Over the years, we have been increasingly conditioned to think of healthy food as expensive.
In Part 1 of this article, we hear from a Registered Dietitian and ADSA spokesperson
who busts the myth of healthy food being expensive
YEI spoke to Michelle Zietsmann, Registered Dietitian and ADSA spokesperson.
It is a common assumption that healthy foods are more expensive than less healthy foods. Can you comment on this?
There most certainly are expensive healthy foods. However, all that glitters is not necessarily gold. Speciality health foods, supplements and powders, and luxury foods like nuts, high-quality meats and organic products are not the only way to a healthy diet. Healthy eating starts with going back to the basics and emphasising foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibre, which are abundantly found in whole plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds and legumes. These foods do not have to break the bank.
Fibre is the backbone of plant-based foods. It is a carbohydrate that is not digested in the small intestine but continues to move down the digestive tract and into the large intestine, where our gut microbes break them down. The benefits include keeping you regular, balancing blood sugar levels, lowering cholesterol, stimulating the immune system, and supporting a wide variety of good bacteria in the gut.
The affordability of healthy foods is a common concern often voiced. However, how we go about our grocery shopping can also contribute to the bill. A lack of planning can make grocery shopping ineffective. We may end up either buying foods we are not going to use or don’t know how to use. Not having planned meals can also result in opting for fast food or buying ready-made meals and snacks. This is more costly than making a home-cooked meal.
Foods perceived as affordable, like instant meals, takeaways, sugary drinks and high-sugar, high-fat salty snacks are not as “cheap” as they appear to be and can affect our health in the long run. These foods provide loads of energy (calories), but little nutritional value. Thus, overconsumption can result in nutrient deficiencies and weight gain when nutrient-dense foods are crowded out.
Michelle, it would appear that often pensioner “poverty” drives poor nutrition amongst the older generation, coupled with a lack of motivation and/or appetite. Can you give a sense of how one can eat healthily on a low income?
Legumes are a cost-effective substitute for meat as they are also great sources of good-quality protein, iron and zinc. Dried or tinned beans (rinsed and drained well), lentils, split peas, or frozen peas are nutrient-dense, tasty and versatile foods to include as part of a healthy diet. Soya-based products can also be added to your list. By regularly substituting foods that are high in saturated fat like meat and cheese with these legumes, you are not only reducing the risk of heart disease but also saving some money! Try using legumes in meals of different cuisines and experiment with herbs and spices.
Low-cost animal-protein options can include tinned tuna or sardines and eggs.
A wise approach to buying a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables can also be helpful when on a budget:
- Choose fruits and vegetables that are in season in your area as they are more affordable.
- Look into buying locally, from markets or housewife market stores.
- Many stores have bulk deals, combo deals or other specials. Keep an eye out for them by reading grocery store catalogues.
- If you know you will not be using all of your fresh produce, you can freeze them to use at a later stage.
- Store-bought frozen fruit or vegetables are also a good option.
- Use extra veggies in soups, stews, or curries before they spoil.
- Vegetables and fruits that are affordable and stay fresh for a long time include cabbage, carrots, butternut, apples, and oranges.
- Starting a backyard vegetable and herb garden is a great way to be more cost-effective and can be a very fulfilling hobby.
Grains like barley and whole grain rice, and porridges like sorghum and oats are inexpensive. They can be bought in bulk and are rich in fibre and other nutrients.
Planning and budgeting for weekly meals and taking a grocery list to the store helps you to save time, buy what you need and prevent food wastage.
Cook meals in bulk, portion them out and freeze to use in the weeks to come. This not only saves time but electricity as well.
Many thanks to Michelle Zietsmann,
Registered Dietitian and ADSA spokesperson