How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

“How can you afford to eat exclusively organic?!”  “Aren’t organic and grass fed products, like, double the cost of regular food?!”

These are some of the most frequent questions I’m asked when talking to people about healthy eating and living.  And while yes, organic food is usually more expensive than conventional, it most certainly does not have to break the bank! As a broke student (graduating this month!), I totally understand budgetary concerns, but the importance of eating quality food is just too valuable to compromise.  Before I give tips on how to save money when buying organic, first, I’d like to delve into the REASONS behind why eating organic, high quality food is so crucial to our health.

  1. Organic is nutritionally superior to conventional- Organic crops contain higher levels of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus.  In addition, grass-fed animals are lower in saturated fat and higher in omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoids, vitamin E, and antioxidant nutrients than grain fed animals.  Plus, though the research is conflicting, I truly believe organic tastes better than conventional, and I know I’m not the only one!
  2. Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is lower in grass-fed animals- When cows are allowed to eat their natural diet of grass, their body composition (i.e., their meat) will be in its most ideal state, meaning it will contain higher levels of the healthy omega-3 fats and lower levels of the inflammatory omega-6 fats.  Grain fed animals have a much higher O6: O3 ratio because of their unnatural diet of soy and corn, which is problematic in terms of health for a variety of reasons.  Excessive amounts of omega-6 fats have been implicated in the pathology of numerous diseases and conditions , such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, and asthma. In addition, these fats are responsible for inflammation in the body, which is increasingly being viewed as the fundamental reason behind the genesis of chronic and degenerative diseases.  I could go on and on about the importance of maintaining a low O6: O3 ratio in the body, but that’s for another blog post!
  3. Organic food must be certified to contain no hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, or other chemicals- This is pretty self-explanatory.  Do we want these synthetic, mood altering substances in our bodies? I certainly don’t.  Creating widespread antibiotic resistance in the population sounds pretty devastating as well…
  4. Organically produced crops are more environmentally sound- Since organic crops must be grown without the use of pesticides and herbicides, this naturally leads to less damaging run-off and environmental toxins.  Also, farmers that grow organic crops tend to be better stewards of the land than Big Farm operations, using more environmentally sustainable practices, such as crop rotation, cover crops, and biological pest control.
  5. It’s the ethical and responsible thing to do- Commercial slaughterhouses and factory farms receive large subsidies from the federal government, making it possible for them to sell their products at cheaper prices than organic farmers.  Also, while their farming techniques are more cost-effective, the long-term health of the soil certainly isn’t taken into account.  They are trying to maximize THEIR profit at the expense of OUR environment. The inhumane practices going on at commercial slaughterhouses are rampant as well.  Just the other day, legislation was passed in Idaho making it a crime, punishable of up to a YEAR in prison, for someone not authorized to be in an agricultural facility to tape or record the conduct in these facilities. This is obviously to dissuade activists from shining light on the deplorable practices occurring that these slaughterhouses. By buying organic, you’re voting with your dollar to support smaller, more environmentally and ethically friendly enterprises, and that feels good!

So, now that you have a few reasons for choosing organic over conventional, let’s move on to how you can make it happen:

  • Since organically produced food is nutritionally superior, you can eat less and get more out of it, nutrient-wise.
  • Buy local! Shop at farmer’s markets! Not only are you supporting local farmers, but the produce is cheaper than what you will usually find at grocery stores, AND you are being environmentally responsible because less fossil fuels are used for transportation needs. Go towards the end of the day for even better deals; they usually start auctioning off the last of their produce at bargain prices so to get rid of it. Here is a thorough list of all the farmer’s markets in San Francisco, courtesy of Stephanie Morimoto’s blog, Together in Food: http://togetherinfood.wordpress.com/s-f-farmers-markets-the-full-list/
  • Purchase cheap cuts of meat and throw it in your Crock Pot. Even tough cuts will be juicy and soft after some slow cookin’.  Also, try to buy your meat with the bone still attached; it will be more nutrient dense AND cheaper.  After you slow cook the meat, you can use the remaining bones to make bone broth, so every part of the animal is being used as well.
  • Speaking of bone broth, roasting a whole chicken (or buying an organic, roasted chicken from Whole Foods for $16)  is economical because the meat can be used throughout the week for sandwiches, salads, wraps, soups, etc. and then the bones can be made into bone broth.  Another great way to use the whole animal, and cheaply!
  • Organ meats will be substantially cheaper than muscle meats, though I don’t necessarily recommend them unless you’re a fan.  I tried making liver and onions the other night, and oh my god, I literally puked in my mouth upon tasting it.  SO. GROSS. However, making it into a pate is more palatable, I hear.
  • Use the bulk bins at natural food stores. It’s usually cheaper per ounce when using them. Some of the items found here include: nuts, seeds, flours, grains, sea veggies, herbs, spices, and pastas. Whole Foods stores usually have a pretty decent bulk section, and if you live in San Francisco, Rainbow Grocery is unparalleled in its bulk bin selection and prices.
  • Grass fed ground beef is usually around $8/lb, though I’ve gotten it on sale from Whole Foods for $3/lb. You must ALWAYS look for deals. I use it to make tacos, chili, and koftas.
  • Apparently, Costco sells affordable grass-fed products when bought in large quantities. However, I don’t have a Costco membership and cannot attest to this being completely accurate.
  • Making mineral broth from the ends, stems and leaves of veggies is a super economical way of using the whole plant to your nutritional and budgetary advantage. I will post my recipe for making this nutrient-dense and delicious broth ASAP!
  • Refer to the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” charts on Environmental Working Group’s website. When buying exclusively organic is out of your budget range, like it is for me on occasion, using this chart helps to prioritize what to buy organically and conventionally produced.
  • Buy canned salmon to get your fish-fix without spending your last dollar (or $20) on a pound of fresh salmon. Make sure it is wild-caught, Pacific/Alaskan/Sockeye salmon. Atlantic salmon will be farm-raised and fed corn, which is obviously not their natural diet and will alter their O6: O3 ratio.
  • Make your own dressings, dips, etc. Buying the raw ingredients and putting them together is a lot cheaper than store-bought items.  You’re not only paying for the food, but for the packaging as well.  Shop outside the box! Also, a majority of packaged items contain low quality, rancid oils and other hidden ingredients that don’t serve our body. When you make your own, you know EXACTLY what you’re eating.
  • Grow your own food.  Okay, so I know this is impractical for those of us that live in a city, but windowsill herb gardens are totally feasible, as is renting plots of land from community gardens in your area.  To be honest, I don’t grow my own food (hypocrite!), but maybe you can and will!

So, there you have it folks, a variety of ways to eat organic, high quality food on a budget. I hope this gives you some inspiration and motivation to take control of your diet and make the best decisions possible for your body.  It will thank you, I promise.

Does anyone have any more suggestions or tips for eating healthy on a budget?

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