A lot of people tell me they want to eat healthier, but it’s too expensive. I relate. A diet based on whole, natural, and organic foods is pricier than the alternative. Even a recent Harvard study has shown that a healthy diet is more costly than an unhealthy one, though not by that much.
So, how do we buy the most nutritious food without breaking the bank?
Here is the bottom line to eating healthy on a budget: shopping for nutritious food is all about making the right trade-offs. Sometimes it makes sense to splurge, and sometimes it doesn’t. Once you’re aware of the trade-offs, you are empowered to make decisions that are good for your budget and your health. In this post, we will explore two ways to save money.
Money-Saving Tip #1: You Don’t Always Have to Buy Organic
Organic produce and products made from them are better for your health than conventionally grown crops. A recent review of 343 studies found that, on average, organic crops and organic-crop-based foods contained higher concentrations of antioxidants, less cadmium (a toxic chemical found in cigarette smoke), and, unsurprisingly, less pesticide residues than conventionally-grown foods. If money weren’t an issue, I’d suggest buying everything organic.
In real life, that can get pretty pricey. Luckily, there is a wonderful tool that can help you prioritize your organic purchases and determine when it’s ok to save with the cheaper, conventional options. The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen list tells you which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and are the most important to buy organic, while the Clean Fifteen list tells you which produce is least contaminated, so you can buy the conventional version and save money. These lists are based on scientific analyses of pesticide content in foods and are updated every year or so. To keep track in the grocery store, download the EWG’s free app, “Dirty Dozen,” for your iPhone or Android smartphone.
The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen Lists for 2014
Money-Saving Tip #2: Buy Frozen
Frozen fruits and veggies are often cheaper than buying fresh, and, luckily, they may have as much or more nutritional content as the fresh version found in supermarkets. This is because produce chosen for freezing are usually processed at their peak ripeness, a time when they are most nutrient-packed. By contrast, produce destined to be sold fresh are picked before they are fully ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. (EatingWell has a really great overview of the pros and cons of frozen vs. fresh).
I still try to buy fresh when I can, particularly, local and in-season produce, as these are hands-down the most nutritious options (more on that in my next post). But, frozen can be a great way to cheaply add healthy fruits and veggies to your family’s diet, particularly organic berries and other fruits (which can get pretty pricey), as well as organic broccoli, green beans, and peas. Frozen veggies are amazing in stir-fries and baked dishes, while frozen fruits are perfect for breakfast smoothies the whole family can enjoy.
Frozen wild fish is also cheaper than buying fresh. I buy wild instead of farmed fish because the latter tend to have higher levels of certain toxic chemicals and are sometimes fed antibiotics. In addition, wild fish contain more protein and omega-3 fatty acids. But wild fish can be very expensive. Wild salmon, for instance, can sometimes cost $19/lb. So, unless there’s a good sale on fresh wild fish, I buy it frozen. It’s not only cheaper, but easy to find lots of varieties of frozen fish, including in your local supermarket, Target, Walmart or Costco. By buying frozen, I save 50% or more of what I would spending buying fresh.
Target’s Frozen Wild Salmon Fillets
Stay tuned for my next post, where I will discuss more money-saving tips. How do you save money when buying healthy foods? I’d love to hear your strategies.