Why are so many of our nation’s poor overweight?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Oklahoma ranks eight on the list of hungriest states and seventh in food insecurity. However, Oklahoma also – according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – is the 10th fattest state in the Union.
How can this be? If so many are going hungry in the Sooner State, how is it possible that so many are overweight? One possibility may surprise you.
The nation’s poor, when faced with hunger, have few options to fill their bellies. The first trip probably is to the local Food Bank. Food pantries provide what could be lifesaving sustenance to low income – or no income – folks with photo identification, proof of address, proof of income (or lack thereof), and a social security card.
While the food bank or local charity may ease the hunger pangs, does the food provide proper sustenance? I took a trip to the local food bank to find out.
Make no mistake, the food bank is an excellent source to feed yourself and/or your family. They do their very best to fill the baskets of those in need with a variety of food to satisfy a variety of cravings: snacks, canned vegetables and fruit, bread, beans, rice, and occasionally meat and one or two soda pops. Variety is all well and good, but what about quality?
A diet consisting solely of donations from the food bank will be high in carbohydrates, sugar, and salt – but, don’t get me wrong…they don’t do this on purpose. It isn’t likely that anyone visiting the food bank is apt to complain or look a gift horse in the mouth – far from it. When you are hungry you take what you are given, and you are happy to get it.
But let’s take a look at what five of the 10+ cans’ first few ingredients hold per serving, and we’ll ignore calories:
- Black Eyed Peas – black eyed peas, water, sugar, salt, and bacon. 20g carbohydrates, 550mg sodium, and 4g sugar.
- Sauerkraut – sauerkraut (cabbage), salt, and water. 1g carbohydrate, 180mg salt.
- Green Beans – beans, water, and salt. 390mg sodium, 2g sugar.
- Vegetarian Vegetable Soup – water, vegetables, egg, tomato, etc. 430mg sodium, 2g sugar.
- Diced Tomatoes – tomatoes and salt. 200mg sodium
One canned product you will rarely find at a food bank is something such as “smoked oysters.” Interestingly, the oysters have only 160mg of sodium, while tuna (more likely on the list at your local food bank or pantry) has about 250mg of sodium per serving.
The USDA recommends – based on a 2,000 calorie diet – a daily sodium intake of 1500mg (lowered from 2300 this year), and a daily sugar intake of 40g. So, if a hungry person visits the food bank, eats one can of green beans and one can of vegetarian vegetable soup, he or she has consumed 12g of sugar and 2460mg of sodium in only one meal. Multiply that by three – 7380mg sodium and 36g sugar – and that’s without the soda or juice! Most surprising is the amount of sodium in the can of vegetables – what one would think should be the healthiest item to choose.
Some studies have indicated that a diet high in salt can contribute greatly to obesity, not to mention hypertension and various other health problems. And, with the number of Native Americans with diabetes who live on limited income in Oklahoma, eating a diet high in sodium could be fatal.
The problem with Oklahoma’s obesity rates – and probably many other states – and its connection to Oklahoma’s poor could be more easily solved than you may think. If you donate food to your local food bank, it needn’t always be canned. Your local Food Bank probably has a refrigerator and freezer, and fresh items can be kept for a little while. Not everyone who is in need of food is homeless, and more than a few probably need help filling the gaps, but must choose between electricity and food, or prescriptions and natural gas. A little fresh food can go a long way, and a nutritious instant meal or a fresh ingredient dropped off at a food drive location probably would be appreciated. While a donation of delicate fresh herbs or salad greens most likely is not the best idea, hearty fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes and apples keep quite well and are considered by some to be amongst those of nature’s most nutritionally perfect foods.
Occasionally, with hushed tones, those who are better off may wonder how the overweight man or woman at the grocery store could possibly be paying with food stamps and weigh so much, or how the impoverished, yet chubby, child could become so if he wasn’t being fed a lot of expensive snacks. The answer may surprise you, and you may be able to help.