Here are some troubling statistics. In 1960, US citizens spent three times as much on food as they did on healthcare, and in 2014 they spent twice as much on healthcare as they did on food.
These kinds of stats are often called out to highlight that good food is medicine and that much of our current health epidemic can be correlated with the low cost of bad food. Especially if you’re in a big city, it can seem prohibitively expensive to eat both healthily and cheaply.
But of course the solution does not necessarily mean simply paying more for food. Lucky for us, plenty of the world’s most nutrient-dense foods are incredibly cheap (and they taste good too!).
Below are three ways you can make the shift to a healthier, more cost-effective diet.
1. CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARD FOOD
Bigger isn’t better. You could run to Costco and get a year’s supply of pasta for the lint in your pocket, but you’d be missing out on crucial micro- and macronutrients while stuffing yourself with mounds of low-quality, high-glycemic noodles.
Instead of thinking of an XXL order of fries as a good deal, instead try to guesstimate a price per nutrient. Instead of comparing calories, a better rule of thumb is to compare nutrient density. In general you can even assume that of two foods with the same number of calories, the more nutrient dense food will actually keep you full longer.
Here’s a short list to get you started. If you don’t feel like clicking, think: beans, eggs, whole grains, fibrous vegetables, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, lean meats, and fish.
2. CHANGE ANOTHER FOOD ATTITUDE: DIY
The big roadblock that many people face when trying to eat healthy on a budget is convenience. McDonald’s is so much cheaper than Chop’t!
There are more benefits to cooking your own food than just the pocketbook, though that’s a big one. Packaged and fast food is packed with more sugar and/or salt than is necessary to make something taste good because those two flavors are extremely addictive. Cooking puts you in control, and if you stick with it long enough, you’ll realize that many of your guilt-ridden cravings have just evaporated.
You’ll learn more about food and portioning and do a good deed for the environment. And talk about medical costs: the CDC has estimated that 1 in 6 American contract some sort of foodborne illness every year, 3,000 of whom die. That’s right. Ewww.
With these two minor shifts of mindset, you can start getting healthier today.
3. EAT YOURSELF HEALTHY, CHEAPLY
We know veggies can get expensive, especially when you forget to cook all that kale stuffed in the bottom drawer. But (if you remember to cook and eat them), this study states that vegetables “provide key nutrients at a reasonable cost.”
There’s probably no greater bang for your buck. Cabbage is high in fiber, vitamin C, and (especially purple cabbage) antioxidants. It’s versatile, filling, and can go a long way. You can even substitute it for pasta with this recipe for Cabbage e Pepe!
Broccoli is underrated by children and grownups alike. Allow me to list the ways: dietary fiber, vitamins B6, B1, E, and A, manganese, phosphorous, choline, zinc, calcium, iron, niacin, protein, and a load of other goodness. Get out the cheese grater for this Broccoli and Parmesan recipe.
Carrots are a healthy snacker’s best friend. They’re packed with vitamin A and potassium, easy on the carbs, and sweet and crispy enough to sub for fries if you try hard enough. Try this Roasted Carrot and Avocado salad to start you on your journey.
And don’t be afraid to buy frozen or even canned. Just watch out for added sodium and preservatives. As much as we might love fresh veggies, other options are affordable and just as nutritious.
Across the board, poultry offers the best value over most cuts of red meat. Poultry is high in protein, B vitamins, and essential amino acids. At just 70 calories, eggs contain 13 essential nutrients and 6 grams of protein. While it may seem mundane, perfectly done chicken, turkey, or eggs are neither intuitively simple nor are they boring. Check out this step-by-step on the perfect Roasted Chicken.
Dried beans are easily one of the best price-per-nutrient purchases out there. They take little work, freeze well, and work great in salads, soups, dips, or mains. Packed with protein and carbs, legumes easily measure up to anyone’s macronutrient requirements. For the cheapest and easiest way to eat healthfully, try cooking your beans in a slow cooker.
We weren’t going to stop without mentioning something at least a little sweet. Bananas are cheap, potassium-rich, and user friendly. They can go in oatmeal or (whole-grain!) cereal, or smoothies or be eaten as a snack on the go. For dessert, try this dish of whipped heavy cream (yes, you should just buy cream and whip it yourself -- it takes 2 seconds), brown sugar, and bananas.
Buy your almonds in bulk to maximize your price per nutrient. They’re great as a snack or added to salads or mains to get some crunch. Plus, they’re incredibly nutritious. According to Medical News Today:
“Almonds are a source of vitamin E, copper, magnesium, and high-quality protein; they also contain high levels of healthy unsaturated fatty acids along with high levels of bioactive molecules (such as fiber, phytosterols, vitamins, other minerals, and antioxidants) which can help prevent cardiovascular heart diseases.”
The impact of having a healthy, consistent diet cannot be overstated. But to sum it up, it gives you more money and energy, and you’ll likely lose weight and feel better overall. So what’s the downside?
But sometimes food just isn’t sufficient medicine, as we all know. That’s why the Alliance is committed to helping you stay healthy. Members save up to 40% on all eligible, CVS brand health-related items (e.g., cough and cold meds, hand sanitizer, etc) with the CVS ExtraCare card. Members also have access to Teladoc, a 24/365 national network of U.S. board-certified physicians available to answer any medical questions you might have. Discounts are available on lab tests, MRI, CT, and/or PET imaging, and prescription and emergency assistance. For more information, check out the Alliance Direct Benefits plans today or call us at 1-800-733-2242 (Monday - Friday, 7am-5:30pm Central Time).