Do you live in a food desert? You might think of cacti and sand when you hear the term, but actually, food deserts aren’t just found in the Sahara.
In fact, many places could be considered food deserts. From big urban cities to rural areas that may not have easy access to a grocery store or other supermarket, these areas are mostly served by convenience stores that don’t typically offer healthy and affordable food options.
If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, about 23.5 million Americans live in low-income areas that are more than 1 mile away from a supermarket or grocery store.
Food deserts aren’t ideal for anyone. The American Heart Association notes that people who live in food deserts face a higher risk of obesity and other chronic disease. But if you have diabetes, it can be especially tough. Here’s why:
Food Deserts and Type 2 Diabetes: What You Need to Know
Your doctor has likely suggested that you eat healthier foods—and you may have tried your best. But if he or she recommends specific items, like more fruits and vegetables, it may be hard to find them in a food desert.
When you can’t find healthy choices, it may hold you back from following a diet recommended by your doctor. Lack of healthy food choices may lead to poor dietary habits and may make it difficult to maintain your target weight and blood sugar levels, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
So what can you do if you’re having trouble finding healthy foods?
Tips for Finding Good-for-You Food Choices
With a little creativity and commitment, you can find fresh food wherever you are. Try these tips to get started:
- Shop in Season: Some foods, like produce or fish, may be easier (and more affordable) to find at certain times of the year. Those in-season windows can vary, but you can usually tell whether a food is in-season by its placement in the store (like at the end cap) and quantity (if there’s a lot of it). See what’s in season where you are.
- Shop Smarter: In general, fresh, unprocessed food has less sodium, so look for items like dried beans, brown rice, and unsalted nuts. These are great budget-friendly ingredients for homemade meals. For packaged foods, make sure to check the nutrition label and check the amount of fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Get a sample shopping list with other options here.
- Find a Farmers Market: Farmers markets serve as a great way to fill your plate with a rainbow of in-season produce. See if there’s one near you.
- Visit a Co-Op: Food cooperatives are kind of like farmers markets in that they tend to offer locally grown foods—in some cases, at discounted prices.
- Grow Your Own Food: Got a green thumb? Even if you live in the city without a lot of green space, you can still use containers, hangers, and window boxes to grow delicious ingredients like tomatoes or leafy greens. Get started with this guide!
If none of these options work for you, consider getting food shipped to your door. Many services may be available to deliver fresh foods—even to remote areas—from those that specialize in meal kit delivery to big online stores.
From tweaking your shopping routine to starting a home garden, the power to fill your refrigerator and pantry with better choices can be in your hands. You’ve got this!