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Eating Healthy on a Budget

Aug 4, 2014
The argument: Fast food, junk food and processed food are almost always cheaper than healthy, fresh food.  How are people living on a budget supposed to eat healthy when healthier food costs more?  We are told that eating healthy along with exercise can help prevent certain diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and possibly cancer and others.  Is there a trade off to paying more now for healthy food and saving on health care costs later?

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According to a 2007 study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers from Washington State analyzed the food costs of over 370 foods.  What they found may not be surprising: calorie for calorie, junk food was much cheaper than fruits and vegetables and junk food was more resistant to food inflation costs.  Food costs were analyzed over 2 years, and the least energy-dense foods (fruits and vegetables) increased in cost by 19.5%.  On the other hand, calorie-dense foods (junk food or processed food) actually decreased by 1.8%.

We're told by organizations such as the American Heart Association that limiting cholesterol, trans and saturated fat are heart healthy, but cheap foods are often filled with these fat taboos.  We're told that limiting sugar intake is important for many reasons, including decreasing the risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes, but many processed foods are high in refined sugars.  So, what is the trade off for spending more by buying healthy food now and increasing drastically the chances of preventing these diseases and money on health care?  Can you really put a price tag on that?

So, what are some practical steps to eating healthy on a budget?  Sometimes people think eating healthy means you have to shop at a certain grocery store or buying all organic food.  While there is nothing wrong with that, if you cannot afford to always shop that way, there are some ways you can still eat minimally processed, healthy foods on a budget.  
  • Fruits and Vegetables.  Buy produce that is in season.  These will be cheaper, support local farmers and are also good for the environment.  During winter when produce is most likely not in season, save money by buying frozen fruit or veggies.  Frozen produce is not less healthy than fresh and it can store longer.  In the summer months, stock up on fresh fruit or vegetables and either freeze or can to have for months when these items are no longer in season.   
  • Make a grocery list and plan your meals.  Planning meals can save a lot of money and will cut down on food waste.  There are many recipes for cheap, quick healthy meals.  A little planning can go a long way.  Keep staples such as fresh fruit, eggs, canned beans and frozen veggies on hand.  Check the sale items and plan meals around sale items.  For example, when wild caught fish is on sale, buy it then.
  • Buy in bulk.  Packaging is expensive.  Buying in bulk is cheaper than buying the same product in a smaller pre-packaged container.  Things that are easy to buy in bulk include nuts, oatmeal or other grains, dried legumes, dried fruit, some protein powders are some examples. 

Holly Klamer is a Registered Dietitian and personal trainer in Colorado. She received her undergraduate degree with a double major in Dietetics and Health Fitness from Central Michigan University. She then went to Colorado State University for her Master's degree in Human Nutrition emphasizing in Exercise Science. There she completed her dietetic internship to be a Registered Dietitian and was a teaching assistant in the nutrition department. Holly loves to travel, be outside, run, road bike and hike. She ran cross country and track in college and still enjoys competing in long distance running. Her passions are in sports nutrition, disordered eating, teaching others how to eat healthy on a limited budget, worksite wellness, weight loss and food allergies. She enjoys public speaking for various nutrition topics especially to young athletes, writing nutrition education material, and individual counseling. Holly has a passion to help people reach their goals of health and improve athletic performance. She currently works as a personal trainer, sports dietitian and free lance writer for various health websites. To contact Holly, email her at holly.klamer@gmail.com.


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