The most common objection I hear against healthy eating is that it’s too expensive.
“I’d love to eat more healthily, but I just can’t afford it!”
Is the all too familiar statement. It’s now almost universally accepted that if you want to be healthy, you’re going to have to pay more for the privilege. And with industrially processed ‘food’ so abundant and so cheap, it’s becoming harder and harder for anyone to argue otherwise.
I’m not going to try and tell you that most junk food on the supermarket shelves isn’t cheaper than organic fruits and vegetables. This would be a lie.
But I’m also not going to tell you that you can’t eat healthily because you can’t afford to.
I truly believe than anyone can enjoy a healthy diet, no matter what their budget. And when you start to add up the costs, you soon realise that your unhealthy diet is probably not saving any money at all.
Here’s why I think healthy eating is the best choice for your body and your bank balance, and how you can eat healthily even on the tightest of budgets.
Going back to basics
The first rule of healthy eating is to keep things simple. That means building your diet on real, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods that don’t come in a box or have an ingredients label the size of your arm.
Putting this into practice, it means going back to basics with the food that you buy. Prioritise fresh fruits and vegetables, chick peas, lentils, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, and some nuts and seeds.
Cook your food from scratch: not only will it be fresher and better for you, but it will save a lot of money in doing so.
Shop close to home: Wherever possible, shop local and take a little extra time to visit your nearest farm shop. You’ll cut out the middle man and get better prices than at the supermarket, and your produce will be much fresher and more nutritious too!
Look for offers: See that extra ripe avocado that’s going half price? It might be a bit too soft to eat, but you can bet it’s going to make some fine guacamole. I recommend shopping in the evening around 7pm, which is when you’ll pick up the best deals.
Plan your meals
Planning what you’re going to cook in advance is one of the best things you can do to stay healthy on a budget. This will prevent you from buying things you don’t really need, cut right down on food waste, and also make sure you’re never stuck without a healthy option.
It’s all too easy to grab a takeaway or go out to eat when there’s nothing in the house, but if your fridge is always well stocked and your meals planned ahead, you won’t need to!
Try to shop for groceries at least twice a week. This will prevent you from overbuying and also keep things much fresher.
Lastly, batch cook wherever you can. Cook double portions of your meals and store them in the fridge or freezer. If you’ve got a busy week coming up, prepare food in advance so you’re not caught short. You’ll save both money and time.
Organic vs Non Organic
Rewind 100 years or so, and all produce was organic by default. Before chemical pesticides and fertilisers were used to increase crop yield, we were eating ‘organic’ whether we knew it or not. Times have certainly changed, so in today’s market, is it worth paying extra for organic produce?
Well, yes and no. There’s no question that organic produce is certainly healthier, but it’s very hard for anyone to be able to eat 100% organic all the time. And the ‘organic’ label now comes at a premium, sometimes double the price of a ‘conventionally grown’ alternative.
EU Law requires farmers to pay an annual fee if they want to use the word ‘organic’ on their produce. Whilst this system has it’s uses, it isn’t something that is affordable to the small family farm. And as the industrial chemicals used to grow ‘conventional’ produce are so expensive, you’ll find that most small farmers grow their food ‘organically’ by default – but without charging extra for it! If you’re in doubt, speak to your local farmer and ask if he uses any chemicals to grow his food.
The key here is not buying too much into the ‘organic’ label, but instead focusing on buying the best quality you can afford. Is an organic tomato better than a conventionally grown tomato? Yes. But is a conventionally grown tomato better than an organic pizza? Damn straight.
You see where I’m going with this one!
How much are you eating?
Whilst cheaper food may represent an initial cost saving, you’re going to find you need a lot more of it to be satisfied. Have you ever eaten 2000 calories worth of pizza, fizzy drinks and ice cream only to be hungry again two hours later? Now try doing the same with chick peas, brown rice and broccoli!
The reason we feel hungrier when eating cheaper, low nutrient food is that it provides us with ‘empty’ calories that bypass our in-built satiety mechanisms and leave us craving more. But our body is craving nutrients, not calories; and when it doesn’t get it from the food we eat, the hunger signals turn back on.
You’ve then got the inevitable rollercoaster ride of energy levels that comes with an unhealthy diet. That 11am sugary snack and that afternoon caffeine kick certainly doesn’t come cheap. But as anyone who has experienced healthy eating for themselves knows, you’ll no longer have to keep relying on ‘borrowed’ energy from sugar and stimulants just to get you through the day.
So if you are going to purchase unhealthy food in your weekly shop to save money, be prepared to eat a lot more of it. If you fill your plate with healthier, nutrient dense foods, you won’t need nearly as much to feel satisfied, energized and focused throughout the day.
Invest in yourself
Maintain the mindset that healthy eating is a long term investment in your body. Putting the short term costs to one side for a minute, I strongly believe that making a commitment to your health will save you money in the long run.
Firstly, there’s the productivity aspect. Whilst this doesn’t apply to everyone, speaking from the viewpoint of someone running their own business, I know that when I feel good, I get much more done. Leading a healthy lifestyle allows me to be more focused, more energetic, and ultimately achieve more on any given day.
Looking even further ahead, you’ve got days off sick, doctor’s costs, prescription medication. Eventually, maybe even an early check in at the local nursing home. That’s not a nice thought, and I apologise for putting it so bleakly. But you can’t bury your head in the sand and ignore the long term consequences that come with failing to prioritize your health.
Before I sign off, I want you to consider something. Can you really put a price on your quality of life? If being healthy really does mean spending a little extra (and as we discussed earlier, it’s really not much more), will it not be worth it 20, 30, 40 years down the line?
Prioritize your health. Invest in yourself. You don’t have to break the bank to do so. I promise you: you won’t regret it.