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The downside of extreme couponing

Alicia is a freelance writer who covers everything from pets to cocktails, with cocktails being her favorite. Her loves in life include cheap wine, overpriced lattes, and avoiding exercise at all costs, all while trying to stay slim. She...

The high cost of savings on your health

Clipping coupons might be saving families major cash on food, but what is it doing to their waistlines? The trend to stockpile packaged and processed foods may have costly implications on your health.

Grocery store coupons

The Cost of Savings

Families that spend pennies for piles of food and supplies are the stars of TLC's Extreme Couponing (airing each Wednesday at 10/9c). These families consider couponing a full-time job and designate entire rooms in their homes to their food hoards -- all in the name of a good deal. Times are tough and every penny counts, so who could blame these savvy shoppers? Many extreme couponers even donate much of their loot to charities, but there may be a downside to this practice other than getting stuck in line behind one of them. Could extreme couponing be making you and your family fat?

You are what you eat

Coupons are largely produced by manufacturers of large corporations and the products with the most savings are generally those that are highly processed and not all that expensive to begin with. Families who practice extreme couponing generally have stock piles of soda, fruit snacks and frozen dinners (to name a few). While these foods have their place in moderation, a well-rounded diet gets lost when making room for 100 bottles of ketchup.

Of course you can't hoard perishable items including bread, eggs or milk and you'd be hard pressed to find a coupon for fresh fruits or vegetables. This begs the question -- what's the cost of extreme couponing on your health? Are couponers neglecting healthy options because they might actually have to pay for it? Is there anything else they're missing besides carrots?

Registered Dietician Karen Graham explains the problem with consuming processed foods, even if the nutritional information looks good. She says one key item is missing in all processed foods -- enzymes. "Enzymes are used in almost every system in our bodies including digesting our food, absorption of nutrients, production of hormones and increasing our energy," Graham says. "Every time we eat these 'dead' foods, our bodies have to draw enzymes from a very limited, natural pool of enzymes that we have in order to even digest the food. If these enzymes are not replaced, the enzymes run out. This leads to digestive problems, nutrient deficiencies, low energy and possible hormone imbalances."

Read the label

Sure, there are a few coupons for produce, milk and organic items. However extreme couponers who are known for filling their garages full of items that will still be edible a year from now are the ones making headlines (and the ones inspiring others to do the same). The urge to stockpile items that are not necessarily the healthiest choices simply because they are free or extremely cheap may just be too strong to resist for some.

Graham warns about the potential harm in consuming foods laden with preservatives. "Preservatives in processed foods have been linked with many disorders, and many preservatives are known carcinogens (cancer causing agents)," Graham says. "These disorders include ADHD symptoms, bladder cancer, migraines and joint pain."

She suggests that shoppers read the ingredient list on the foods they are buying and not just look at the nutrition facts. "Try to avoid foods that have more than eight to 10 ingredients in them. You should be able to recognize each ingredient as a food, not a chemical," she says.

Items like frozen taquitos have upwards of 50 ingredients in them with at least 10 percent of those being items you can barely pronounce. A typical meal of coupon-clipped, processed foods includes a soda, a few slices of frozen pizza and a bag of fruit snacks -- which will set you back 600 calories, all of which are nutritionally worthless to your body and your waistline.

Health first

With childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease on the rise, everyone from Rachael Ray to Michelle Obama is examining what we are putting in our mouths. Hoard toothbrushes, toilet paper and panty liners if you must, but do yourself a favor and limit the amount of packaged, processed foods in your pantry. Just because food is free doesn't mean it should be eaten. A good deal is hard to beat, but your health is priceless.

You can find out more health tips from Karen Graham on her website.

More on keeping your family healthy

Healthy eating habits for busy families
Healthy meal planning on a budget
Is coconut water good for you?

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