16 ways to eat healthy while keeping it cheap

This is a guest post by Mehdi, author of StrongLifts.com. If you enjoy this post, check out his site.

Eating healthy is important.

Eating healthy:

  • Lowers disease risks
  • Increases productivity
  • Gives you more energy
  • Makes you stronger

You probably think eating healthy is expensive. I'll be honest — it is. But there are tricks to spare your savings account and keep it low cost. Here are sixteen ways to eat more healthy while keeping it cheap.

What is Healthy Food? Before we start, let's define healthy food. It consists of:

  • Protein. The building blocks of muscles, needed for strength.
  • Fat. A balanced intake of omega 3, 6 & 9.
  • Veggies. All kinds, especially green fibrous veggies.
  • Fruit. Full of vitamins.
  • Water. 1 liter per 1000 calories you expend.
  • Whole grain food. Oats, rice, pasta, breads, …

On with the tips.

1. Switch to Water. I drank huge amounts of soda daily for more than 15 years. Then I started Strength Training and switched to water:

  • It's healthier
  • It's cheaper

Quit the soda & drink water. Take a bottle wherever you go.

2. Consume Tap Water. Check the price of water on your tap water bill. Now check the price of bottled water. Quit a difference, isn't it? So why are you buying bottled water?

  • Cleaner? Not necessarily.
  • Better taste? No, simply a matter of Adaptation.

Bottled water companies get their supply from the same source you do: municipal water systems. It's like selling ice to Eskimos. If you don't trust the quality of tap water, filter it yourself. I use a Brita Pitcher. One $7 filter cleans 40 gallons water.

3. Eat Eggs. I always have eggs at breakfast:

  • Full of vitamins
  • High in proteins
  • Low in price

Don't believe the Eggs & Cholesterol myth. Dietary cholesterol is not bound to blood cholesterol. Want to make it cheaper? Buy a chicken.

4. Eat Fatty Meats. Fatty meats are cheaper & more tasty than lean meats. You think it's not healthy? Check the Fat Myths:

  • Fat doesn't make you fat, excess calories do
  • You need a balanced intake of fats: omega 3, 6 & 9

I'm on the Anabolic Diet, I buy beef chuck instead of sirloin.

5. Get Whey. The cheapest source of protein. 70$ for a 10lbs bag lasting 4 months. Nothing beats that. Use whey in your Post Workout Shake to help recovery.

6. Tuna Cans. Canned tuna is cheap & contains as much protein as meat. Alternate tuna with eggs, meat & whey. You'll easily get to your daily amount of protein.

7. Buy Frozen Veggies. I mostly buy frozen veggies:

  • Take less time to prepare
  • You don't waste money if not eaten in time
  • Can be bought in bulk for discounts & stored in your freezer

If you can afford fresh veggies, then do it. I go frozen.

8. Use a Multivitamin. Pesticides lower the vitamin levels of your fruits & veggies. Two solutions:

  • Buy organic food. Expensive.
  • Use a multivitamin. $10 a month.

Choose what fits your wallet best. I take the multivitamin.

9. Fish Oil. Omega-3 is found in fish oil. Benefits of omega-3 consumption include:

  • Lowered cholesterol levels
  • Decreased body fat
  • Reduced inflammation

You need to eat fatty fish 3 times a week to get these benefits. Time consuming & expensive, I know. Try Carlson‘s Liquid Fish Oil with Lemon flavor. One teaspoon daily. You'll be ok.

10. Buy Generic Food. The box might be less attractive, it's certainly more attractive to your wallet. Brand-name food will always be more expensive. You're paying for the name. Get real. Food is food. Go generic.

11. Buy in Bulk. Think long-term. Buying in bulk is more expensive at the cashier, but cheaper in the long run:

  • Gets you discounts
  • Saves time
  • Saves car fuel

Invest in a big freezer. Buy meats & veggies in bulk and freeze them.

12. Go to One Grocery Store. This grocery store is cheaper for meat, that grocery store is cheaper for veggies, the other grocery store is cheaper for fish… How many grocery stores are you going to, trying to find the cheapest food? Think!

  • Time is money. Stop losing a day shopping.
  • Cars don't run on water. Lower your fuel expenses.

I get all my food in a big grocery store near my place. It hasn't the cheapest price for all foods, but it saves me time & fuel.

13. Make a Plan. A classic, but worth repeating. Everything starts with a plan.

  • Make a list of what you need
  • Eat a solid meal, don't go hungry
  • Go the grocery, get what's on your list & get out

No need to take your partner or kids with you. This is not a recreational activity. Just get your food & get back home.

14. Take Food To Work. Ever counted how much money you throw away buying food at work daily? Start preparing your food for the day on waking up:

  • Get up earlier
  • Eat a solid breakfast (like Scrambled Eggs)
  • Prepare your food for work in the meanwhile

Total time 30 minutes. No stress during the day about what you'll be eating & you get healthy food while sparing money.

15. Eat Less. This one is obvious. The less you eat, the lower your grocery bill. If you're overweight, get on a diet. Your health & bank account will thank you.

16. Don't Buy Junk Food. The last one. Stop buying anything that comes out of a box, it's:

  • Unhealthy
  • Expensive

If you actually find junk food that is cheaper than whole food, think long-term. Health implications.

Mehdi is author of StrongLifts.com , a blog about Strength Training, nutrition, lifestyle & attitude. His articles include the Anabolic Diet & the Beginner Strength Training Program. Join him at StrongLifts.com for the fascinating journey toward more strength, bigger muscles, low body fat & a better health.

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Sam R
Sam R
13 years ago

Don’t pay 70 dollars for a 10 lb bag of Whey protein! You can get it for 50 from vendors on ebay. This is the ONLY way you should be buying way supplements because stores mark up the prices significantly.

Also, the best brand (taste, mixibility, nutritional content) is by far Optimum Nutrition. I love their double rich chocolate and I have been using it as a part of my diet forever. It can really help you build lean mass if you are trying to do strength training.

c
c
9 years ago
Reply to  Sam R

optimum nutrition FTW!

Jon
Jon
13 years ago

I would add that in addition to making a plan for shopping, that a plan should be made for (at least) the entire week for what you are going to eat. This will cut down on junk food binging and “quick stops” at fast food places.

Rob in Madrid
Rob in Madrid
13 years ago

easy simple advise. Portion control has two benefits (less weight gain metabolism slows as you age) cheaper. Watermelons over here are expensive, so we cut our portions in half and I now I buy half instead of a whole watermelon.

Shaz
Shaz
13 years ago

Portion control definately helps your food last longer. When I buy cereal, I keep a half-cup measure in the box so I only consume a single portion. This article has some good, basic points to get people started.

Maitresse
Maitresse
13 years ago

You said, “Pesticides lower the vitamin levels of your fruits & veggies.”

Can you please cite a reliable source for this information?

Justin
Justin
9 years ago
Reply to  Maitresse

Actually that fact is common knowledge. If you do need a reliable source anyways try the movie Food Inc. It tells you all sorts of unpleasant things you didn’t want to know that the industries are doing to your food.

Souzea
Souzea
8 years ago
Reply to  Justin

I love the documentary food inc. it is amazing. really opened my eyes. It showed me all there is to the world and what we are becoming it is great if anyone else could watch this movie and support them. i think that it is on youtube. i watched the entire documentary online on another website but anyway plz watch you will luv it guranteed!

Ron
Ron
13 years ago

The only thing I’d add is, whenever possible grow your own vegetables. They taste better and cost even less than frozen. And you control what you put on them to keep the bugs off.

brad
brad
13 years ago

I agree with the comment about reliable sources. The strength-training world is full of its own myths based on pseudoscience or hearsay, and I would feel a lot more comfortable following diet recommendations and assertions made by a qualified nutritionist or doctor. That’s not to say that any of this stuff is wrong, I just don’t know how comfortable I feel in trusting it.

Him
Him
13 years ago

Please use caution when eating that kind of diet! Medhi is talking from the perspective of a very healthy guy who’s main goal is to strengthen. Remember, you also need to eat carbs for short-term energy, preferably complex carbs such as whole grains. Gets fiber into you as well. Also, that kind of diet works really well when you’re actually working out. That much cholesterol and fat is BAD if all you’re doing is sitting and reading blogs all day. All that protein isn’t very useful if you’re training for a long-distance run such as a half/full marathon. Everybody’s…erm, body… Read more »

Iris
Iris
13 years ago

See
http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/news/2004/NEW01038.html
for recommendations on limiting tuna consumption due to mercury levels.

Light tuna is better than albacore.

Andrea >> Become a Consultant
Andrea >> Become a Consultant
13 years ago

I find that putting tap water in the fridge makes it taste as good as bottled water. Cold water is good.

bmk
bmk
13 years ago

for veggies, try hitting farmers markets during your lunch break, if you work in a city that has them. (otherwise, visit them on the weekend–walk there for exercise?) You will be buying veggies in season, so the prices are very good. Buying in season also ensures variety in your diet. This is a sounder option than trying to use vitamins to compensate for pesticides in your food (not sure about that logic anyway). I say avoid the pesticides (and the health and enviro problems they cause) from the start, buying organic, in-season food from farmers you can meet and talk… Read more »

Mehdi
Mehdi
13 years ago

Great comments.

Maitresse => It’s pretty common knowledge that pesticides lower the vitamin levels of fruits & veggies. Search google, you’ll find plenty of info.

Brad => Would you rather follow the advise of an overweight or out of shape doctor/nutritionist or an in shape strength training enthousiast? I prefer those who walk the talk.
The problem with doctors is that people tend to believe anything they say, just because they are doctors.

Him => Fiber is certainly needed in a balanced diet. (clean) Carbs are definitely needed for high-intensity activities.

Laura
Laura
13 years ago

I wouldn’t follow this advice for the average person. Most americans have in excess of twice the RDA of protein in their diets, for most people whey protein is a waste of money and added stress on the kidneys. I eat very frugally and I think much more healthfully than the article suggests. Fiber is a big concern for most americans. I would suggest beans and whole grains as an inexpensive source of Fiber as well as protein and a number of vitamins. I agree that there is a certain amount of fat phobia but fatty meats tend to contain… Read more »

r
r
13 years ago

Iris – thanks for the link. This is what was concerning me the most, also. I think the comment that this post needs to be taken in the context of being aimed at a healthy young-ish male is probably right – eg, I’m currently very interested in figuring out how to eat cheaply but healthfully, but from the perspective of a woman who plans to have kids in the very near future and is much more focused on trying to avoid heavy metals and make sure I know that the pesticide levels in my foods are low, so I think… Read more »

Schizohedron
Schizohedron
13 years ago

Solid advice and clean, direct writing. Just make sure that bulk protein comes from a traceable source. Witness the recent problems with pet food.

Cottser
Cottser
13 years ago

Here’s an easy one: reduce (or stop) meat consumption. It’s expensive, and not particularly good for you.

Elissa
Elissa
13 years ago

Um… #15 is a little too broad. Yes, if you eat a caloric equivalent of a full meal every 2 hours, then yes, eat less. But it’s good to keep your body fed every 2-3 hours with, obviously, healthy and small portioned snacks/meals.

Mehdi
Mehdi
13 years ago

I agree Elissa, very good advice to eat every 2-3 hours. With number #15 I meant the total calorie intake in one day. Thanks for correcting.

mahalie
mahalie
13 years ago

While I agree that nutrition information is best from a doctor/nutritionist, by extension financial advice is probably best professionally trained financial advisers, right? And yet here we all are. I think this article is actually a very good summary of basic healthy eating, amalgamating quickly and clearly the nutritional advice that’s taken me a year to figure out. I have the benefit of having a naturopathic doctor and a professional dietitian amongst my closest friends who, as recent grads, are brimming with advice and curiosity. All that I’ve learned from them corroborates with this. I would add that, although not… Read more »

brad
brad
13 years ago

Mehdi asked Would you rather follow the advise of an overweight or out of shape doctor/nutritionist or an in shape strength training enthousiast? No contest, I’d take the advice of the overweight doctor or nutritionist! Sure, there’s no reason to trust a doctor just because he/she is a doctor, but doctors and nutritionists are more likely than strength-training enthusiasts to base their advice on scientific evidence, clinical trials, and peer-reviewed research. The strength-training (and the exercise community in general) is well known for perpetuating dietary and exercise myths based on hearsay, word of mouth, or pseudoscience; read Gina Kolata’s excellent… Read more »

Jolly
Jolly
13 years ago

A couple of these beliefs are seriously outdated. Coinciding with has been said, recommending 6 eggs a day for breakfast alone and claiming there’s no risk involved, I find it very irresponsible (I’m a woman, I don’t need to have my “testosterone levels” raised and my arteries clogged). The same goes with the tip on eating fatty meats, with animal grease intertwined in the fibers, when you could have replaced the fat intake with non-saturated vegetable oils instead. Diets (or eating habits to achieve certain results) should not be posted as “one size fits all”, it should be customized according… Read more »

Modern Worker
Modern Worker
13 years ago

Amen to the fish oil, it’s a life saver with joint pain.

Seth Kramer
Seth Kramer
13 years ago

Beware the Fatty Meat item. Fat is an important component in a healthy diet (it helps transport certain vitamins like Vitamin E, etc.) but watch which kinds of fats you’re consuming. Saturated and Trans fats aren’t the kind of fats you need to be consuming. Most Americans aren’t getting a shortage of fat in their diet.

Also while weight gain/loss is tied to calories not fat, fat has 2+ times the calories of protein and carbs (9 calories per gram versus 4).

Justin
Justin
13 years ago

I love this article. I found out during Lent that if you stay away from fast food, beer and soft drinks you can lose weight without really changing anything else. I also managed to fatten my wallet by staying away from these vices.

Michael
Michael
13 years ago

Great article, very well written. I only have a few qualms: 2. Tap Water – not all bottled water companies get their water from MWS. Quite a few (typically more expensive) do get their water from lakes and mountain springs, etc. 7. Frozen Vegetables – frozen vegetables contain less nurtients than fresh. Organic food, although it isn’t affected by pesticides, can be worse for you than regular food. Because of manure and other fertilizers, organic food is ridden with micro-organisms and bacteria that can’t be gotten rid of by just washing. 10. Generic Food – I have to disagree with… Read more »

Michael
Michael
13 years ago

#16 – Isn’t it true that many vegetarians and vegans suffer major health problems after living long-term without meat? How many babies have died because their parents forced them to be vegan?

Just because meat is fatty, it doesn’t mean it’s all unhealthy. Research shows that humans need meat, and there is no real substitute for it.

limeade
limeade
13 years ago

This was a really great article. A lot of great tips. I really need to work on the getting up earlier thing. I already get up pretty early for work, but it’s definitely begrudgingly.

Mary S
Mary S
13 years ago

I’m a nutritionist, and I would never recommend this menu to anyone (except maybe a young super athlete who insisted on eating a meat-based diet). To be healthy and low-cost eat a diet based on fruits, vegetables, grains, and vegetable-based protein…lentils, brown rice, quinoa, beans, oatmeal, tofu, raw nuts, and a wide range of fruits and vegetables. Cheap, easy, healthy. Drink primarily water. To save money and your health, reduce or eliminate all packaged stuff, junk food, soda, and other highly processed foods. If you are going to eat fish, do so sparingly and eat fish that have lower mercury… Read more »

Mehdi
Mehdi
13 years ago

Brad,

I agree that the world of fitness & nutrition is full of myths & misinformation. And I do think that doctors & so called nutrition experts are no different.

If you want good advice, find a good chiropactor, accupunctirist, doctor in chinese medecine. They will give you solutions for the cause of your problems vs. solutions for your symptoms.

Dan
Dan
13 years ago

@Andrea: Absolutely – the body warms up the water after you’ve swallowed cold water so you use more calories than with room temperature water.

Roy
Roy
13 years ago

Yes….1,2,8,10,12,13
No……3,4,5,9
6…..Emphatically no, Tuna is meat, and unnecessary packaging and just bad for the overfishing of the oceans. Go canned chicken, less of an impact.
7…..No comparison, fresh is better then frozen.
11…..No need to buy in bulk. Fresh or not at all. Store’s only a half mile away.
14…..One good meal a day at home works for me.

Johnny boy
Johnny boy
13 years ago

Someone just writes something on the internet and people believe it? This article is worthless, however Frozen veggies have been shown to contain more vitamins because they are harvested later rather than earlier because they don’t need to ripen during transportation.

Maitresse
Maitresse
13 years ago

Mehdi, “common knowledge” isn’t always correct. I’m an ACSM certified personal trainer, and I’d appreciate a *reliable* source for the claim that pesticides reduce the vitamin and mineral content of foods. As for those who are saying not to believe a personal trainer, I’d say it depends on the personal trainer. Ditto for doctor, chiropractor, or anyone else you consult. Ask them to back up their facts with reliable sources. Do they read peer-reviewed medical journals (or at least read the research on medpub or someplace similar), or do they tell you it’s “common knowledge” that you can find anywhere… Read more »

Gary
Gary
13 years ago

“Bottled water companies get their supply from the same source you do: municipal water systems.”

WTF… this is the most generic, stereotypic statement ive heard in a long time. Evian is municipal water? I certainly dont think so…. at least no in Canada. Some water is municipal water… Dasani, Aquafina are municipal water, but as far as I know – thats it. I buy spring water for the taste. Has nothing to do with me not trusting the cleanliness of public water… it just tastes like crap.

Municipal water is disgusting.

Mehdi
Mehdi
13 years ago

Maitresse, I agree that common knowledge is far from correct in lots of cases.
Feel free to forward me info you got on the topic. I’m open to new ideas.
Look forward to your reply.

Iron Possum
Iron Possum
13 years ago

A few things i’d like to touch on. 1) Whey protein is (to my knowledge)not harmful to the kidneys, but to the liver IF it is consumed in excess. Generally speaking that means no more than 20g per meal. Usually “exercise enthusiasts” would be the ones to take it in excess, craving that lean muscle to be made. 2) I dunno about pesticides, but I think that the veggies these days just don’t have the same nutrients based on what they’re able to absorb out of the soil whilst growing. Even if i’m wrong there (which is possible, i can… Read more »

informin
informin
13 years ago

Mulitvitamins can harm some people. Studies found can actually increase chances of getting prostate cancer. If you eat healthy you shouldn’t need vitamins pills. Can overdose on some. If feeling crampy and just not as good stop taking the vitamins.

Jesse
Jesse
13 years ago

All boxed stuff is not bad. I prefer my crackers in boxes.

One thing I would like to add, is to cut the sweets. You don’t need to totally get rid of them, but replace them with something more wholesome. Instead of getting a box of double chocolate chunk chips ahoy, get a box of cinnamon graham crackers. Don’t eat a whole stack for desert.

Maitresse
Maitresse
13 years ago

Mehdi, “common knowledge” isn’t always correct. I’m an ACSM certified personal trainer, and I’d appreciate a *reliable* source for the claim that pesticides reduce the vitamin and mineral content of foods. As for those who are saying not to believe a personal trainer, I’d say it depends on the personal trainer. Ditto for doctor, chiropractor, or anyone else you consult. Ask them to back up their facts with reliable sources. Do they read peer-reviewed medical journals (or at least read the research on medpub or someplace similar), or do they tell you it’s “common knowledge” that you can find anywhere… Read more »

Maitresse
Maitresse
13 years ago

Sorry for the double post. I got an error that said your server wasn’t working when I posted the first time.

Anyway, you made a statement and I asked you to back it up. In the rules of debate, you must now prove your point. You haven’t even attempted to do so, but wish to put the onus on me. One doesn’t prove a negative.

I’ll accept that you don’t have a reliable source for your statement that pesticides reduce the vitamin and mineral content of foods.

Cottser
Cottser
13 years ago

Maitresse: Yes, for vegans a B12 supplement is important. This is really the only thing you can’t get from a good, varied vegan diet (unless it includes a lot of B12 fortified foods). The multivitamin I take (includes B12) works out to .25 a day, less than $8 a month.

In the original post, he’s already factored in a multivitamin in the first place.

However, I wasn’t even suggesting veganism in my original comment.

carrion
carrion
13 years ago

maitresse…..

pesticides are poison… most people know this… A simple google search for “pesticides” will give you plenty of results to read through. I believe that Mehdi is not giving you a link to a reliable source because he doesn’t know what you personally will consider reliable. So, look it up yourself and get some more information.

Kim
Kim
13 years ago

Wow..eat lots of eggs and fatty meats. Sound advice. I hope you save enough money with these tips to pay for impending medical bills due to heart disease and colon cancer.

Robin
Robin
13 years ago

For anybody looking to lose weight I have 2 simple pieces of advice. Watch your caloric intake over and above your consumption of fat, carbs, protein..etc. Second, get out there and go for a jog! Can’t jog, WALK! Theres no excuse to sit on the couch all evening. A 30 minute brisk walk can burn up to 400 calories

Brentster
Brentster
13 years ago

Lean cuts of meat. Portion should be no larger than the palm of your hand and no thicker than your finger.
Limit intake of red meats.
Green vegetables are your friends.
Fruit is your friend.
Metatosym protein is your friend… especially if you are building!!
Fructose is your friend.
Sucrose is your enemy.
Eat small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals.
1 tsp apple cider vinegar mixed in 16 ounces of water twice a day helps me with joint pain.(doesn’t taste too bad.)
Cheers!
http://streetjesus.blogspot.com

Terry
Terry
13 years ago

[QUOTE]Bottled water companies get their supply from the same source you do: municipal water systems.[/QUOTE]

Wrong. A friend of mine owns a bottled water company. It is [i]source[/i] water, not tap water.

[QUOTE]Eat eggs. Want to make it cheaper? Buy a chicken.[/QUOTE]

That was the best part 🙂

Steve
Steve
13 years ago

A plant based diet can be as cheap/cheaper than the suggestion in the article above.

Aside from tastier, more varied food there is a good chance to save even more money by avoiding the medical costs associated with a diet high in animal products.

Something to consider since about 1/3 of Americans do not have health insurance.

The other side of the story:

http://tinyurl.com/3au294

Bob
Bob
13 years ago

One thing to consider is learning to use meats more as flavoring ingredients rather than as main ingredients. By most accounts, americans already consume way too much protein and saturated fats. There was also an article on how the huge amounts of livestock we raise to accommodate our lust for animal protein contributes more carbon to the atmosphere than a lot of other sources. It’s something to think about. Diets based on whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats with small amounts of meats have been shown to provide all of the nutrition needed for healthy living. Read “Eat,… Read more »

Maitresse
Maitresse
13 years ago

Meat is important for health. For those fearing cholesterol, you should know that dietary cholesterol makes very little difference in serum cholesterol. http://www.ravnskov.nu/myth3.htm Bottled water is *sometimes* obtained from municipal sources, but this is certainly not always true. I drink bottled water when away from home, not only for the taste, but to avoid the consumption of chlorine and flouride. I’m fortunate to have a deep well at home, which provides me with safe, healthy drinking water. Carrion==> I didn’t say pesticides aren’t poison. In fact, I made no claim at all. I asked for a reliable source for his… Read more »

matt
matt
13 years ago

Wow, you’re a genius. “If you’re overweight, go on a diet.” Because fat people can choose to diet and lose their excess weight anytime they feel like it right? It couldn’t have anything to do with self-esteem, emotional eating, lack of motivation, etc that cause other people to drink or shop or be permiscuous or smoke or do drugs…… They should all just stop too.

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