With inflation, eating healthy is getting harder and harder

With rising prices, eating well is becoming a luxury that some can no longer afford. The rise in food prices but also in the cost of living in general raises fears of a deterioration in the nutritional quality of our meals.

“We are already doing what we can to fill the plate, before seeing if it is balanced”: faced with inflation which weighs especially on the smallest purses, some French people are struggling to maintain a healthy diet, between unaffordable vegetables and return of junk food.

Above her trolley “half as full as before”, Catherine Garnier, 39, sighs: “I took less vegetables and meat, more pasta and potatoes”. Exit also the few organic products that she sometimes allows herself.

A novelty in her basket, however: a packet of frozen pizzas, “whereas before we made them homemade”, explains this mother of 3 children in the Paris region, “but now the ingredients are too expensive, it is more interesting to buy ready-made”.

“It’s not necessarily the best for food, but we are already doing what we can to fill the plate”, sighs this town hall employee who nevertheless considers “to have a decent salary”.

Inflation, in particular that on food products (+12% over one year in October, according to INSEE), risks degrading the quality of French food.

Precariousness

Nicole Darmon, director of research at Inrae (National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment), is particularly concerned about a drop in consumption of fruits and vegetables, essential for a balanced diet but which “are all becoming expensive” (+33.9% in October over one year for fresh vegetables).

The nutrition expert explains that this category of food has long been the true marker of “the socio-economic status” of consumers – the one that most often goes by the wayside among the less well-off -, “and not meat as we might think”. But that this risks “increasing” with inflation.

“When we are under severe budgetary constraints, we will rather move towards inexpensive sources of calories such as refined starchy foods – pasta, rice, white bread – and fatty and sugary products”, she says to AFP, at the risk of not providing all the “protective nutrients” – fibers, vitamins, essential fatty acid minerals – that the body needs.

“We know that junk food is clearly a marker of precariousness, even before the health and economic crises, but inflation is aggravating this problem”, also alerts Karine Jacquemart, director of the Foodwatch France association.

Precarious French people already consume “far too many ultra-processed foods, which often contain fewer nutrients and fibers, but far too many hidden sugars”, she adds.

The director of Foodwatch France, who calls for more transparency in prices and compositions, also warns: “With the soaring prices of certain ingredients, the risk is that manufacturers will be tempted to replace them even more than ‘before by cheaper substitutes’.

“Cheapflation”

Replacing “certain basic products with cheaper substitutes” is called “cheapflation”, a contraction of “cheap” (“low-end”) and “inflation”, explains to AFP John Plassard , expert in macroeconomics at Mirabaud.

This consists, for example, of putting less cream – “the most expensive ingredient” – in an ice cream, replacing chocolate with chocolate flavorings or even reducing the level of cheese in the parmesan, “by adding wood substitutes, which are totally authorized but have absolutely no tasteā€, explains Mr. Plassard.

This fairly new practice, coming from the United States, also affects Europe and “risks intensifying because of inflation”, he says, because “it is something that allows the big brands to maintain their margins.

But “the number one risk” for the consumer, “is the degradation of his diet”, faced with products “clearly less digestible and often much fattier”, he warns. “Inflation is not just a number, it has consequences on wages but also on the quality of food.”

In the long term, inflation is also likely to reinforce “social inequalities in health linked to food”, according to Nicole Darmon, exposing the poorest to “less good protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer”.

To “rebalance the diet without destabilizing the budget”, the nutrition expert advises to “reduce the quantities of meat to be able to introduce more fruits and vegetables” or to use “interesting intermediate products”, such as dairy products or eggs. And calls for a state-wide solution, such as the creation of a “Social Food Security”.

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