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Make mindful food choices

I don't get it. Just yesterday I was grocery shopping, and bananas were priced at 38 cents a pound. One day later, at the very same store, bananas cost 54 cents a pound.

What's a girl — I use the term loosely — to do? If I were on a tightly fixed income, certain foods (like bananas), which seem to have jumped dramatically in price, would be completely out of bounds.

And bananas are a good example of foods that aging eaters should be consuming. They're low in sodium and contain the potassium that can help us manage our possibly rising blood pressure. They have the fiber that keeps our digestive systems moving. There's naturally occurring sugar, of course — but a banana is a whole lot better for you than a chocolate chip cookie that's bigger than the palm of your hand. (By the way, I priced one of those big cookies —$1.50 — which makes them about 20 cents per bite.)

If you happen to be an aging diabetic or a little on the plump side, you might want to refrain from bananas and cookies altogether. Colorful peppers are an option. Wash one, hold it in the palm of the same hand you used to measure the size of that cookie and take a delicious, crunchy chomp. (Eat it slowly, chew it well, enjoying every lower-cost bite.)

But, let's stay with bananas as the central illustration. Consider this: Bananas still might be a good buy at that higher price. They're completely portable, and you can safely eat one without washing your hands (not that I recommend that — but you can).

And there's more. One banana researcher suggests bananas produce "an instant, sustained, substantive boost of energy." Another research study linked banana-eating to "reduced depression" and — are you ready for this? — "improved cognition" (www.bananasweb.com).

Can you sense a bias? Bananas are almost sacred in my thinking. When my just-married daughter was a babe (her husband thinks she still is), I offered ripened, well-mashed bananas as her first solid food. She loves them to this day — especially in banana bread, which, frankly, none of us should have very often. But it's just so darn good, especially made with buttermilk. (I've noticed the price of buttermilk is fairly stable, at least where I shop.)

In case you've not fully embraced my message, this is a column about the rising cost of food for aging eaters. In case you didn't realize it, this is National Nutrition Month. It's the month we're all supposed to be buying more fruits and vegetables — and generally reminding one another to eat in a nutrition-rich manner on a more regular basis (www.eatright.org/nnm).

There are definitely stressors on our food systems — increased global demand, rising fuel costs, weather challenges.

"The average meal logs 1,500 (expensive) miles to reach the dinner table," according to a National Issues Forum Institute report on rising food costs. Solutions to this problem can be elusive; eating locally is certainly one approach. But I think it starts even before that — it begins with a personal reconnection with our food decisions and an individual commitment to more mindful and informed choices.

As an example, I'm turning some of the big containers on our deck (ones that held geraniums in previous years) into vegetable "patches." As for my fruit consumption, growing bananas is unlikely — but low-sodium, high-potassium, fiber-rich strawberries will work.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.