Eating a well-balanced diet is a key component of living a long and healthy life. However, starting a healthy lifestyle can be hard, intimidating and even expensive if you follow all the healthy hints that are available on the market.
Although there is some truth to the assumption that fresh, whole food is pricier than highly processed products, eating well and in a way that enhances your health doesn’t have to bust your budget.
Over the years in my health journey I learnt that being healthy is possible on a budget. It is only when you try to keep up with all the health trends that you start digging too deep into your pocket.
This is not just about my personal experience. Science shows that a healthy lifestyle has levels and can be inexpensive depending on the level you choose.
According to Amrit Devgun, naturopathic doctor and applied ayurvedic practitioner at Northwestern Health Sciences University, healthy eating falls on a spectrum. Like exercising, eating well can start with small steps. For example, introducing conventional produce into your diet is better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.
“If you can't afford fresh organic produce, shop for pesticide-free fruits and vegetables in the freezer aisle,” Devgun says. “If expensive meats aren't doable, substitute with tofu or other alternatives, like beans or lentils.”
Kelly Haws, associate professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University, studied how people think about the nutritional value and cost of different foods. The results were published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2017.
“People generally believe that healthy equals expensive,” Haws says. But that’s often not the case. One part of the problem is that we may confuse healthy with other labels that do increase costs, like organic or gluten-free.”
We are increasingly conditioned to think of healthy food as expensive. But often, the price increase may be around the health jargon.
Some experts say consumers should not be fooled by expensive “superfoods”; there is no agreed definition for this term and many so-called “superfood” health claims remain unproven. Simply increasing the volume and variety of fruit and vegetables in your diet is shown to reduce the risk of ill health and needn’t be costly.
“People often say that healthier foods are more expensive, and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits,” said Mayuree Rao, a junior research fellow at the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health. “But, until now, the scientific evidence for this idea has not been systematically evaluated, nor have the actual differences in cost been characterised.”
What are some ways you can keep your grocery bill low while your family eats healthier? Plenty of healthy foods are inexpensive, such as dried beans, eggs, whole grains, and some vegetables and fruits.
Whenever a particular diet becomes popular, plenty of processed, packaged foods arrive on grocery store shelves. The price of these foods is what gives gluten-free, vegan, and low-carb diets a reputation for being expensive.
If you’re gluten-free, vegan, or following a low-carb diet, you don’t need to purchase the pricey speciality foods. There are plenty of foods that are naturally “free from” or that naturally fit into the confines of a diet. For example, lots of grains, such as rice, quinoa, and corn, are naturally gluten-free.
Lentils are popular in many plant-based diets as well. They are very affordable and provide a great source of protein, fibre, iron and manganese. They also contain antioxidants that may help to fight inflammation and reduce the onset of chronic diseases.
Lentils can be used in a variety of ways and are very easy to prepare. Simply rinse dry lentils to remove any debris, place them in a large pot, fill it halfway with water and boil.
Another solution is frozen vegetables.
They won’t work in a salad, but are great in soups, smoothies and stir-fries, and — unlike the fresh kind — you don’t have to worry about them spoiling in your crisper drawer.
Frozen foods are easy to keep on hand and can be very cost-effective when compared to fresh fruit. These can last in the freezer for several months and usually cost less than fresh food. Even frozen, some fruits and vegetables can provide a whole day’s worth of nutrition.
More expensive does not equal healthier. Don’t be seduced by fancy food co-ops, organic labels, or marketing gimmicks. No matter your budget, choosing healthier food doesn’t have to be a luxury.
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