Posts Tagged ‘eating healthy’

By Jeff Yeager, The Daily Green

(Photo: Robin Macdougall / Getty Images)

If you are what you eat, then I should weigh-in at under $1 a pound.

That’s because, as a general rule of thumb, I try to only buy foodstuffs that costs under a buck per pound. Under $1 a pound, year-round — that’s my grocery shopping mantra.

It’s not just because I’m a world-class penny-pincher and smart shopper; believe it or not, it’s also about eating healthier. When you look at the USDA’s “food pyramid,” many of the things we should be eating the most of — grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables — happen to cost the least.

It’s often the stuff that’s bad for us (at least in large quantities) like red meat, fatty dairy products, and processed foods high in trans saturated fats, that cost the most, on a per pound basis.

To prove my point, I’ve put together this list of 50 healthy foods that I’ve purchased at least once in the last six months for under $1 a pound.

So rev-up your shopping cart, but be careful: There’s a Green Cheapskate loose on aisle five!

  • Apples – One a day keeps the cheapskate away.
  • Asparagus – HUGE store special at 99 cents a pound during Easter week. I bought 10 pounds, blanched it, and then froze it.
  • Bananas – Potassium for pennies.
  • Barley – A tasty alternative to rice and potatoes.
  • Beans – Canned or dried. Kidney, pinto, navy, black, red, and many more.
  • Bok choy – Steam and serve with a little soy sauce.
  • Broccoli – Yes, a store special. Usually closer to $2 per pound.
  • Bulgar wheat – Try it in pilaf or a tabouleh salad.
  • Cabbage – Green and red. I like mine fried.
  • Cantaloupe – No, sorry, I can’t; I’m already married.
  • Carrots – Raw or steamed. Rich in carotenes, a healthy antioxidant.
  • Celery – Stir-fry it for a change.
  • Chicken – Whole or various parts, on sale.
  • Chickpeas – AKA garbanzo beans — mash ’em up as a healthy sandwich spread.
  • Cornmeal – “Polenta” is all the rage these days, but I loved it 40 years ago when Mom called it “cornmeal mush.”
  • Cucumbers – Try peeling, seeding, and steaming with a little butter and salt.
  • Daikon radish – My new favorite raw veggie.
  • Eggs – Don’t overdo them, but eggs provide high quality protein and still cost about $1 per pound. (Plus, there are many eggscellent things you can do with the shells.)
  • Green beans – Frozen, but fresh are sometimes on sale for under $1 a pound in-season.
  • Greens – Kale, mustard, turnip, and collard greens are rich in vitamins and a good source of fiber. Here’s how I cook ’em.
  • Grapes – Store special at 99 cents a pound.
  • Grapefruit – Bake with a little brown sugar on top for a healthy dessert.
  • Lentils – Perhaps the perfect food — healthy, cheap, and versatile. Think soups, salads, sandwich spreads — and those are only some of the “s” possibilities.
  • Liver – Chicken livers usually cost under $1 a pound, and sometimes beef and pork liver can be found in the DMZ (“Dollar Maximum Zone”).
  • Mangoes – High in fiber and vitamins A, B6, and C.
  • Milk – Yep, on a per-pound basis, milk still costs well under $1 a pound.
  • Napa cabbage – Delicious steamed or raw in a salad.
  • Oatmeal – The good old-fashioned “slow cooking” kind … that takes all of five minutes.
  • Onions – Try baking them whole in a cream sauce.
  • Oranges – Frequent sale price when in-season.
  • Pasta – Store special at 89 cents a pound — I nearly bought them out!
  • Peanut butter – Special sale price, but stock up because it usually has a long shelf life.
  • Pork – Inexpensive cuts of pork frequently go on sale for 99 cents per pound or less; sometimes even ham during the holidays.
  • Potatoes – White and red, Baked, mashed, boiled, broiled, steamed.
  • Pumpkin – Yes, you can eat the same ones you buy as holiday decorations, and they usually cost under 50 cents a pound.
  • Rice – White for under $1 a pound; brown, a little more expensive but better for you.
  • Rutabagas – Hated them as a kid; can’t get enough of them now.
  • Sour cream – 99 cents on sale, but long shelf life, so stock up. My cucumber awaits.
  • Spinach – Frozen (but Popeye doesn’t care).
  • Split peas – Add a hambone and make the ultimate comfort soup. Try it in the crock-pot!
  • Squash – Try baking acorn squash with a little brown sugar.
  • Sweet corn – Canned or fresh on the cob, in-season. (Try this recipe for summer corn fritters.)
  • Tomatoes – Canned are often better than fresh to use in cooking, and occasionally you can find fresh on sale for under a buck, in-season.
  • Turkey – A popular bargain-priced, loss-leader around the holidays — buy an extra bird and freeze it for later.
  • Turnips – Make me think of my grandparents, who always grew them.
  • Watermelon – Whole, in-season melons can sometime cost less than 20 cents a pound if they’re on sale and you find a big one.
  • Wine – Well, at least the stuff I drink — a 5-liter box (approximately 11 pounds) for about 10 bucks, on sale. (BTW, the beer I drink is even less expensive per pound.)
  • Yams/sweet potatoes – One of the healthiest foods you can eat, and usually available year-round for under $1 a pound.
  • Yogurt – 8-ounce containers on sale, two for $1.
  • Zucchini – OK, they’re a type of squash (above). But I love them so much they deserve their own place on the list. Plus they look great in pantyhose.

Here are a few disclaimers about my list-o-50:

No, I don’t live on another planet or in a part of the country where the cost of living is deflated. In fact, I live and shop in the Washington, D.C., metro area, which has one of the highest costs of living (and groceries) in the country.

No, I’m not saying that all of these items are available in every store, at all times. But if you shop carefully, you can always find at least some variety of these foods around which to plan your meals.

Many of the items on the list (e.g., most root vegetables, bananas, beans, etc.) can usually be purchased for under $1 pound even when not on sale or in-season. Other items on the list were “store specials” and typically would cost more than $1 a pound, and/or they were in-season so cost less.

No, none of the items on my under $1-a-pound list are organically grown. The pros/cons of that debate aside, for most people with a limited budget, the choice isn’t whether or not to buy expensive organic, it’s whether or not to eat highly processed crap like fast food or eat inexpensive healthy foods like those on my list. (See the dirty dozen foods with the most pesticides to maximize organic purchases.)

No, I’m not saying that by eating only these foods you’ll have a complete, healthy diet. But they certainly can be the backbone around which to plan healthy, inexpensive menus for your family.

No, I don’t burn up a lot of time and gas by running around to a lot of different grocery stores, and I rarely use coupons. I shop only once every week or two, and I usually shop at only one or two stores.

I plan my meals around the-best-of-the-best weekly store specials (aka the “loss-leaders”), the sale items that are usually on the front page of the weekly circular most stores publish. If you’re not a creative cook like me, try a website like Delish or Epicurious, where you can enter the ingredients you have to work with and get all kinds of recipes.

Now look at all the money you’ve saved!

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Every day, we make dozens of decisions without thinking about them: what to feed the kids, how fast to drive to work, whether to hit the snooze bar. We make most of these decisions without a second thought. We go with our gut.

For other decisions, though, we have to pause, consider our options, and bring our best judgment to bear. This can be uneasy territory — and it can get especially fraught with decisions about our health, when we often lack a strategy for weighing all the information on the table. We’re not sure where to start.

But making smart decisions about our health doesn’t have to provoke anxiety. It turns out we’re well equipped to consider a range of options and make the right call. We just need to keep a few principles in mind. Here’s my list of five strategies for making smarter health decisions:

1) Know Your Options

A few months ago, Dr. Dean Ornish invited me to visit with a group of men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. When most of these men were diagnosed, they were offered two options: Radiation or surgery. But Dr. Ornish put another choice on the table: a low-fat, vegetarian diet¬†and exercise program. So every month, the group gathers in Dr. Ornish’s office in Sausalito, California, to discuss their disease status, their progress in sticking with Dr. Ornish’s plan, and their lives in general.

“I heard about this group and realized there was a third option,” one group member told me. “There were behaviors that might reduce the chances that this cancer would kill us, without surgery or radiation. This idea that there was a third choice, another path, was completely unexpected.”

Dr. Ornish has had particular success with this third path. A study of these men found that after significant lifestyle modifications–following a low-fat, vegetarian diet coupled with exercise, meditation, and weekly group meetings–the men’s average PSA level dropped slightly while their free PSA (a positive measure of prostate health) climbed. And measures of stress, weight, and blood pressure had all improved.

This path isn’t for everyone. Many men diagnosed with prostate cancer will still prefer to go the route of radiation or surgery. But that’s not the point. The takeaway is this: These men thought there were only two options, both of them potentially destructive. But then they discovered more choices, a discovery that would turn out to add something to their lives. They had choices they didn’t know existed. They just had to learn where to look.

2) Demand Relevant Information

In most health messages, there’s a chasm between research and relevance, between what a study means and what it means for you. Take the recent study that found 55 percent of Americans have low levels of Vitamin D. So should you start taking supplements? Well, it all depends on your levels, doesn’t it? Unless you know where you yourself stand, this research is pretty much useless.

This matters not just in terms of taking advantage of new research but also in making better choices day to day. Studies have shown that when information is targeted and tailored to an individual’s circumstances, they are much more likely to act on it. Tailored information is relevant information, and relevant information is much more meaningful, and much more likely to result in better, healthier decisions (in other words, the outcomes are better).

3) Making Decisions Is Good For You

The old model of medicine dictates that when the situation gets serious — when the decisions involve pain or discomfort or even life and death — then the doctor should take over.

But the new model of medicine, that of personalized health, dictates that even in the gravest cases, the patient should be involved in considering the options and choosing the best course. And the evidence shows that this new model can actually deliver better care: in more than one study, patients who participate in their treatment decisions enjoy significantly better outcomes.

This isn’t to say that when patients are involved, there aren’t still serious risks. There’s no such thing as a sure thing in medicine, and the risks of a procedure or path still need to be thoroughly communicated.

But when we do get involved, when we take a role in our health, we tend to have better results. And those are odds we all want on our side.

4) Small Decisions Matter

We sometimes think of healthcare as something that happens in our doctor’s office, but really it starts with the multitude of smaller decisions that we make: what to eat, how much to sleep, how much exercise to get. These micro-choices add up — indeed, they can have as significant an impact in our health as the big knotty dilemmas.

There is no sure thing, and just as the courses of our lives, in general, are bowed and bent by unexpected events, so too does our health course along uncertain trajectories. We can try to predict where things may go, we can try to prevent the worst from happening, we can try to extend the good and minimize the bad. But the more we’re conscious of our every decision (no matter how small), and the more we take advantage of our every shot at improving our odds, the more we may influence where that trajectory takes us.

5) Make Every Decision a Good Decision

It’s worth remembering just what a “good decision” actually means. Usually in medicine it’s used to indicate a decision that leads to a better outcome. We want the treatment that either cures us or allows us to manage disease in a way that lets us make the most of our lives.

But a good decision also means the best possible decision, one that is carefully considered, draws on all relevant information (and avoids irrelevant information), and is consistent with how we want to live our lives. Even if these decisions don’t result in the ideal result, we can know that when we consider our options thoroughly and make a sound judgment, we can be satisfied with that decision.

We can make decisions we can live with, and that will help us live better.

Good luck, healthy girl!

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