle agreed to take on the challenge of finding the 25 most and least available complete foods in the U.S. The list, which comes from the USDA, includes fruits, vegetables, complete grain, dairy products, and fish – so it’s a diverse list.
But how accessible is each food?
I like to say that, in my world, food availability goes up, or down, according to how available an individual's food is at a given moment – but that doesn’t help people who don’t use the index. So at a glance at the list, you’ll likely not know exactly what it’s like to be low on a specific food. To get a better understanding of what this food availability index is like for a person who often runs low on some staples, I looked at my score.
At this moment, my scores are at their lowest average of the winter for some foods, and at their highest average of the summer for some. So I am in a cycle of fluctuating availability of whole grains, fiber, fresh vegetables, and dairy, and availability of processed foods, sugar, and meat.
While a person who is a chronic dieter (eating, on average, fewer than 2 meals a day) may eat a lot of fast foods (which are highly processed and sugary), the availability of such foods at this moment is not very high in comparison to others. It is a challenge to find healthy, complete foods within the average American diet.
The results, even on my low end of the spectrum, are interesting. Because I take it seriously, I would love to talk to others who work on a large scale and consume fewer but more healthful foods. What I find most fascinating is that some foods are considered good and even essential, and some foods are not seen as essential, and are not as easily available. Even though I understand that convenience comes at a cost, I can see the importance of using the index to take stock of our food situation, and make healthier choices.