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SNAP Benefits Aren’t Enough to Afford a Healthy Diet

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A new study from North Carolina State University and the Union of Concerned Scientists finds that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, only covers 43-60 percent of what it costs to consume a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines for what constitutes a healthy diet. The study highlights the challenges lower-income households face in trying to eat a healthy diet.

“The federal government has defined what constitutes a healthy diet, and we wanted to know how financially feasible it was for low-income households, who qualify for SNAP benefits, to follow these guidelines,” says Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, co-author of a paper on the study and an assistant professor of agricultural and human sciences at NC State.

This can be a tricky question to answer, as federal dietary guidelines vary based on age and gender. SNAP benefits also vary, based on household income and the number of adults and children living in the household. For the purposes of this study, the researchers used average monthly SNAP benefits for 2015.

To address their research question, the researchers looked at the cost to follow federal dietary guidelines based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s monthly retail price data from 2015 for fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. They calculated costs under a variety of scenarios. For example, what would it cost to comply with dietary guidelines if one only ate produce that was fresh, not frozen? What if one only consumed fruits and vegetables that were frozen? What if a household followed a vegetarian diet? The researchers also included labor costs associated with shopping and preparing meals, based on 2010 estimates produced by other economics researchers.

“We found significant variability in the costs associated with following federal dietary guidelines,” Haynes-Maslow says. “For example, it was most expensive to consume only fresh produce, and it was least expensive to consume a vegetarian diet.”

To place this in context, consider a four-person household that has one adult male, one adult female, one child aged 8-11 and one child aged 12-17 – all of whom qualify for SNAP benefits. They would need to spend $626.95 per month in addition to their SNAP benefits if they ate only fresh produce as part of their diet. That same household would need to spend $487.39, in addition, to SNAP benefits if they ate a vegetarian diet.

“Many low-income households simply don’t have an additional $500 or $600 to spend on food in their monthly budget,” Haynes-Maslow says.

The researchers did find that SNAP is sufficient to meet the healthy dietary needs of two groups: children under the age of 8 and women over the age of 51. However, SNAP was insufficient to meet the needs of older children, younger women, or men of any age.

“Even though SNAP is not designed to cover all of the cost of food – it’s meant to be a supplemental food program – this study makes it clear that there would be many low-income households that would not be able to cover the gap needed to eat a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines,” Haynes Maslow says. “Even without including labor costs, a household of four would need to spend approximately $200-$300 in addition to their SNAP benefits to follow the dietary guidelines.”

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Food

3 Reasons to Add Meatless Mondays

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Vegan Pizza

Going vegetarian or vegan can be a daunting task, but there’s no reason to jump in head first! Meatless Mondays (or Wednesdays or Saturdays) can change the world, and its great for the environment, your health, and the animals!

Environment

You might be surprised by how much water it takes for the food to get to your plate.  The food we eat makes up about 80% of America’s total water footprint. Virtual water is what makes up this water footprint.  Virtual water is the amount of water that is embedded in products needed for its production, so this includes the water used in cleaning and transporting for example.  Pound for pound, meat has a higher water footprint than vegetables, grains or beans. For instance, a single pound of beef takes, on average, 1,847 gallons of water. It adds up around the world to a range of 7-305 pounds per person per year.

Assuming everyone eats equal amounts of meat each day, adding Meatless Monday will bring that number down to 6-262 pounds per person per year (divide by 7 and then multiply by 6) and that’s a big difference!  Beyond water footprint, let’s talk about carbon footprint!  Beef produces 13 times the emissions of vegetable protein (beans, lentils, tofu, etc.)  Once again that’s a big difference!  This is very simplified and does not consider all the pollution that comes from animal agriculture!

Health

Pant-based meals, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes and nuts, is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. A National Cancer Institute study of 500,000 people found that those who ate the most red meat daily were 30 percent more likely to die of any cause during a 10-year period than were those who ate the least amount of red meat. Other processed meats also increased the risk plenty, but the people who ate the least meat were least likely to die in the 10-year period.

Vegans and vegetarians do get enough protein no matter what the stereotypes say. Make sure you eat enough calories and you are sure to get enough protein.  If you eat the same amount of vegetables as you would meat, that’s not going to work!  Most meat-free food is less calorie dense than meat so keep that in mind.  Don’t forget variety and you shouldn’t have a problem with protein, iron, vitamins, or anything else you might be worried about!

Animals

This is the reason most people suspect when you say you’re eating less meat or going vegetarian.  After all, modern agriculture commonly keeps animals in overcrowded stalls, cages, crates, or sheds where they are often unable to turn around or take even a single step in their entire lives.  Deprived of care, exercise, sunlight, and grass, the animals suffer tremendously before even coming to the slaughterhouse.  It is important to remember that the animals are living, breathing, thinking, and feeling beings.  The meat industry kills more than 25 billion animals each year.

In modern factory farms, animals are routinely injected with hormones and stimulants to make them grow bigger and faster.  Some of these injections have been proven to cause cancer and other diseases.  Feedlots are crowded, filthy, stinking places with open sewers and choking air. The animals would not survive in the filthy and crowded conditions without the unnatural amount of antibiotics used.  At some farms, cattle are fed dead ground up cows.

What now?

Add some meatless meals to your diet! And you don’t have to do it on a Monday, but Meatless Wednesdays just doesn’t sound as good.  Do what works best for you!

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Food

What About a Welfare Challenge?

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In recent years, to draw attention to the plight of food insecurity in America, advocacy groups and community organizations have promoted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or “food stamp” challenges.  Aimed at highlighting the difficulties in living on a “food stamp budget,” (about $4-$5 per day) these challenges encourage participants to better understand the realities faced by those who rely on food assistance to meet nutritional needs.

Over the past decade, policy makers, journalists, celebrities, and regular folks across the country have participated in these challenges and shared their stories, which generally share a common refrain: It’s hard. Purchasing sufficient quantities of quality food for a family on such a budget is near impossible.

Moreover, a considerable number of SNAP families report zero income, meaning that there are no additional funds to act as a buffer when the food stamps run out. These types of challenges are important in drawing attention to the very real problem of hunger in our country, and have the potential to raise needed funds for food pantries and anti-hunger advocacy groups.

While recently reading about a SNAP challenge experience, I got to thinking: why not a welfare challenge? Much like food stamps, today’s cash assistance program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) is a widely-misunderstood government benefit, and stereotypes about recipients abound. Why not challenge celebrities, politicians, and community members to live on a “welfare budget” for a month?

The guidelines for my proposed challenge would look something like this:

  • Welcome to the welfare challenge! Imagine your family has fallen on hard times. Before you get started, freeze all of your assets. No access to savings, credit cards, or investments for a full month. Remember, millions of poor families lack access to a formal bank account, and most lack any financial safety net. For this month, you have nothing to fall back on.
  • Now, live on a budget of $400 for the next 30 days. This is about the average monthly cash assistance benefit in the U.S. (though you could be living on as little as $200 per month if you live in certain states). This $400 should cover all of your non-food expenses, including utilities, toiletries, cleaning products, clothes, transportation costs, school fees, and anything else you and your family may need for survival. Hope for no parking tickets, car repairs, or other unforeseen expenses!

Don’t forget that due to overwhelming need, federal housing assistance doesn’t reach many low-income families. In fact, in many areas, public housing applicants face excessive waiting lists or must participate in lotteries to obtain access. So you’d better plan to budget for your housing this month too.

  • Try to avoid accepting other forms of assistance to help meet your family’s needs, as these aren’t always available to every family.
  • Set aside 30 hours per week for your required work assignment, which is required through the program. This may include volunteer work, job search assistance, or another type of work activity, though be aware that data suggest this will not likely prepare you for a living wage job in the future. However, without participating, you can set your budget back to $0 as families receiving cash assistance can be sanctioned (i.e. thrown off the program) for failing to comply. In many states, this means that the whole family loses their cash benefit, including children. Don’t be late!
  • Next, experience the struggle of living in poverty and relying on welfare benefits to support your family. Be prepared for the inevitable fallout, which may include losing your home, your car, and running out of diapers, tampons, or toilet paper (which can’t be purchased through food stamp benefits). Be prepared to tell your kids “no” a lot. Fear every bill that lands in your mailbox. Expect your physical and emotional health to suffer.  You may even struggle to think clearly and problem solve.

Ready to sign up?

Rest easy, do-gooders.  Promoting such a challenge would be irresponsible, even reckless.  To expect families to live on $400 per month is ludicrous, yet across the country, we expect just that from hundreds of thousands of households. Children suffer tremendously as a result.

Speculation about such a challenge is already largely inconsequential, as cash assistance itself is a dying concept. It’s been well documented that welfare is dead. Across the country, the rolls are dropping precipitously, as sanction policies become stricter and more punitive while funds continue to be supplanted to plug state budget holes. In my state of Ohio, with a population of over 11 million, only about 100,000 recipients remain (mostly children), despite the fact that nearly 1.8 million people and 340,000 Ohio families live in poverty.

Fighting hunger in America is an area of shared commitment. While people have a range of opinions on the best approach, those on both sides of the aisle generally agree: hunger is bad. This is especially evident around the holidays. We collect cans, serve meals to the homeless, and write checks making donations to pantries. However, poverty is more complicated, and too often we allow personal judgements and stereotypes to cloud our ability to feel empathy to the poor.

All too often, we cease to remember that being poor means more than not getting enough to eat. Poverty is pain, shame, and struggle. Hunger may be easier to put a Band-Aid on, but it won’t end altogether unless we tackle the source.

My welfare challenge is, for good reason, a nonstarter. Asking others to demonstrate compassion for those in poverty is not. Supporting policies that allow families to live with dignity is not. Let us all try to do better.

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Food

5 Super Foods To Help You Become Healthier

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When we think about healthy living, we tend to focus primarily on avoiding unhealthy foods and incorporating lifestyle choices that are aimed at overcoming our health concerns.

But why should we take such a reactive approach when maintaining a healthy body and mind can be as simple as incorporating delectable and enjoyable super foods in our everyday diet.

Super foods surpass regular foods in that they possess an unparalleled and almost astonishing amount of nutrients, disease-fighting compounds, proteins, fiber and healthy fats that not only provide healing benefits for the body but also prevent diseases.

So, what are these superfoods? Here we have listed the 5 most potent super foods that can allow you to gain and maintain a healthy body and mind:

1. Lemon:

Calling lemons a super food would be an understatement as they boast a plethora of health benefits and can also transform any dish into a savory delight. The flavonoids that are present in their juice are packed with antioxidants, allowing them to be effective in treating as well as preventing countless ailments. Here is how you can incorporate lemons into your daily diet and pave the way for a healthier you:

  • Consuming just half a cup of lemon juice a day protects against kidney stones by effectively raising citrate levels in urine.
  • Lemons mixed with honey help in soothing a sore throat.
  • It significantly catalyzes the weight loss process owing to the presence of a soluble fiber called pectin that facilitates digestion.
  • Lemon juice when added in hot water or cup of herbal green tea makes for the perfect breakfast beverage as it gives you 100% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C while stimulating your digestive track.
  • Studies have also indicated that lemons can be used to treat and prevent cancer. This is due to the activity of citrus limonoids that are compounds that prevent damage to cells that lead to the development of cancerous cells.
  • Lemons are also a potent source of potassium as they contain nearly 80 milligrams of this essential nutrient. Therefore, consuming lemons in your daily diet can allow you to stay nimble and strong.
  • Drinking lemon juice helps bring the fever down faster.

They are an excellent source of alkaline food and assists in balancing your body’s pH.

2. Broccoli:

Broccoli in addition to other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale are all worthy additions to the daily diet. Here are some of the most amazing benefits of this super food side dish:

Broccoli is rich in folate, potassium that helps in preventing anemia. The vegetable also possesses vitamins A, B6, C, and K. It contains compounds such as isothiocyanates and sulforaphane which may help to fight liver, prostrate, skin, bladder and stomach cancer and also help suppress ineffective tumors while boosting healthy ones. Broccoli is a great energy source and is satiating as contains as much as 2.4 gms of fiber in one cup.

This cruciferous vegetable is also free of fat and sodium and contains only 55 calories in one cup.

In order to preserve up to 90% of broccoli’s vitamin C component, you should microwave it instead of boiling or steaming which leave behind only 66% of the nutrient.

3. Dark Chocolate:

Dark chocolate with its alluring savor and the addictive appeal is actually filled with an array of health benefits including the following:

Dark chocolate can improve blood platelet activity similar to a baby aspirin, relaxing the inner lining of blood vessels and increasing the production of nitric oxide which causes arteries to dilates.

Regular consumption of dark chocolate leads to a lower propensity of cardiometabolic disorders which are a combination of risk factors that lead to the development of diabetes and heart disease. It also decreases mortality rates in patients who suffer a heart attack for the first time, reduces chances of cardiovascular disease by 37% and diminishes the risk of a stroke by 29%.

Dark chocolate exerts most of its health benefits via its flavanoid compounds that have antioxidant capabilities, improve circulation, reduce inflammation, curtail blood pressure, inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol and counter the damage done by free radical.

It is also rich in oleic acid (fatty acid) which helps in lowering LDL and total cholesterol levels.

The key to acquiring the health benefits of dark chocolate is moderation which means eating only a square or two every couple of days.

4. Salmon:

This delicious, versatile and readily available fish is a powerhouse of nutrients. It tantalizes the taste buds and also helps prevent several ailments, here’s how:

Salmon is among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA which are essential for the body and must be acquired from external sources as they cannot be developed inside it. Both EPA and DHA lead to lower blood pressure, decreased inflammation, lower risk of cancer and enhanced arterial function.

It is loaded with high-quality protein which helps the body recover from injuries, maintain muscle mass during the aging process and weight loss, and secures bone health.

Salmon is rich in B vitamins that develop and repairs DNA, helps the body turn food into energy and reduces the inflammation that triggers heart disease. B vitamins are also excellent in facilitating optimal nervous system and brain functioning.

This fatty fish is also a great source of potassium, selenium, and astaxanthin (antioxidant) which of which are crucial for maintaining a healthy body.

It also helps in preventing heart disease by increasing levels of omega-3 fatty acid and reducing levels of triglycerides and omega-6.

For optimal results, two servings of salmon are recommended every week.

5. Blueberries:

Blueberries owe their enticing color to the presence of powerful antioxidants that scavenge the body for injurious molecules that lead to the development of cancer and damage DNA. Here we have highlighted how these flavorsome berries can help boost your health and well-being:

They also improve concentration and memory in otherwise healthy individuals. Blueberries are rich in fiber content and polyphenols which facilitate in digestion and improve the intestinal environment.

These berries are extremely beneficial for hair as they reverse the effects of pernicious anemia (a condition that causes hair to gray prematurely) and contain proanthocyanidins which stimulate hair growth.

Super foods are easy to add to your daily diet and will be well worth the effort as they offer invaluable and long-lasting benefits.

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