Overcoming Food Insecurity: Tips for Increasing Access to and Consumption of Healthy, Nutritious Foods

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by Lauren Witt

Eating nutritious, healthy foods can be challenging for many in San Antonio. This is because many local residents and families are living in a state of food insecurity. The United States Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as not having enough food (hunger), not knowing where your next meal will come from (limited or uncertain access), or not having access to food that provides you with the needed nutrition requirements (limited access to adequate food).

Food insecurity contributes to a host of both physical and mental health issues. People living with food insecurity have a higher risk of obesity because their diets often contain too much fat, salt and carbohydrates. This is a major contributor to many negative health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, joint problems, difficulty breathing and more.

It can also create mental health problems, many caused by stress. It can be very stressful when you aren’t sure where your next meal will come from or when you’re not sure how you’ll be able to feed your family. When under stress, your body makes hormones that raise your heart rate. When your stress level is chronically high, stress hormones can damage blood vessels and increase your risk of developing high blood pressure.

If you or someone you know is living in a state of food insecurity, here are some ways to move toward greater food security:

Grow your Own

Starting a garden can be easier than you might think, even in a fairly dense urban environment. Start with a small garden in a patch of earth or in pots on a balcony or windowsill. You don’t need a lot of space to begin growing herbs and small vegetables.

Participate in a Community Garden

Another way to grow your own herbs and vegetables is to participate in a community garden. The Community Gardens Network, created by the Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas (www.greensatx.org), includes more than 40 community gardens sprinkled across the San Antonio community. Volunteers maintain and support each garden, and the effort produces healthy food, promotes physical activity and improves local green spaces.

Connect with the Local Food Bank

The San Antonio Food Bank is an amazing resource, both for people and families in need and for area residents seeking volunteer and educational opportunities. The food bank serves 16 counties and provides millions of pounds of food for people in need throughout South Texas. They also offer classes for healthly living such as gardening and cooking classes. Their Farmers Market Nutrition Program provides $30 vouchers for families on WIC that can be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets. To learn more about the food bank, visit www.safoodbank.org or call 210- 337-3663.

Visit Local Farmers Markets

The number of farmers markets in the San Antonio area continues to grow as more and more residents seek out places to buy fresh local foods, fruits and vegetables. You can find a local farmers market almost every day of the week. For information on local markets, visit www.fitcitysa. com and click on the Eat Right tab.

Plan Ahead and Shop Wisely

Before you shop, create a plan for multiple meals; this helps you stick to your list while shopping. Also, take advantage of coupons and sales so you can maximize your food budget. Buy staple foods like brown rice and quinoa, beans and dried peas. Focus on healthy fats and proteins and on in-season fruits and vegetables. When preparing meals, maximize your time by preparing multiple meals and freezing them for days you won’t have time to cook. Also, have a plan for leftovers so that none of the healthy foods you buy and prepare go to waste.

Lauren WittLauren Witt is the Patient Navigation Supervisor for Nix Health. The Patient Navigation Program helps patients connect with primary care and assists diabetic and at-risk patients with basic healthy living coaching. For more about the Nix Health system, visit www.nixhealth.com.

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