Fat Food Smashers: Eat Healthy, Be Wealthy

Money Smart Week

Andreea Vasi


If you often eat on the go like many NEIU students, you could learn how to quickly prepare healthy food for less during “Fast Food Deception: Your Money, Your Health,” a presentation which opened Money Smart Week on Tuesday. This is a national series of events organized by the Federal Reserve Bank to promote financial literacy in schools and other institutions.

Director of TRIO Student Services, Terri Hlavin hosted the event. Richie Heard, a TRIO academic advisor, conducted research and went grocery shopping to piece together the workshop. TRIO Student Services offers NEIU students extra academic and social assistance.

Heard struggled to lose 102 pounds while he was a student and, therefore, this workshop was very important to him. “I started to investigate the reason why I was gaining the weight, and I figured that the doctors that I was working with just gave me medication; they didn’t really explain to me that adopting a healthier diet would actually benefit me more than taking medication,” he said.

According to Heard, a healthy diet should consist of foods that are unprocessed and that come directly from nature. As a student, Heard made the mistake of eating too much fast food, which is a highly processed meal.

The more processed and convenient a food is, said Hlavin, the unhealthier it becomes. In order to preserve it, food sellers add substances like sodium that change the chemical composition of the meal and that are dangerous for our bodies in large amounts, Heard said.

Fast food meals also contain trans-fats, which increase the bad cholesterol in our bodies and have high amounts of sugar and carbohydrates. For instance, 50 percent of the McDonald’s Big Mac is fat. All these ingredients can lead to heart disease, diabetes and cancer, according to the research presented.

This research also suggested that 90 percent of the amount Americans spend on food is allocated towards processed foods, which increase the incidence of obesity in the United States.

“How many of you have gone to a mall and seen some really small children drinking some very large cups of soda?” asked Hlavin.

In addition to sharing health tricks and tips with students, TRIO provides tutoring, financial guidance and academic advising
In addition to sharing health tricks and tips with students, TRIO provides tutoring, financial guidance and academic advising

Even Diet Coke aggravates obesity, Heard said. Because it is still a sweet drink, Diet Coke develops people’s appetite for sugar, and they are more prone to resorting to other sweet foods or drinks.

Raw fruits and vegetables are the key to a healthy diet, explained Heard. These are unprocessed foods, and they contain the vitamins and minerals that we need to survive.

“One thing nice about Chicago is you do get a lot of small grocery stores in certain neighborhoods that have vegetables,” said Hlavin. “You can even get a live chicken in some places.”

Heard suggested to reduce cooking as much as possible when preparing meals. “The moment you start putting it to a flame, you kill it, you kill the nutritional values or the things in it that make your body healthy,” he said. Heard explained that water turns green when boiling broccoli because all the vitamins and minerals leave the vegetables and go into the water.

Hlavin demonstrated how to make a quick and healthy meal by preparing a simple burrito. She placed some pico de gallo, cheese and black beans on a tortilla—rolled and folded it in minutes.

“These are good ideas that I’m going to apply,” said Jairo Madrigal, a freshman at NEIU. “You know, bring some snacks to school. The whole presentation was excellent.”

Healthier food may be more expensive than processed food, but “if we look at the long term cost, if you invest in your health now, then you save money in the long run,” said Heard. “Heart surgery is half a million dollars, so that alone is worth investing time now in your health.”