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Eating Well on a Budget

Is it really necessary to buy organic? What about frozen vegetables instead of fresh? How can a family prioritize?

With our abundance of modern information about healthy nutrition, factoring budgetary considerations in may sometimes seem to add a layer of complexity, but it doesn't have to. Let’s look at a few simple guiding principles that can be used by almost everyone to achieve a healthier diet.

No time to read the blog? Download our 1-page Eating on a Budget guide here.

Topics covered below:

  • Plant versus Animal Nutrition

  • Eating Close to the Source

  • Perimeter Shopping

  • Environmental Working Group’s Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen

  • Do the Math

Plant versus Animal Nutrition

No, I am not going to try to convince you to be a vegetarian. Here we are talking about more of a “nutritarian” approach, that is, which foods provide the most nutrition for the least amount of calories. This is almost the same information as which foods provide the most nutrition for the least dollars, literally maximizing your nutrition bang for the buck. Reduced to its most basic concept, all life forms get their energy from the sun. Plants are the only technological wizards that have figured out how to do turn the energy of the sun into life. With our giant human brains, we, and all other animals, are still completely dependent on plants for life. Once an animal eats the plant, it processes some of that nutrition out of it to sustain its own life, so animal products cannot be as nutritionally dense as plant sources. (And, most plant sources of protein, such as dried beans and mushrooms, are significantly less expensive than animal sources.)

Eating the “satellite dish” of the plant, that is, the leaves which collect the sunlight have significantly more nutrition than the stems or roots. Many people are unaware that much of what we call “vegetables” are actually fruits: tomatoes, green beans, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, etc. are the “fruit” of the plant. The plant has already expended considerable energy creating this offspring, so it cannot contain as much nutrition as the leaves. Consider that cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are actually the solar collection system of the plant, as well as our much-lauded “dark green leafies” like kale and spinach.

Hundreds of studies show focusing on getting more plant foods into your diet provides many health benefits. Only 7% of Americans get the recommended five servings of veggies per day. And six to nine servings is probably optimum. Start with a plate ¾ covered with veggies and then add some lean protein. What is a serving of veggies? Of course it varies with the actual plant but for most, 1 cup raw is approximately ½ cup cooked. Try loading up on the colored things before adding any grains or root vegetables such as potatoes. The colors have significant nutritional benefits.

Eating Close to the Source

The Earth is the ultimate source of all our nutrition. The quality of the soil and growing practices in part determine how many vitamins and minerals a plant can extract. Factory farming methods take the fruits, vegetables and animal foundations of our diet farther away from the way nature intended them to grow. This is where the debates about eating organic, free-range, and non-genetically modified (non-GMO) come in. While it certainly makes sense to put less chemical pesticides in our bodies, the budget-minded may question the value of increased prices for these options. As you make your decisions about these issues, first make sure to get more veggies and less grains, as discussed above. Whether or not they are organic, the research clearly says simply eating more veggies reduces the risk of many diseases, including heart disease, stroke, dementia and cancer.

Perimeter Shopping