Eat Clean -But Cheap?

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How To Eat Clean Without Cleaning Out Your Wallet

CrossFit West Santa Cruz and Shane Skowron, a CrossFitter out of New York

Let us start with the truism that eating a healthy diet will
inevitably be more expensive than eating a diet of junk, empty calories,
and monotony. In theory, it is possible to survive on cheap foods for a
few dollars each week. In fact, that’s how millions of people live
every day. Most grains, sweeteners, and mystery meats are available at
dirt cheap prices, for various political and agricultural reasons that
need not be explored here. If you’ve spent enough time on the CF
nutrition forum, you will agree that the improvements in your
performance and your appearance are worth the extra expense. You should
also consider that a healthy diet might save lots of money in medical
and dental expenses further down the road.

The point of this document is to show you how you can minimize the
costs you spend on a quality diet with proper planning, research, and
storage space. It is tailored toward people who follow a paleo or
mostly-paleo diet, but the same principles apply to people who choose to
eat modern agricultural foods too.

Grocery-cart

Before you start considering how to save money on a particular diet,
you should figure out what sort of diet suits you best. The most
important considerations will be your estimated caloric intake, your
approximate macronutrient ratio, an idea of foods that you choose not to
eat, and your available storage space.

For people who have caloric intakes that are high (I’m arbitrarily
declaring this to be 3000 calories and more), your goal should be to
maximize your calories per dollar ratio without resorting to processed
foods or ruining your macronutrient ratios.

To this end, I find it helpful to divide my shopping into
macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Of course, most foods
contain a mix of macronutrients, but we can still place them into
categories based on which nutrient they provide the quantity of. I’ve
discovered two key generalizations that have helped me plan my shopping:

1.     Calorie-for-calorie, proteins are the most expensive foods. Fats are second, and carbs are the least expensive.

2.     Proteins are almost always perishable. Fats and carbs can come in perishable and non-perishable forms.

These two generalizations lend us some insights on where, what, when, and how much to buy.

Where To Buy

Most people have a single supermarket where they do their shopping.
If you live in a town with one supermarket, you might not have much of a
choice. However if you live in an urban or suburban area, you’ll have a
few choices. If so, don’t make the mistake of buying everything you eat
at a single store.

Look to see if there is an ethnic supermarket in your area,
especially one that caters towards Asian, African, or Latino
populations. The best foods bought here are carbs in the form of fruits
and vegetables. If you are lucky, you can get fresh produce for less
than $1/lb. In addition, you may be able to get healthy foods in ethnic
supermarkets that you’ve never had before, such as coconuts, yu choy, or
duck eggs. What other savings you get here will depend on the specific
market, so be sure to look in every aisle when you go here. Avoid buying
brand names at an ethnic or low-income supermarket, as they will be
likely more expensive than at mega supermarkets. Ethnic stores are
hands-down the best places to buy spices and seasonings.

For bulk, non-perishable items, the best places to save are the large
department stores like [Costco]. This is where you can get most of your
fats, and some of your carbs. Department stores will often sell bags of
almonds and walnuts for prices that cannot be beaten by any other type
of store. Strive to buy no less than 1 lb at a time. While not a paleo
food, peanut butter has some of the highest calorie to dollar ratios of
any food – often close to 1000 calories per dollar. If you choose to eat
peanut butter, try to avoid the peanut butters that contain some of the
“bad” oils. Instead try to get all-natural peanut butter or the ones
that have flaxseed or palm oils added. Buying oils is an economic choice
at department stores, as many will sell large containers of olive oil,
canola oil, and coconut oil. In the canned and boxed goods aisle you can
find deals on packaged fruits like raisins, cranberries, pineapples,
peaches, and pears. Be aware that many of these products contain added
sugar or corn syrup. You can drain and wash canned fruits to eliminate
most of the sugar. Trail mixes can be very cheap, although they will
mostly contain peanuts and raisins – foods that can be bought more
cheaply separately.

Grocery-cart-money

Specialty health-conscious stores like Whole Foods are a mixed bag.
In general, they are not places to shop for the person who is keen on
saving money. However, there are some things worth buying here, such as
bulk nuts and nut butters. The prices on seafood are often fairly
reasonable, but also consider that many of the seafood products were
frozen and then thawed. In other words, you might be better off buying
frozen seafood if it’s cheaper.

Solid protein sources are going to be the hardest thing to find,
because they are the most expensive and the quickest to perish. If there
is a seafood market in your area, that may be the best place to save
money on protein sources. Ethnic supermarkets may have seafood sections
at excellent prices. In the absence of a dedicated seafood department,
many places will sell bags of frozen seafood that will be cheaper than
fresh seafood, yet similar in quality.

Meat is a tricky subject, because generally speaking, the cheaper the
meat, the lower quality it is. A standalone butcher may sell meat at
competitive prices, but they are not as popular as they once were.
Mega-supermarkets will generally sell the same type of meat at prices
that are cheaper than at smaller supermarkets, although some independent
and ethnic supermarkets will sell prices that are even better. When
comparing prices be sure to notice the fat content and the specific cut
of each package. Generally speaking, ground pork or 73% lean ground beef
will be the cheapest meat you can get, but it also contains a
significant amount of fat.

If you’re interested in buying grass-fed beef, the most economical
choice would be to buy in bulk (hundreds of pounds at a time) from a
local farmer. Some organic supermarkets will sell it in small cuts, but
it will be prohibitively expensive.

I’ve yet to find a consistent trend with purchasing gallons of milk.
Believe it or not, some convenience stores sell milk cheaper than
grocery stores. Your best bet is to check the prices on all the stores
around you. If you’re like me and drink almost a gallon of milk a day, a
50 cent per gallon difference between two stores makes a difference.
Eggs, too, vary in price depending on the location.

Whey protein doesn’t exactly count as quality food. However, it can
actually be cheaper than most natural sources of protein. Department
stores, pharmacies, and online retailers are the best places to buy
plain whey powder.

What To Buy

These are calorie-for-calorie, the cheapest foods to buy for someone who is looking for quality foods.

Proteins: whole
squid, whole octopus, canned tuna, canned mackerel, ground turkey,
ground beef, milk, whey protein, anything that’s on sale

Fats: almonds, walnuts, olive oil, coconut oil, canola oil, coconuts, cheese

Carbohydrates: bananas, raisins, apples, grapes, spinach, canned fruits, sweet potatoes, and any fruit or  vegetable on sale

Buying animal products not butchered and not cleaned will always be
cheaper. Get whole chickens, whole turkeys, whole squids, whole octopi,
and whole fish whenever possible. The preparation and cooking time will
increase, but it will be worth the savings. Organ meats are generally
cheaper than muscle meats.

Frozen vegetables may or may not be cheaper than their fresh
counterparts. Whole vegetables will be cheaper than chopped vegetables
or vegetable pieces (e.g. broccoli florets). Specialty packages of mixed
items like fruit salads put together by the grocer are likely to be
more far expensive than buying the fruits individually.

As a general rule, if it looks convenient to prepare, store, or cook,
then you can probably get it cheaper in a more inconvenient form.

When and How Much To Buy

Generally speaking, most foods that come in a package will be cheaper
when bought in bulk. This includes meats, nuts, oils, fish, eggs, milk,
cheese, spices, and condiments.

It is always to your advantage to buy non-perishable foods in the largest possible packages.

Most fresh produce is charged by the pound, so there is usually no
advantage in buying 1 oz of spinach versus 2 lbs. Some fruits, like
blueberries and strawberries, will be cheaper and more readily available
when they are in season.

One way to shop is to buy your non-perishable goods once per month, and buy your perishable goods at the beginning of each week.

If there is a sale at your local market, take advantage of it by
stocking up on the good. If it’s a perishable item, you can freeze it
for up to 6 months. Some supermarkets will lower their prices on a
shipment if it fails to sell in time for its expiration date, so be on
the lookout for things that have been sitting on the shelf for awhile.

Please post your shopping advice and best deals to Comments.

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