I watched a news story the other day that focused on how expensive healthy food is. They talked about the cost of organics being higher than regular food and showed pictures of packaged foods like low fat crackers and whole grain cereals.
I get frustrated with the lack of good, helpful information when it comes to nutrition. Healthy food is NOT expensive. In fact, if you spend time focusing on your low cost options you may even spend less than you do now!
Let’s start with organics. Organic is not necessarily healthier. Organic is the focus on fewer chemicals, not higher nutrition. Some people love to tell me how they buy EVERYTHING organic, including their toilet paper! The only people that need to buy everything organic are a person with extreme sensitivities to chemicals. The rest of us can focus on two major areas, produce and dairy products. Those are foods of concern when it comes to chemicals. You can reduce chemicals by selecting ones that naturally have less like avocado, cantaloupe, kiwi, papaya, mango, pineapple, and ones you can peel such as oranges and bananas. The produce in which organic makes a real difference are apples, berries, celery, cherries, cucumbers, grapes, mushrooms, peaches, peppers, plums, potatoes, and most greens.
If chemicals are a concern, consider produce and dairy products that claim all natural or pesticide free. Many farms follow organic practices but can’t afford the process to become organic certified. The cost of the process of becoming certified is passed on to the consumer.
Buy your produce in season because it’s always cheaper then. It also hasn’t been stored for very long which means it’s higher in nutrients. Produce tends to lose its nutrient content over time so the sooner you eat it, the healthier it is. Buying local produce also helps with this. Farmers markets are a great source for local and all natural produce, and many times are cheaper because you are buying it direct.
Don’t purchase what I call fad foods. These are foods that suddenly become popular as the latest health craze. The price goes up when this happens. A great recent example is when kale became popular. Before the health claims of kale were widely publicized it was the cheapest green in the produce section. Now it’s the most expensive. Many other greens are loaded with vitamins and minerals and are far cheaper now. Change your selection based on the price.
Canned fruits and vegetables are also cheaper in many cases and have not lost as much nutrition as you may think. The canning process can reduce nutrition loss especially compared to produce that is imported from other states or even other countries.
When it comes to protein, meat can be very expensive. There are other cheaper, healthy alternatives including eggs and beans. Just substituting beans or eggs for your protein a few times a week will make a big difference in your wallet. You can also save money on purchasing full form meat. You get so much more for the price buying a whole chicken rather than individual chicken breasts. Yes other parts of the chicken may have a little more fat, but they are healthier than many other meat options.
Anything packaged will cost more. Get as much food in its raw form as possible. Instead of purchasing cereal, buy oatmeal. Make your own bread. Buy plain rice, pasta or potatoes and add various flavorings rather than purchasing pre-packaged meals. A good example is red beans and rice. That’s a great low cost healthy meal and easy to make.
Portion control is another big factor in health and cost. If you keep portions down to what is considered the right portion, I bet you eat less and have more leftovers. You should only eat 3-6 oz of meat at one meal. For instance, chicken breasts are sometimes so large I cut them in half and eat two meals out of them. Other portion sizes to watch are carbohydrates. If you buy large potatoes, eat only half. Only ½ cup is considered one serving for items like rice, cereal and pasta. You can have 1 cup if you are young, active or not trying to lose weight.
As you can see there are many food options that will allow you to be healthy at a low cost. Focus on in season, local produce, less meat, less processed foods in the right portions.