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10 Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget

by Sara Ryba, R.D., C.D.N.

Finding a healthy, affordable diet is definitely a challenge given the rapidly rising cost of groceries. It used to be that buying fresh, unprocessed foods would save you money, but that no longer is the case. According to Tufts University, the rise in cost of more nutritious food is beating the rate of inflation.

A recent study by The University of Washington concluded that lower-calorie foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are far more expensive than sweets and snack foods, calorie for calorie. Sadly, this means that when people are watching their food budget, they may opt for higher-calorie, less-nutritious foods as a way to get by. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. Try these strategies for eating healthy on a budget.

1. Be prepared when shopping

Go over the grocery store’s weekly ad from the newspaper (or view online) as you prepare a meal plan and a detailed shopping list for the week. And remember, going shopping while hungry is sure to cost you an extra few dollars and calories.

2. Evaluate the food’s purpose

Before purchasing a food, consider where it is going to fit into your diet. Will this food be part of a meal, or a healthy snack? If the answer is “I’m not sure,” then leave it on the shelf. Only buy foods that clearly fit into your (or your family’s) meal plan, avoiding all “filler.”

3. When your store is running a sale on lean protein, buy extra

Take advantage of the sale by buying a few pounds of chicken breasts or fish. Then, at home, divide the protein into individual serving sizes and freeze it for up to three months.

4. Choose seasonal vegetables and fruits

Look for the cheapest fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle — which are most likely “in season” and best tasting. While it is tempting to buy berries in the winter or apples in the summer, you will pay a premium and likely not get a great-tasting product. When you see a good price on a particular fruit or vegetable, consider buying extra and freezing it. For example, fresh berries and broccoli will freeze quite well and last for months.

5. Don’t be afraid of frozen fruits and vegetables

Frozen produce is just as healthy as fresh, and will not spoil. They are also often less expensive, pound for pound, than fresh produce. I actually find that frozen spinach and broccoli are easier to prepare and tastier than fresh!

6. Avoid buying beverages

Drinks, especially those loaded with sugar and artificial sweeteners, are not only unhealthy empty calories, but are also a drain on your wallet. Yes, even that expensive fruit juice should be omitted from your cart in favor of healthier and less expensive fresh fruit. Can’t skip the juice for the kids? Buy frozen concentrated juice and only serve once a day. If you want an alternative to water, look for the store brand of fruit-flavored, calorie-free seltzer water, or make your own herbal iced tea.

7. Take advantage of dry-goods groceries

Bulk dry goods such as beans, grains and oats are quite inexpensive while being super nutrient-dense. Opting for these unprocessed, bulk foods will save you a lot of money when compared to processed oatmeal packets or rice mixes. While you’re at it, see if you can buy your cereal in bulk packages or at the very least, choose the store brands.

8. Avoid buying single-serving food items

Purchasing foods in single-serving quantities, such as chips, cookies, yogurt or cereal, will cost you at least 50 percent more. Instead, buy foods in larger quantities and then divide up the food contents into plastic bags or reusable containers.

9. Cut the commercial snack foods

As a mom, I know first hand how expensive brand-name (and cartoon-character) snack food can be. Explain to your family that these types of foods are not only unhealthy but are also pricey. Choose healthier, tasty snacks, such as air-popped popcorn (buy bulk corn kernels, not the microwave bags) and dried fruit.

10. Make your own nutritious soups, chilis and stews

Most of these recipes are chock full of healthy yet inexpensive ingredients, that will feed you and your family for many meals. You can even double your typical recipe and freeze half of it in individual containers for future last-minute meals. This is much cheaper and healthier than commercially prepared frozen dinners.

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www.healingpowerhour.com

12 Food Items Nutritional Experts Would Never Buy

These days, it feels like you need a master’s degree in label reading whenever you are shopping at the grocery store. Every product seems to tout that it’s “organic,” “whole grain,” “sustainable,” “trans-fat free” or “all natural.”We interviewed nutritionists, dieticians, and physicians to help cut through the confusion. Here are 12 supermarket items they say they would never buy:

Juice, soda or any sweetened drinks: water is better and cheaper
Times are tight and you’re trying to stretch that dollar. Make “better use of your food budget and save calories by sticking with filtered water from the tap. You are more satiated and get more fiber by eating whole fruits and vegetables versus drinking liquid calories anyway.”
–Katherine Farrell, a registered dietitian and director of integrative nutrition at the Manhattan’s Physician Group 

 

 

Protein bars: not all are created equal

When shopping for protein bars, be sure to read and understand the label. “A protein source should always be the first ingredient, but one I am looking at right now lists ‘evaporated cane juice’ as the next, which is sugar. After that comes palm oil, a highly saturated fat. One way some of the manufacturers try to get the carbohydrate load down without giving up the sweetness consumers crave is with sugar alcohols (mannitol, sorbitol), which allow them to be ‘sugar free’ or at least lower the calorie count. These sweeteners do have fewer calories compared to sugar, but can cause bloating and gastrointestinal distress. So watch out for saturated fats and learn the lingo about sweeteners, or your protein bar might just be a candy bar masquerading as health food.”
Dr. Richard Baxter, board certified plastic surgeon and medical director of Healthy Aging Magazine

Fat-free yogurt: a little fat won’t hurt

Don’t be deceived by the fat-free label. They are “loaded with sugar to make up for the zero fat, equivalent to putting seven teaspoons of sugar into your yogurt. A better option: low-fat, plain Greek yogurt. This is lower in sugar and triple the protein!”
–Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Real Nutrition NYC

Bacon: choose wisely

“If it’s ‘regular’ bacon, it is not good for you. Ditto for processed lunch meat and hot dogs. Not only does it contain huge amounts of saturated fat and sodium, processed meat is often preserved with nitrates, which are potentially carcinogenic. A healthier choice would be natural, nitrate-free turkey bacon. Whole Foods has a selection.”

Jackie Keller, wellness coach to the stars
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Sugar substitutes: stick to natural

“Be wary of sugar substitutes that contain ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce. Touting themselves as lower calorie options, these sweeteners are full of chemicals best left out of your diet. Stick to natural options and limit intake to avoid conditions of insulin resistance and diabetes. Some great low-glycemic sweeteners to consume in moderation include agave nectar, xylitol and stevia.”
–Kathryn Flynn, an Oriens Nutrition consultant

Rotisserie foods: a four-hour limit

Just out of the oven, hot rotisserie food is a great way to feed a family. But when “food is held over four hours, not only does the quality deteriorate, the bacteria level increases, especially when employees do not monitor customer interactions in these self-serve stations or the temperature. The required minimum temperature for ‘holding’ hot food is 135 degrees F., five degrees lower than most states required five years ago. If you are purchasing these foods, buy and eat or immediately take home and chill within the first four hours after it was placed in the rotisserie. Ask questions about the time the food was placed in the holding unit. Ask when someone last checked the temperature with an insertable thermometer instead of a shelf thermometer.”
Charlotte A. Ferrell, a registered dietitian and founder of Simply Fantastic

Canola oil: no miracle oil

“I am not a fan of canola oil. I call it the triumph of marketing over science. In order to make it palatable, it has to go through this complex chemical process; hence, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is not that great. And refined canola oil is no better than the stuff it replaced. The best oils are macadamia nut oil, virgin olive oil and peanut oil for frying. Flax seed oil is great for salad dressing but not great for cooking So it depends on what you are using it for. Coconut oil is another you should be buying. It is great for cooking and for mixing. I use it for everything from cooking up scrambled eggs to salads. It has high contents of fatty acids that are good for your immune system. It’s fat that’s used for energy, not the kind that sits on your hips.”
Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS, board-certified nutritionist and author of 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth

Dietary supplements: get it from your food instead

Registered dietitian Maye Musk can’t understand why grocery stores waste shelf space on dietary supplements. “Why — because of the long shelf-life and huge profit margins? Or to put fear into you that you’re not getting nutrients from your foods? If you are buying fresh fruit and vegetables, low fat dairy, whole grains, fish, chicken, low fat meats, good oils, nuts, legumes and common sense healthy foods, you don’t need any supplements. Before buying one, ask your naturopathic doctor. The nutrition consult will cost you less than your supplements. You’ll find confidence in eating well and start enjoying food again.”
Maye Musk, a registered dietitian based in Manhattan

Bottled marinades: let go of the bottle

You think you can spice things up, as well as save some time, with pre-made marinades. Well, hold the sauce — “they all have copious amounts of sodium, most have high fructose corn syrup, and many have artificial colors and flavors — all in the name of giving taste and improving texture. What they really contribute is salt, sugar and calories. This takes some label reading, but Newman’s Own has a line of marinades and dressings that are great and all-natural.”
–Jackie Keller

Pre-packed salads: not all that they’re cut up to be

They’re convenient and healthy, right? Not quite. “Light destroys vitamins, especially Vitamin C and riboflavin, a key B vitamin. Most grocery stores have the bags displayed under bright, fluorescent lights, which further zap nutrients. Chopping and shredding also brings salad veggies in contact with metal, which destroys Vitamin A. I have often noticed that even brand name, expensive, pre-packaged salads are flattened due to being tightly boxed for travel, causing the vegetables to bruise and leak juices, which lead to spoilage. Often bags with a recent delivery date, at full price, have a murky or mucous look, indicating bacteria at work. In addition, they sometimes have packages of dressing included. While the 12-16 oz. of salad may only have 200 calories, the dressing may add another 200, or more.

It is better to buy a container of three romaine hearts, which are easy to tear off, wash and break into a bowl just before serving, minimizing loss. Keeping containers of grape or cherry tomatoes and baby carrots on hand give you two other ingredients that can be quickly tossed into the salad with no chopping or long exposure to light. Other ‘toss in’ ingredients that are easy to transport are raisins, dried cranberries, shelled pumpkin seeds or slivered almonds — also great for varying flavor and fiber content.”
–Charlotte Ferrell

Salad dressing: better to make your own
You think you’re being healthy by eating a salad. But pre-made salad dressing can be “high in sodium and contain more saturated fat then mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Instead, make your own salad dressing with fresh herbs, ginger, sesame oil, olive oil or avocado with lemon or lime juice or a variety of vinegars — champagne, rice, red wine, balsamic, apple cider, etc. Each combination can transform flavor of the dressing and keep salads exciting.”
–Katherine Farrell
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Whole grain cereals: read the fine print
Once again, take the time to study labels. “Some of the most popular brands are now sporting taglines that would have consumers believe they are getting a healthy start to the day. Most packaged cereals, including instant oatmeal, are loaded with sugars. Instead, start your day with old-fashioned slow cook oatmeal. Add your own antioxidant rich berries, flaxseed and walnuts, and you will be set for the day.”
–Kathryn Flynn
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Akilah M. El, N.D. is a Naturopathic Doctor and certified Master Herbalist with a private practice in Atlanta Georgia and Berlin Germany. Join Dr Akilah El on Facebook and Twitter

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3 Essential Things to Look for on the Ingredient List

Make grocery shopping a breeze by running all packaged foods through this quick check list.

1. Short lists

When you find a packaged food in the supermarket with a long list of ingredients on the label, just set it back on the shelf and look for a simpler version of the food. (We’re talking here about the “Ingredients” part of the label.) The alarming truth is, many of those ingredients are various kinds of sugars and chemical additives, and they’re not put there for you — they’re there to benefit the company that processes the food. They “enhance” the looks, taste, or shelf life — which is all about marketing and shipping and not at all about your health. Most additives aren’t known to be harmful (although the health effects of some are still open to question), but they aren’t about nutrition or taste as nature intended taste to be. In fact, one of their main purposes is to make up for a lack of those things. So check the list of ingredients every time. Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, says that almost always, the shorter the better.

2. Water

Water is the magic ingredient in prepared foods, and if it’s first on the list of ingredients, that’s a clue that there’s a long list of additives to follow to give that water some taste and texture. You might not be surprised to see water at the top of the list of ingredients in soups. After all, soup does take a lot of water. It’s more surprising to find it so prominent in SpaghettiOs. Many, many salad dressings contain more water than anything else, and since oil and water don’t mix, it takes a bunch of additives to hold everything together. Water is cheap, so the food industry likes it.

3. MSG

Check out the ingredient list on the labels of prepared foods — on soups, for example. Keep reading, because it’s pretty far down on a long list (although if there is no MSG, that’s usually prominently mentioned at the top). MSG (monosodium glutamate) is sometimes listed under its own name but often under other names, among them hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast, and sodium caseinate. MSG is a synthetic version of the substance umami, as it is known in Japan, which occurs naturally in some foods, including Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, and mushrooms. MSG, widely used in Asian cooking, went out of favor when it became associated with headaches and other unpleasant symptoms. Now many Asian restaurants proudly advertise “No MSG” on their menus, but the food industry still sneaks it in as a flavor enhancer. So if you’re concerned about MSG, look for it under all of its names.

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For More Health Tips Like This Check Out Our Health Tips Page

The New “All Natural” Packaged Food

By Kristen M

Packaged, so-called “all-natural” foods. They’re coming at you — fast and strong. As this recent article in the Chicago Tribune points out, all the big players in processed food manufacturing are jumping on the bandwagon of “all-natural” and “healthy” foods:

The companies that introduced products such as Doritos, Miracle Whip, Butterfinger and the venti caramel Frappuccino now maintain that the future lies in the health and wellness category. A wave of products expected to hit grocery stores in the next year will raise the ante for shoppers’ attention and compete for their trust. What constitutes “healthy” will ultimately be decided by consumers at the cash register.

Apparently the big wigs are starting to notice that health-conscious consumers are chipping away at their market share. So, they’re making changes. They’re making processed foods “healthier” in the hopes of appealing to this growing segment of the population with the allure of products that “align with organic principles” without actually carrying the heavy price tag of organics.

While I’m glad that the average American is starting to demand healthier food options, I’m actually laughing at the food industry’s response (in a sad, “I-pity-you” sort of way):

In a recent interview, Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke expressed concern about the demonization of food in America.

“We are thinking increasingly in wrong dimensions where we see food as bad, and in French they have an expression, ‘le poison c’est la dose,’ and you would say, ‘the poison is the quantity,’” he said, simultaneously acknowledging that Nestle has “a role to play” in responsible eating.

And while the formula for profitable health food has yet to be discovered, Bulcke maintains that it can be done. Basically, he said, the process is about making “food pleasurable with more goodies and less baddies.” And if that can be accomplished, he said, healthy eating will also be a profitable business. (source)

Of course, as businessmen, it’s all about profit — about discovering the formula for profitable health food. It’s about figuring out a way for the packaged food industry to cash in on this growing trend towards more natural foods.

NEWSFLASH, Mr. Bulcke: IT’S NOT POSSIBLE. By definition, a packaged food that is cheap enough to be manufactured in bulk, durable enough to be shipped across the country or around the world, and stable enough to last for weeks, months, or even years on shelves IS NOT “NATURAL.”

Real Food decomposes. As Michael Pollan has pointed out on numerous occassions, there’s a reason why the Twinkie on his shelf is still as fluffy and soft today as it was more than 2 years ago when he first pulled it out of its packaging. It’s not food! If the bacteria and other microbial life on this planet won’t eat it, neither should we.

Mr. Bulcke says people like me “see food as bad.” Nope. People like me see FAKE FOOD as bad — the kind he manufactures and sells.

Ultimately the Chicago Tribune article points out that the definition of “healthy” is up for grabs. Is it reducing salt? Lowering fat? Reducing ingredients? Avoiding artificial-ingredients so we can slap an “all-natural” label on something?

And therein lies the flaw behind all packaged and processed food production — this belief that with a judicious application of food science, we can actually manufacture fake foods to make them healthier than the real thing.

While I’m ecstatic that the movement towards Real Food has gone mainstream enough to warrant an industry response like this, I’m also saddened that the big food manufacturers don’t really have any hope of getting the underlying message. We want Real Food! Not edible food-like substances created in laboratories instead of kitchens.

So, what will your response be to the billions of dollars worth of “all-natural” and “healthy” packaged foods being introduced by PepsiCo, Kraft, Starbucks, and Nestle be this coming year? Will you be thankful that you can finally get a “healthier” version of your favorite junk foods? Will you avoid the packaged foods like the plague?