Eating healthy foods lowers your risk for heart disease, diabetes, being overweight or obese, and certain types of cancer. Avoiding these conditions saves you from heartache and sickness, and also saves you money with lower healthcare costs. Transitioning to a healthy diet also increases your value to employers. You’ll have more energy, an excellent attendance record, and increased productivity.
Eating Healthy at Home
Cooking and eating at home can help you maintain a healthy diet, and is cheap, fun, and much healthier than eating out.
Do most of your grocery shopping in the perimeter of the grocery store. Avoid the middle aisles, including pre-packaged food, frozen meals, and sweets, and spend most of your shopping dollars on fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, seafood, and dairy. If you have to visit any aisle, pick the one with organic foods, beans, and grains, including rice, Farrah, and bulgar. If you want to eat healthy on a budget, start with these foods:
1. Fruits and Vegetables
Put fruits and vegetables on top of your grocery list. Buying fresh fruits and vegetables is less expensive and healthier than buying pre-cut, bagged, and canned produce. You have to do more prep work, but in the long run, you can save money, and you know exactly what goes into food preparation. Fruits have a natural sugar that gives you longer-lasting energy than the refined sugars in snack foods. Fruit is also a great source of fiber.
Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet can be challenging, but it helps to understand your weak points. For example, I have a serious weakness for bread; I reach for bread whenever I’m craving something to eat. I try to use this craving to my advantage.
If I want bread as a treat, I first have to eat some vegetables. I usually go for a dark green salad, drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar. I munch some carrots or chop up a cucumber into rice wine vinegar. After I’ve eaten my veggies, then I can have some bread. I typically find that I no longer want the bread, or that I don’t want as much bread after I’ve filled up on vegetables.
You can also slip in more fruits and vegetables by eating them as snacks. Instead of pulling out a bag of chips, eat some carrots, fresh broccoli with low-fat ranch dressing, or an apple. You can save money on your fruits and vegetables by purchasing in-season produce.
Epicurious has a wonderful map that shows in-season fruits and vegetables in your area, and you can refer to it before you head to the store. Frozen fruits and vegetables often go on sale, and thanks to modern flash-freezing, they’re just as healthy as fresh produce. Additionally, search for bargains on fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets, which often offer lower prices than grocery stores. You can find a lot of unusual items at farmers’ markets that you cannot find in regular stores.
2. Whole Grains
If you want to eat healthily and lose weight, work more whole grains (considered one of the top superfoods) into your diet. Whole grains have not had their bran and germ removed by the milling process.
According to the Mayo Clinic, eating whole grains lowers your risk of heart disease. Whole grains are chock-full of fiber, which helps keep your digestive system healthy and moving, and expands once inside your stomach, to help you feel full. A weight-loss program should include a high-fiber diet. You can easily work many good sources of fiber in your meals. These small changes don’t have to cost you any extra money. Moreover, when you eat less, you save more money on groceries, too.
If you eat white flour bread, switch to whole grain bread. Instead of buying Saltine crackers, choose whole grain crackers. Eat a lot of white rice? Switch to brown rice. You can easily make these changes, and they won’t cost you a dime.
You can also work more inexpensive, raw grains into your diet. You can buy many grains, like bulgur, couscous, Farrah, quinoa, and rice in bulk at larger supermarkets, and natural food stores like Whole Foods. Buying grains in bulk is a wonderful way to save money. Stores that offer natural and organic products, like Whole Foods and New Seasons, and local health food stores, offer a wide variety of grains for the budget-conscious.
Steak and pork chops are delicious, but pricey, and loaded with saturated fat, a direct contributor to heart disease. We need to eat protein every day, but we don’t need to eat an excessive amount of it. Adult men need 55 grams of protein per day, while adult women need 46 grams. Pregnant or lactating women need 71 grams of protein per day.
It doesn’t take much to get the protein you need every day. One egg contains 6 grams of protein. A 3.5-ounce piece of chicken has more than 30 grams of protein. One cup of cooked lentils gives you 18 grams of protein. Protein hides in a lot of places you might not expect.
Here are some cheap and healthy ways to add protein to your diet, without splurging on unhealthy steak or pork chops:
- 1 cup of milk: 8 grams of protein
- 1 cup of dried beans: 16 grams of protein
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter: 8 grams of protein
- 2 slices of whole grain bread: 8 grams of protein
- 1 ounce of walnuts: 4 grams of protein
- 1/2 cup of cottage cheese: 16 grams of protein
- 1 cup of tofu: 16 grams of protein
- 5 ounces of Greek yogurt: 15 grams of protein
I love popcorn. This popular whole grain snack is low-calorie, high in fiber, and cheap. The loose kernels cost less than pre-bagged popcorn, and buying them enables you to skip the extra calories from the butter, as well as the high salt content, of prepackaged popcorn.
When I make popcorn, I pour several tablespoons of kernels into a brown paper lunch sack and fold up the bag. I put the bag in the microwave for a minute or two; when it’s done, I drizzle some olive oil and a little high-quality salt over the popcorn. Delicious!
Most of us eat dairy products on a regular basis. Dairy is a major source of calcium, but many dairy products, like cheese, have a high-fat content. Keep an eye out for coupons on healthy dairy products, and dairy substitutes. Soy milk is a great milk substitute; it’s high in calcium, and 100% hormone-free. Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are also excellent sources of protein and calcium, and you can frequently find coupons for these products online.
If you have tried soy milk in the past and didn’t like it, try it again. There are many excellent soy milk products available today, and they taste really good. The Silk line of soy products is especially tasty, and available in heart-healthy light versions, too. If you want to make the move to soy milk, but can’t embrace the change, try pouring the milk over cereal, or using it to make healthy blender recipes like smoothies, to get used to the thinner texture. Mixing soy milk with grains or fruit can help you make the transition from dairy to soy products.