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Third of Northern Ireland people say they can't afford to eat healthily, new survey reveals

By Victoria O'Hara

A third of people in Northern Ireland believe the cost of food stops them from eating healthily, according to new figures.

The number of people who think the cost of a nutritious diet is a barrier to avoiding fast food has risen by a fifth in four years - jumping from 11% in 2010 to 32% in 2014.

The survey by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) says more research is needed to understand the reason behind the jump of more than 20%.

The findings come as obesity levels in Northern Ireland are rising, with research showing a 5% rise in the rate of obesity in adults since 1997.

It also comes as the number of people relying on food banks to feed their families has rocketed.

Advice NI said the number of food banks had increased from two in 2011 to at least 14 by 2014.

Our largest food bank charity, the Trussell Trust, has handed out more than 11,000 free food parcels this year.

The figures represent an increase of 489% on the previous financial year.

The poll - Food And You - of around 3,500 people included 524 from here. Carried out every two years, it looks at how food is bought, stored and prepared - as well as where people choose to eat out and experiences of food poisoning.

The survey collected information about people's reported behaviours, attitude and knowledge around food issues.

It also found that more than 90% of adults in Northern Ireland don't know how much salt they should be eating every day; that 88% of women report always washing their hands before preparing food compared with 75% of men, and 53% of people never check their fridge is at the right temperature.

More than half of people interviewed agreed that you are more likely to get food poisoning if you eat out a lot (53%); and more than three-quarters of those surveyed (77%) felt they were unlikely to get food poisoning from food prepared in their own homes.

Dr Susanne Boyd of the FSA in Northern Ireland explained it will use the survey findings regarding the cost of healthy food as a way to create new policy.

"It could be a case of perception," she said.

"Is it because people think healthy food does cost more or have they tried and tested it?

"It is a surprising fact.

"If people out there think eating healthy is costing more, then that is an issue for us."

She added: "We need to drill down into the findings now and really see who we have to target and do more work around it.

"We need to break down this barrier and find out why the figure has gone up by a fifth from 2010 to 2014.

"This will drive our policy forward."

Dr Boyd said a lack of knowledge will also have an impact on health.

"Seven per cent of people don't realise the daily recommended intake of salt is 6g. That has ramifications for blood pressure, coronary disease and stroke."

Three nutritious recipes for under a fiver

Quick pizza

Can cost as little as £3.50 Serves 4

  • 4 wholemeal rolls or wholemeal soda bread split open
  • 1 small tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 4 mushrooms, sliced
  • 85g reduced fat hard cheese, grated
  • pinch of black pepper

Toast the rolls lightly on both sides under a preheated grill.

Spread the chopped tomatoes over the toasted bread and then top with the mushrooms, mixed herbs, black pepper and grated cheese.

Put back under the grill and cook until the cheese is bubbling.

Serve hot with a cool, crisp salad.

Alternatives: add a few olives, some slices of red or green pepper, or a little red onion.

Sausage casserole

Can cost as little as £3.10 Serves 4

  • 4 pork sausages
  • 100g mushrooms
  • 500g potatoes, chopped
  • 500g jar tomato cooking sauce or chopped tomatoes
  • 600ml stock, use low-salt
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 dsp oil

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, fry the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes and sprinkle the paprika over the mushrooms.

Add the potatoes, stock and tomato sauce, stir, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Grill the sausages until they're thoroughly cooked. Cut into chunks, stir into the sauce and cook for another five minutes.

Before serving, stir in the parsley with a swirl of yogurt.

Mixed bean chilli

Can cost as little as £3.40

Serves 4

  • 1 tin kidney beans, drained
  • 1 small tin butter beans, drained
  • 1 small tin chickpeas, drained
  • 1 large tin baked beans
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red and 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander

Heat the oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion, peppers and garlic for about five minutes until soft. Add the beans and spices. Add a little water to stop the mixture sticking. Bring to the boil and simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes. Serve with tortilla wraps and grated cheese or boiled rice.

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