While the policy wonks and economists and legislators and lobbyists convene to come to “yes” on a coherent approach to health reform for America, there is some (literally) low-hanging fruit that will help the nation bend the health cost curve: it’s healthy eating.

Last year, the only two stocks on the Dow Jones Index that moved in a positive direction were Walmart and McDonald’s. Both have received bad raps concerning their role in the nation’s diabesity.

Surprisingly, McDonald’s ended up on Health magazine’s list of the Top 10 America’s Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants this week. With 14,000 locations, this chain is very influential on the human diet. The restaurant chain gets kudos from Health for the company’s apple dippers available with Happy Meals to replace the fries, and choice of low-fat milk and fruit juice instead of soda. Health also points to the Grilled Chicken Classic sandwich and wraps as healthy choices (sans the mayo or sauce).

Walmart, in its 2009 incarnation, is expanding its aisles for organic foods as well as continuing to position itself as a serious supplier of all-things-health: from prescription drugs to the HBA products and health screenings offered to all-comers, along with, of course, cheap generics for maintenance meds.

So this is one area where we can make an immediate, healthful and positive economic contribution to health in this country: by being better food consumers.

We don’t include food purchases in the health care component of the GDP; perhaps we should. But only the good stuff; if you think of the Mediterranean Diet, then you’ll have an idea of the market basket of foodstuffs I’d put into health-ful spending. The stuff that contributes toward diabesity should go into the market basket for ill health.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: I’ve been a member of the Slow Food movement for many years. Slow Food started in Italy, Mecca for many of my favorite things: the art of Botticelli, Big Tuscan Wines, handmade marble papers, and, slow-cooked food. The goal of Slow Food is to counter the fast food-fast life and bring back local food: that is, the locavore life. The idea is to think about what we eat and how these choices impact the world around us: our local community, our global community.

One fellow who’s been thinking a lot about this is Mark Bittman, who writes the “Bitten” column in the New York Times. I’ve been a fan of his since he wrote his book, How to Cook Everything. His newest book begins where Michael Pollan ended after In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

The book is Food Matters. In this wonderful tome, Bittman connects the dots between global warming and the environment, obesity, over-consumption, and overly-junky food.

Bittman’s personal story is that, after adopting a Pollan-like foodstyle 2 years ago, he dropped 35 pounds, lowered his cholesterol and is better managing blood glucose levels. He also decreased the size of his carbon footprint.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a passionate combination of political treatise and practical cookbook. Food Matters now holds a prize spot with my other favorite foodie books, including the classic (and very dog-eared) Moosewood Cookbook, the Silver Palate original cookbook, and Lidia’s Italy.

Buon appetito! And remember – Slow Food is good for your health, and the health of the planet. And my informed bet is that good, slow food can also be cost-effective both for the household and for the Nation’s GDP.

A version of this post appeared on February 24, 2009, on DrGreene.com’s Perspectives.