Nutritious food can be expensive, but we must eat well for our health. Therefore, we need to know how to eat healthy on a budget. Here are three ways to eat healthy and not break the bank.
1. Eat more beans
In your grocery cart, the most expensive foods are generally meat and fish. One way to dramatically cut your grocery bill is to swap those items for legumes (beans, split peas, chickpeas and lentils). Legumes (also called pulses) are edible seeds that grow in a pod. Beans, lentils and peas are excellent sources of protein. They are lsignificantly ess expensive than meat and fish. Also legumes are naturally lower in fat than animal sources of protein. Furthermore, legumes promote weight loss, decrease inflammation, decrease insulin resistance, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Beans are considered one of the secrets to longevity for people living in the blue zones around the world. A research study found that eating legumes is the most protective dietary predictor of survival in the elderly.
What’s there not to love? When beans are rapidly introduced to the diet, it is possible to experience gas and bloating. Avoid gas by starting with a tiny amount and gradually introduce them into your diet. Over a few weeks, the digestive tract will adjust and gas will probably not be an issue. It also helps to soak dried beans in water to reduce the indigestible carbohydrates that cause gas issues.
A quick soak method is to place the beans in a pot of water and bring it to boil. Once it begins boiling, remove the pot from the heat and let it soak for 4 hours. Drain and rinse well. Cover with fresh water and cook according to the package directions. If you don’t have time to prepare beans, start with lentils, which are easier to digest and don’t require soaking.
For people who eliminate meat and fish from their diets, a vitamin B12 supplement is required. However, even with the addition of this vitamin, the savings is still significant
2. Reduce the cost of your produce
Organic produce is desirable because it reduces our exposure to pesticides. While its health benefits are clear, the organic produce prices are discouraging. One way to save on these items is to use a free resource by the Environmental Working Group called the Dirty Dozen. This is a list of produce with the highest levels of pesticides. Aim to prioritize buying organic forms of fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list. Similarly, use the Clean Fifteen list to determine which fruits and vegetables contain relatively low levels of pesticides even if they are grown conventionally.
Focus on buying in-season produce. This is very important because the prices are lower and the nutritional quality is much greater. Given our year-round global supply chain, it’s confusing and kind of hard to tell what’s in season. Nevertheless, when your locally grown produce is in it’s harvesting season, you will know because you will see a glut in your grocery store causing the prices to drop. Locally grown produce is much fresher (and thus more nutrient-dense) than products that are out of season and flown in from around the world. When you see a deal on in-season produce, stock up and freeze it.
Only buy what you need. Produce is sold either by the pound or by the bag. If a product is sold by the pound, it’s acceptable to ask a produce department team member to cut the item for you. For example, instead of buying an whole head of cabbage, and risking letting a portion go to waste, ask a team member to cut the item in half.
Consider growing your own organic produce in a home garden or community garden. In many cities, there are opportunities to join with others and manage your own plot of vegetables fairly inexpensively. Search community gardens in your area online.
3. Avoid processed foods
Processed foods, such as potato chips, cookies, refined bread, and sugary cereal are costly but nutrient-poor. They contain large amounts of refined carbs, which cause inflammation and increase the risk of chronic diseases. Processed carbs are especially easy to overeat because they contain little to no fiber. Even after consuming a large portion, you may not feel satisfied. Due to their inherently addictive qualities, we feel like we can’t stop eating these foods, even though we know they are bad for us.
Forget the misconception that junk food is cheaper. My advice is to begin gradually introducing more whole plant-based foods into your meals. Include fruits, greens, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Introduce these foods at your own pace. Stay hydrated with water instead of soft drinks and experience your results faster.
There is no need to deprive yourself. If you feel hungry between meals, eat unprocessed snacks, like fresh fruits and chopped veggies.
Over the next two weeks, pick one of these strategies and observe the difference in your spending and nutrition. One-by-one, as you cultivate these new habits, you’ll not only eat healthy on a budget, you’ll be more likely to live longer and enjoy a higher quality of life.
Carla Hightower, MD, MBA is a physician, health coach, workplace wellness consultant, and speaker. She helps people heal themselves with food. Through wellness workshops and courses, she helps companies create healthy, energetic teams.
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