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Healthy and Cheap: How to enjoy a whole foods, plant-based diet on a strict budget!

Lynn Griffith

Making improvements to our diet is directly associated with longer lifespan and decreased risk of chronic disease.  No one seems to disagree with the connection between diet and well-being or longevity, but there seems to be a lot of arguing about which diet is the best diet.  (1)

A recent journal article compares low carb, low fat, low glycemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), Paleolithic, and vegan diets.  The paper concluded that no diet is clearly best, but there are similar concepts across diets associated with eating patterns that improve health.  Authors concluded that a diet with minimal processed foods and predominately plant-based is associated with improved health and disease prevention.  (1)

Predominantly plant-based diet with minimal processed foods is best for health and disease prevention

The response most people have when considering a diet with minimal processed foods is food cost.  Unhealthy food is often less expensive due to the government subsidizing production.  As a nation, we spend close to $30 billion a year subsidizing corn and soybeans.  These foods are processed and turned into high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soybean oil.  These are common ingredients in fast food or processed foods.  Since the agriculture policies changed in the 1970s, an average person consumes an extra 500 calories in the form of processed corn or soybeans per day.  (2)

It’s important to consider the hidden costs of processed foods.  They are not only bad for your health, but are also bad for your finances.  Healthcare costs related to obesity are approximately $118 billion per year; this is twice the amount of health care costs that are associated with smoking.  Seventy-two percent of Americans are overweight and one-third are obese.  (2)

Grad student eats whole food, plant-based diet for one year on an annual salary of $16,780!

Is it possible to eat a whole foods, plant-based diet on a budget?  Megan Kimble, a grad student living on an annual salary of $16,780, reports that it is possible!  Kimble spent one year avoiding all processed foods, and shared this experience in her new book, Unprocessed!  (3)

Kimble recommends starting small by swapping one processed food for a non-processed food, and see how you feel.  In her book, she gives tips to help those on a tight budget live a healthy life free of processed foods. (3)

  • Read every label on every product before placing it in the cart.  Sauces, salad dressings and condiments are often processed, but these items are cheaper and easier to make yourself.
  • Make sure that your cart contains single ingredient food items – these are 100 percent real food!
  • Rather than trying to conquer cravings, re-create healthy, unprocessed versions of your favorite foods or substitute healthier sweet or salty snacks to satisfy your cravings.
  • If buying pre-packaged food, stick with brands that you trust.
  • Join a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA).  Some programs offer the best prices for organic vegetables.
  • Prepare food in bulk, making sure that you have beans cooked in advance and grains prepared to make cooking during the week more convenient and affordable. (3)

If your family shops for groceries on a tight budget, don’t let the idea of your budget prevent you from enjoying a healthy lifestyle.  Shop smart and invest in a healthy future that will minimize expenses related to you and your families future healthcare!

Sources for this article include: