The Dollar Menu vs. Your Health

9/27/2012

When looking for costs to cut, many people look in the direction of their food budget. While food shopping isn't exactly a discretionary spending situation, there are certainly ways you can reduce what you spend on groceries.

But if you try to control or reduce your food costs by visiting the dollar menus of your local fast food restaurants, you're doing yourself more harm than good.

Your Health is Irreplaceable
You only get one body in life -- the one your mind is currently sitting in. Filling that body with the junk that sits on most dollar value menus is not going to help your body age well, get proper nutrition and put up with the demands you place on it every day.

Looking at the nutritional value of the hamburger and French fries on one company's dollar menu, you end up with 670 calories and 34 grams of fat for just one, $2 meal. According to the Maryland Heart Center, a 120-pound, moderately active female needs only 1,440 calories each day -- and almost half of them would be found in this one meal. As for fat, this same woman would need 48 grams of fat per day -- and after this meal she's more than 75% there. (You can figure out your daily average calorie and fat needs here.

Consider Health Insurance Costs
If the food you eat on the dollar value menu causes weight gain, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or any other nutritionally-influenced health problem, it's likely that you will be quoted higher health insurance rates. Not only that, but the sicker and less nourished you feel, the more often you'll visit a doctor and the more you will pay in medical costs.

You should also consider your company's policy on calling in sick. If you eat enough food that isn't good for you, you're going to be sluggish and possibly more prone to catching colds. This could result in more sick days being taken and could have a negative result on your job standing.

Dollar Menu Alternatives Not everything on every dollar menu is bad. To make that determination, you must work to understand nutrition and then look at the nutritional values of those items that are available. There are some restaurants, like Wendy's, that have fresh vegetables on the dollar menu. Other restaurants, like Taco Bell, may have low-calorie, low-fat, high-fiber foods available, although the salt content is likely to be high, which could be problematic health-wise.

It's also important to remember that forbidding yourself from ever eating fast food isn't a realistic step. The key to eating healthy is to have everything in moderation. Even if you want the worst item on the fast food menu once a month, it is probably not going to have a significant impact on your health.

But a diet that consists mostly of cheap, fast food will cost you more in the long run. Instead, focus mainly on inexpensive foods that pack a high nutritional punch. Foods like beans, whole grain rice, and skinless chicken may not sound as fun as fast food, but they can be purchased inexpensively and prepared in a way that keeps them healthy. Also, farmers markets often offer inexpensive ways to buy fresh, healthy vegetables and they can be much cheaper than grocery stores.

Your money is valuable and should be treated as such, but so should your body. And if you become sick or shorten your life span by eating poorly to save money -- what's the point of saving it at all?

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