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How to Eat Well and Healthily without Breaking the Bank
Good Food Keeps One Healthy and Strong
People of all cultural and national backgrounds love to eat. Our taste buds salivate and our noses perk up and savor when we pass by a kitchen where our favorite foods are being prepared. As "foodies" everywhere know, the process of eating can be deeply satisfying, not only because it reminds us psychologically of the comfort of being held and nursed by our mothers, but also, as adults, simply because of the gratification we experience when eating. Our senses of touch, smell, taste, and sight are pleasantly stimulated, and since dining often include socializing, bonding with loved ones over a meal adds to the pleasure of eating.
However, eating serves a more basic purpose than sensory and social gratification. Food supplies the nourishment human beings need to stay alive, regenerate daily, heal ourselves, and accomplish our goals in life. Adequate, nutritious food is essential to creating and maintaining human life and health. Unfortunately, ignorance, willfulness, and economic difficulties often prevent people from eating well on a regular basis. However, following a few basic rules can help even those who are financially challenged to eat healthily.
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Five Rules to Follow for Healthy Eating
1. Eat natural, whole food whenever possible:
This rule has been broken and stomped on during the last 100 years, due to the processed food industry and our compliance with buying and eating "non-foods." Processed, chemically-saturated and chemically-preserved, denatured foods, from TV dinners to chips to soda, have replaced foods in their whole states, and our ignorant consumption of those non-foods increased enormously throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Although preserving food can help keep it stable, denaturing food (for example, taking the bran and germ out of whole grain to make soft white bread and white rice) has no arguable value; in fact, denaturing food removes part or most of the nutrition from it. Eating non-foods has kicked a disastrous hole in human beings' health that resembles that in the ozone layer. This foolish habit can be reversed, however. Choose fresh whole foods, organic whenever affordable, and prepare them simply, thereby keeping their nutrition levels high for you and your family.
2. Whenever possible, eat at home, preparing food oneself, or eating food prepared at home by another:
This axiom might at first seem too difficult with today's busy schedules, but working in the direction of more home-cooked meals allows one to increasingly control the ingredients and preparation of one's food, making sure one's food is fresh, whole, and prepared simply. Organization is the key to accomplishing Rule #2. Think ahead, write a grocery list before shopping (and stick to your list), and be sure to keep the house stocked with basic healthy food. Take pleasure in learning to cook, using the widely available cookbooks in print and online. Find a great cookbook at the library if you can't purchase one right now. Educate yourself about the basic foods that are needed for health by studying information that is also widely available about the main food groups (protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, fats and oils, dairy). Stock your home with whole, natural foods from those food groups plus additional items that make your meals more delicious such as spices and herb teas. Throw out everything that is a non-food, or use it up ASAP if money is too tight to throw it out. Empty your home of all chips, white flour, white rice, junk food, white sugar (use honey, molasses, or fruit to sweeten), soda, and processed/denatured foods like TV dinners. Resolve to eat right for your own and your family's health.
Next, think about how to prepare and eat healthy food every day. If you can't be home most of the day, take healthy food with you in a lunch box you prepare in advance. Be sure to eat a healthy breakfast you prepare at home. If you come home late and hungry, reach for a nutritious snack such as yogurt and fruit, unsalted nuts, a protein shake, a green drink, or a small vegetable salad with a few whole grain crackers.
I prepare a lunch box every day, taking three or four small meals with me to school and work. I take sandwiches made from whole grain bread, meat such as sliced chicken or a burger, and some fresh veggies like fresh spinach and tomato. Natural peanut butter (without hydrogenated oils and sugar) and sliced fresh fruit on whole grain bread is another of my favorites. Some days, I pack leftovers such as whole grain spaghetti or brown rice/tofu/veggies in place of sandwiches. I add a fresh green salad with olive oil in a Tupperware container (make sure to pack a fork!), some pieces of fresh fruit, a container of unsweetened yogurt, and a few herb tea bags. A treat can be a natural energy bar or homemade cookie. I take a water bottle with me and refill it at work/school. I keep a cup at work and make tea or instant coffee there. I try to eat every two to three hours, and I drink around eight glasses of water a day.
Taking care of one's food intake in this manner will change one's health, positively affecting problems such as bloating, constipation, and blood sugar spikes/drops in most people. Eating regular, frequent, natural meals of whole foods helps keep one's energy level stable. The strict intake of natural, whole food prepared simply ensures that one attains the maximum possible benefit from every dollar spent on food and goes far to support and regulate health.
3. Eat a wide variety of food in order to access the full spectrum of nutrients:
It is easy to fall into a rut, making and eating only a few favorite foods. Experiment with all available fresh, whole foods in your market. Visit local farmers' markets and purchase locally-grown natural foods in season. Try something new like an unusual variety of squash, a meat you have never eaten, a whole grain like bulgur or quinoa, tempeh, Korean kimchi, or even kefir (a delicious, probiotic-rich drink).
Eating only the same foods all the time will limit your nutrients. Engage with the rich spectrum of food that is available in many areas in our modern societies. Expand your palate and your health.
4. Make healthy food choices, but don't become too rigid:
While a natural, unprocessed diet is the goal, most Americans and people in other industrialized nations are so used to eating processed, denatured food and junk food that it would be very hard to change "cold turkey" and never relapse. Take it one day and one meal at a time. If one lapses and eats something that is not healthy, it might taste good, but he or she will soon notice a sluggish feeling as a result. That non-food did not provide the same energy as whole, unprocessed food. Let your body help you make the gradual transition to a natural, healthy diet. It will soon guide you to choose the food that makes you feel energized and strong. Do not give up or berate yourself if you make an unhealthy choice now and then.
5. Keep your portions small and eat regularly:
Stuffing oneself with any kind of food leads to overweight and illness, so be sure to eat in moderation. Eat regularly. As guided by Tosca Reno in The Eat Clean Diet (Robert Kennedy Press 2007), I have begun to eat every two to three hours from breakfast to the final meal. I used to try to eat only three meals a day, and often went six hours or more in between meals, which left me very tired and hungry, and led to overeating. Eating more regularly and often eliminates hunger pangs and helps keep one's metabolism high.
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But How Does One Eat Healthily on a Budget?
All this is well and good, you might say, but how can one manage to keep food expenses low and still eat healthily? Surprisingly enough, eating right can be managed economically, if one exercises moderation and prepares most food at home. First, make a food budget that fits your overall economic situation.
As a single adult, I allow myself $200-$250 a month for food, vitamins, snacks or coffee away from home, and most housewares like dish washing liquid, toilet paper, etc. My goal is $200 a month, every month. After vitamins (a multiple, cal/mag, fish oil caps, glucosamine/chondroitan, and ginseng) and housewares, I probably spend $150 on actual food. That is clearly not much, around $5 a day. However, I eat very well, five to six small meals a day, meat several days a week, fresh fruit and veggies daily, etc.
Planning and stocking one's cupboard with the basics is essential--then keep it stocked so that you can create diverse meals using the basic, natural ingredients. For weekly shopping, first making a general list or plan for the week ahead helps me focus. I'll think about main meals, sandwich ingredients, and whole grain cereal, for example. Armed with my list and determined to stay on budget, I will then go grocery shopping. I don't clip coupons usually, preferring to only buy what's on sale whenever possible, thus automatically lowering my bill, often up to 30 percent. It takes will power and focus to choose the best food that is on sale and not buy extras, but the payoff is that you keep to your budget.
It can become an exciting treat to visit an ethnic or farmers' market instead of the supermarket, and as long as one sticks to one's budget, it's a good choice, often netting one new foods to try or the freshest foods in season to enjoy. Be sure to stretch the entire week's budget over any and all stores or markets you visit, to stay on track.
Limiting or eliminating eating out, which usually runs $5.00 bare minimum per person/per meal; eliminating non-foods such as junk food, refined grains, and white sugar; and limiting or eliminating alcoholic drinks will help you keep within your budget and do wonders for your health. If you must eat out occasionally, figure out how to balance the weekly food budget to accommodate that and choose only healthy food (salad, simple meat, wheat bread, fruit and veggies) at the restaurant. If you enjoy alcohol, consider that indulging in alcohol is spending money on empty calories and ask yourself if you really need it. If so, consider limiting yourself to a glass of wine or beer daily or less often. You might find that drinking a cup of chamomile tea, getting a massage from your partner, taking a long walk, or another healthy activity does more for you than a drink, and those activities are free.