How would you like to have a cart full of healthy foods and still save money? Anyone who does the grocery shopping will tell you, it is more expensive to buy the ingredients for a healthy diet like vegetables, nuts, fruit and fish than the refined grains, processed prepared foods and meats of an unhealthy diet. Is there a way to buy healthy and keep costs down?
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, professor of nutrition at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, emphasizes that it is worth spending the time to spend your grocery dollars wisely. “We have seen again and again that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancers and other chronic diseases.”
His colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, notes that planning makes a big difference in the food budget. He says, decide what you need for a week’s meals and buy only those items. Try to incorporate healthy meals that take advantage of store deals. Build meals around items you already have in your pantry, and plan menus that are suitable for cooking extra portions that can be easily reheated for another meal.
Blumberg adds, look into the refrigerator to make good use of the things you already have. For items that have a long shelf life, buy in bulk. Remember, when buying perishable foods, consider what you will use promptly and freeze the rest.
Avoid purchasing ready-made meals. They are invariably more expensive than buying the ingredients.
There’s also a myth that organic selections are more nutritious than conventional counterparts. Dr Alice H. Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition and science policy, also at Tufts, says all fruits and vegetables (whether fresh, frozen, cooked or raw, organic or conventional) are health- promoting choices from a nutritional standpoint.
Another misconception is that gluten-free foods are better for health than those that contain gluten. But Dr. Mozaffarian says replacing refined wheat products with refined rice and corn products may have some health gains but also possible harms. Gluten-free diets, according to studies at Tufts, were significantly lower in protein, magnesium, vitamin E, dietary fiber and higher in calories that most people do not need.
The point is that unless you are in the 1 percent of the population that suffers from celiac disease or the 6 percent that are thought to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there is no need for gluten-free foods. Save your money.
A few years ago, researchers showed that, on average, it cost $1.50 a day more to choose healthy foods when shopping in a supermarket. They also wisely suggested that you could save that much by saying “no” to coffee, dessert or some other goodie. These savings translate to better health for individuals and tremendous savings for families and governments in terms of health care expenditures down the road.
Finally, consider the impact of smarter shopping in terms of food wastage and environmental concerns. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the North American food supply goes unconsumed every year. That is a matter of disgraceful waste and economic inefficiency. But the amount of food and food packaging that terminates unused in landfills is also an environmental problem that industry, governments and consumers all share. As consumers, when you shop, make a point of refusing to buy products in excessive or nonrecyclable packaging.
While there are still big challenges around easy and equitable access to nutritious and affordable food, you can take steps toward smarter shopping. In this uncertain world, remember this sage advice: a dollar saved is also a dollar earned.
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, aka Ken Walker, is a graduate of the University of Toronto and Harvard Medical School. You can reach him online at his website, docgiff.com, or via email at [email protected] docgiff.com.