Save medical costs later by eating healthy now.By Michael F. Roizen, MD
If the shaky economy's got you worried about the high cost of healthcare, you're not alone. Maybe you're like the 45% of people who are cutting back on medications. Or the 42% buying fewer fruits and vegetables. Or the 43% of baby boomers concerned about future medical bills.
As a society, we need more affordable healthcare for all, and soon! And if everyone in North America gets their blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and blood sugar normal and stops smoking, the United States and Canada will save over 33% on lifetime medical costs and balance budgets for as far as the eye can see (past 2082!). But until the politicians sort out health costs, here are a few simple swaps you can make now:
Grill a salmon burger instead of a beef burger. Save $20 every time you do. I'm serious! If you're still asking, "Where's the beef?" instead of, "Where's the fish?" start socking away $10 per burger to cover the cost of future heart disease, and another $10 for future wrinkle creams. Choosing salmon over beef doesn't just subtract a lot of artery-clogging saturated fat from your diet. It also gives you omega-3s, which protect against heart disease and stroke and keep your skin smoother.
Tip: Wild salmon is a top but pricey omega-3 source. Go for canned salmon or frozen salmon burgers. They're way more affordable and are usually made of leftovers from Alaska's wild salmon catch.
Crunch greens instead of chips at lunch. Save $500 per month. A crisp spinach salad. Extra sprouts and romaine on your sandwich. Eat more of whatever green veggies are in season or on sale and, for pennies a day, you'll cut your odds of blood sugar problems by 14%. Avoid type 2 diabetes and you avoid the $6,000 a year that people with diabetes pay out of pocket for added healthcare they need.
Extra credit: Ask your doc for a fasting blood sugar test to check for prediabetes, the stage when there's still time to avoid full-blown trouble. Most of the one in three Americans who have prediabetes don't know it.
Don't just cut bad fat. Eat more nuts, soy, whole grains, and plant sterols. Save up to $2,400 per year. Avoiding artery-clogging saturated fat (yep, that burger, butter, full-fat cheese and milk, most baked/processed foods) is smart. Even smarter: Eat more nuts, tofu, oatmeal, barley, and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols and stanols (found mainly in heart-smart margarines). Just cutting sat fat drops your dangerous LDL cholesterol by 8 points. Doing both can slash LDL by a stunning 24 to 28 points! Your $2,400 savings comes from the cholesterol-lowering medications you won't need.
Replace extra pounds with more muscle. Save $7 to $13 a day. All exercise burns calories. But only strength training helps you burn 'em 24/7, because unlike fat, muscle burns calories constantly. That's why doing strength training plus cardio (brisk walking, biking, dancing) helps you lose stubborn pounds and keep them off. The money you save comes from avoiding or reversing obesity, which shrinks your bank account by $2,650 a year for guys and $4,880 for women. That includes higher insurance premiums and medical expenses, but not the money saved by eating less.
Buy more fresh fruit, veggies, whole grains, low-sodium foods -- and fewer processed foods. Save $300 to $700 per month. Think you can't afford fresh food? Only buy produce that's in season or on sale; add money savers like dried or no-salt canned beans, brown rice, and store-brand 100% whole-grain bread. Skipping salty processed and fast foods will slash your threat of high blood pressure (90% of us are at risk). That means you'll avoid blood pressure meds and lower your odds for stroke -- which typically costs $24,000 in out-of-pocket expenses in the years afterward.
- Switch to taking generic drugs instead of skipping pricey brand-name meds. Save your life. Have you cut back on needed medications because of the recession? Nearly half of Americans are taking this risky step. Yet over 50% of Americans could be saving serious money by switching to generics. Do it! Skipping drugs can backfire big-time, boosting your blood pressure (blood sugar, cholesterol) and landing you in the hospital. That's a swap no one should make.
Michael F. Roizen, MD, is the cofounder of RealAge.com and chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic.
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