0

Are couponers junk-food junkies? - Jill Cataldo

Most mail I receive from readers is friendly. Saving money with coupons is fun and rewarding, and readers love to share their stories. But I receive my share of complaints. Here's one:

Q: "I love a bargain as much as anyone, but I wonder if you have ever considered the health consequences of buying and eating so much processed food? Instead of buying cans of soup, why not buy a bag of beans and make your own soup with fresh vegetables?"

A: There's a widely held myth that all couponers eat vast amounts of unhealthy, processed food. You might be surprised to learn that a good portion of what my family eats is organic. We also avoid artificial sweeteners, corn syrup and many highly processed foods. In the past month, I've used coupons to fill my grocery cart with frozen vegetables, whole-grain cereals and breads and 100 percent fruit juices -- all good, and good-for-you foods.

Obviously, my column focuses on grocery savings with coupons. However, not all shoppers have the time or money to purchase only fresh, unprocessed foods. In the current economic climate, with so many people unemployed, many shoppers are concerned with providing good food for their households at an affordable price. Coupons help us do that. Here's the economic reality: It costs more money to make soup from scratch than it does to purchase a can of soup with a coupon. I've purchased organic and natural soups for as little as 10 cents a can with coupons. It's hard to buy one tomato for that price, let alone all of the other ingredients for a soup.

Last week, I got a great deal on yogurt. With coupons, I paid just 20 cents for each 4-cup pack. The 5 cents I paid per cup would not have covered the cost of ingredients to make yogurt from scratch, much less the seven hours' time it takes to incubate a yogurt culture. In the interest of saving time and money, I'll take my bargain-priced (and, yes, processed) yogurt.

It's true that many processed foods are less expensive (especially with coupons) than unprocessed foods. But not all processed foods are bad for us. A bag of frozen vegetables is technically "processed food," in that it's been picked, washed, blanched and frozen, but that processing ultimately hasn't changed the vegetables for the negative.

It may surprise you that frozen and canned produce contains higher levels of vitamins than fresh produce. Researchers from the Centre for Food Innovation at England's Sheffield Hallam University reported that nutrient levels are actually higher in frozen produce, because fruits and vegetables are picked at their prime ripeness and quickly frozen, preserving the vitamin content. By contrast, supermarket produce is typically picked before it is ripe, then transported and stored for days to weeks before it arrives at the store. Consider that 77 percent of the Vitamin C in fresh green beans is lost within seven days of being picked. By the time the beans end up in a cute bushel basket in the produce department, they have less than a quarter of the nutritional value of their frozen counterparts.

A typical supermarket tomato is picked while it's still green. It's ripened with ethylene gas to turn the tomato red just before it's delivered to the supermarket. When tomatoes are not allowed to ripen on the vine, they're not as nutritious. By contrast, canned (and yes, again, processed) tomatoes are vine-ripened, picked and processed immediately. Canned tomatoes actually contain higher levels of the beneficial antioxidant, Lycopene.

Coupons for canned and frozen produce are plentiful, as are coupons for many other healthy, natural and organic foods. The key is finding a balance between your family's eating preferences and your grocery budget. It's entirely possible to be a Super-Couponer and also eat healthily. My family does it each week.

Next week, we'll hear from a reader who believes that coupon shopping is bad for the environment.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her web site, www.supercouponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.