It sometimes seems that in order to stay healthy, it might cost a lot of money. Granted, not being healthy will ultimately cost more money than staying healthy, but for many it seems like we must put out a lot of money to buy healthy foods, see a dietician, buy exercise equipment, go to the gym, or see a personal trainer. However, it just doesn’t have to be that way. Many years ago, before I was a trainer, I used to sell fresh squeezed orange juice. I approached someone who I thought might be interested and he told me that Coca-Cola was far cheaper and he would stick with that. He was right about the price, but the cost of unhealthy choices is much higher.
I’m sure that in one publication or another over the years you have read about superfoods. Things like wild Alaskan salmon, organic blueberries, pomegranate seeds, quinoa and various berry juices will do wonders for your health, but they are very draining on your wallet. Most of us can’t really afford these types of foods on a consistent basis but we want to be healthy. So what do we do? There are definitely solutions.
Historically, we know that the highest rates of overweight and obesity fall in the lowest income groups. Higher income families are more likely to purchase whole grains, seafood, lean meats, low-fat milk and fresh produce. On the other hand, lower income families go more for cereals, pasta and potatoes. Let’s take a look at how we can make less expensive substitutions.
As far as your exercise goes, you don’t need to join a gym, you don’t need to buy exercise equipment, and you might not need a personal trainer. The only necessary expense for those who have a tight budget is comfortable clothes and be sure you have a good pair of shoes for your walking and running. Exercise can entail outdoor walking or playing exercise DVD’s indoors. You can very simply do push-ups and abs using your own body for resistance amongst other muscle building exercises and stretching certainly doesn’t require equipment.
Teri Mosey is a holistic nutrition and culinary consultant in New York City who holds advanced degrees in exercise physiology and nutrition. “These foods being advertised as super-foods are [simply] whole foods from nature that have been around for thousands of years. They are just getting their 10 minutes of fame,” says Mosey. Here are some thrifty substitutions for hyped-but-pricey foods that frequently show up on “super-food” summaries.
Instead of quinoa, turn to barley, oats and brown rice, says Bell. “All three of these amazing grains are less expensive [than quinoa] and often sold in bulk. I love oats and barley because of their special fiber: beta glucan. It’s good for your heart, and new research shows that it helps you feel full longer, so you’re less apt to overeat.”
Instead of fresh berries, “look for sales on store-brand frozen berries,” says Bell. “If you have a farmers’ market, see if berries are cheaper in season.” Or buy inexpensive bananas for your fruit fix; they are high in potassium, vitamin B6, fiber and vitamin C, adds Muth.
Keep your vegetables affordable, too. “Frozen vegetables are frozen at their peak freshness and retain more nutrients than canned varieties,” says Ami Lenning, a fitness professional at Bay Athletic Club and a chef who caters affordable meals for residents of Alpena, Michigan—a small town where the median household income is low. “A bag of frozen mixed vegetables and some lean protein can easily become a stir-fry, served with brown rice for a healthy, low-cost meal,” she says. Instead of kale, choose another leafy green, such as mustard greens, collard, Swiss chard or turnip greens. “Kale used to be a deal, but with its popularity came a higher price tag,” says Bell. “Instead, keep your eye out for any dark-green leafy vegetable that your market has on sale.” Be sure to check carefully for bugs or buy bug-free choices when available.
Instead of “super-food” juices (açai, pomegranate, blueberry, etc.), swap out sugar-filled juices (as well as sodas and sports drinks) for water, says Muth, and add some sliced oranges or lemons to the pitcher for flavor.
“For nuts, shop in bulk and pick a store brand,” says Bell. “Also, peanuts can be cheaper, and if they’re unsalted, they are a great nut pick,” instead of almonds or walnuts.
Instead of “super-food” meats (grass-fed beef), try affordable poultry, such as chicken breasts bought in bulk, says Muth. Or eat eggs, which are inexpensive yet protein-rich and high in heart- and-brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, she adds. Alternative inexpensive proteins include cottage cheese, organ meats such as liver, cheap cuts of meat (cooked in a slow cooker to make them fork-tender) and tofu.
Instead of salmon, try tuna for some good fats, says Jenna A. Bell, PhD, RD, senior vice president and director of nutrition for Pollock Communications in New York City. “Canned tuna in oil has 1 gram of saturated fat but also 2.5 grams of unsaturated ‘good’ fat.” Water-packed tuna is low in calories while offering generous amounts of lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, selenium and vitamin D, says Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RND, FAAP, a senior adviser for
healthcare solutions for the American Council on Exercise who is based in Carlsbad, California. Canned tuna counts toward the recommended minimum of two servings per week of fish.
Dried beans are also budget-friendly. With both protein and fiber, they can be added to soups, salads or almost any dish. Muth recommends black beans, which have three times more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty-acids than other legumes. She likes them simmered in a pot with onion and garlic for extra flavor.
Money just can’t be an excuse when it comes to staying healthy and it doesn’t have to be. Whether it is in the realm of the food we purchase to eat or our commitment to exercise, there are cheaper and highly beneficial alternatives. Save your money for an occasional vacation, because that is healthy, too. Eating right and exercising all within your budget will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”