Is healthy food more expensive?

I’ll tell you why eating healthy food this New Year doesn’t have to be expensive.

Nicky Selwood has been a nutritionist for over 20 years, working for the Food Standards Agency, Cadbury Schweppes and Waitrose. She combines her love of all things diet related with her love of finding ways to save money on the everyday essentials

Once Christmas is over, many of us look at our waistlines and start to reevaluate our diets.

January is the most popular time of the year for dieting to begin and it’s also when many of us start looking to include more healthy foods in our diets. There’s a feeling that healthy food is expensive, but is this really the case? And can you eat healthily on a budget?

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Eating healthily doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, quite the opposite. 

It is a myth that a healthier diet costs more. Yes, there are lots of healthy ingredients that are expensive, think goji berries or coconut oil, but you don’t need to eat those to have a healthy balanced diet.

A healthy diet is made up of a variety of foods with lots of wholegrain carbohydrates, good quality lean protein, essential fats and vitamins and minerals. 

In short, that’s lots of fruit and vegetables, beans and lentils, wholegrains. Plus go easy on the meat and foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar. The NHS Eatwell Guide shows you just what a balanced diet looks like.

With more foods based on wholegrains and less emphasis on meat (or at least smaller portions), it already makes sense that eating healthily can be done on a budget. 

Healthy food is not expensive

Swapping a few of your unhealthy food cupboard staples to healthier alternatives can save you money. Let’s just look at Britain’s favourite side dish – chips. A portion will cost you 20p for a budget version. 

Swap that for a nutritious portion of wholegrain rice at 11p per portion and you’ve saved 9p per head already, reduced your fat intake and increased your fibre intake by nearly double.

Swap your high protein yoghurt for own-label Skyr yoghurt like Aldi’s Brooklea Skyr and as well as getting slightly more protein per portion, you’ll save 44p per 200g portion. Throw in a handful of nuts for even more protein and you’ll still have change compared to the price of the high protein yoghurt.

Swap almond butter (even though it’s super yummy) for 100% peanut butter (also super yummy) and although the nutrition will be very similar it’s over three times cheaper per 100g.

Swap coconut oil for vegetable oil (also known as rapeseed oil) and you’ll be saving 94p per 100 ml, consuming far less saturated fat and increasing your monounsaturates.

And swap your protein powder shake for an egg or 3 and save 60p per portion for the same amount of protein!

What I’m trying to show here is that there are always cheaper alternatives for these more expensive, so-called healthy foods, so don’t always fall for the big sell. Just because something makes all the claims, doesn’t mean it’s any better than regular food.

Top 10 budget friendly healthy foods to include in your diet

  • Baked beans
  • Weetabix
  • Peanut butter
  • Milk and dairy products including yoghurts
  • Wholegrain pasta
  • Tinned lentils
  • Carrots
  • Eggs
  • Frozen peas
  • Unsalted nuts

Ok, so this list on its own might not look that appealing, but you can use any of these ingredients in delicious and healthy dishes.

For example, you can’t get any easier than baked beans on wholemeal toast with some grated cheese. Cooking time approximately five minutes, difficulty rating of zero, cost 48p (based on two slices of wholemeal toast, half a tin of beans and 30g of cheddar cheese from Tesco).

Make food go further

Some ingredients will always be expensive but making these foods go further can help when trying to save money. Did you know you can stretch a pack of mince by adding a tin of green lentils to a bolognese or chilli for example. It really pads out the meal. 

Speaking from experience, I always do this and one small pack of lean mince will make both a chilli and a bolognese for my family of five –  that’s two hearty meals from one pack of mince and a 60p tin of lentils. I won’t go on about the health benefits too, but you know!

Another way to cut down on the meat ingredient is to add more beans. Just like lentils, these will bulk out any meal. So instead of adding one tin of kidney beans to your chilli, think about adding an extra tin and using half the amount of meat. At only 33p per tin currently in Aldi, they’re far cheaper than the alternative weight of minced beef, in fact over four times cheaper.

An easy way to bulk out any meal is to add more vegetables – either to the recipe itself or to your plate. Making the side of vegetables take up more room on your plate, will encourage you to serve smaller portions of the main meal. Carrots are my everyday go to as they’re just 40p per kg in Morrisons, so are a cheap and easy way to include veg on a daily basis.

And don’t forget those stalks! There are many parts of fruits and vegetables that are discarded. Just take broccoli for example. The stalks are edible and taste just the same as the florets but are often thrown away. Leave more stalk on and use the middle stalk in soups and sauces – cut finely, it cooks in minutes. 

The outer leaves of cabbages and lettuces are the leaves with the most nutrients in so don’t just rip them off and throw them in the bin, just wash them thoroughly and use as you would the cleaner, brighter looking inner leaves.

Expensive foods to swap if you want to budget

I love avocado and I wouldn’t swap it for the world but it is an expensive fruit with a big carbon footprint, and you don’t necessarily have to eat it to be healthy. 

The reason I mention it here, is that it goes off very quickly and is often quoted as one of the most wasted produce. In fact, a recent analysis found that 34% of avocados bought are actually thrown away. But did you know you can actually buy frozen avocado which means no more spoiling before you want to use it.

Goji berries are good for you, yes. Better than the likes of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries etc? No. So yes eat berries, fresh or frozen (frozen if you want the cheapest) but don’t fall for the ‘superfood’ hype about a particular one over the others, as they’re all good.

Protein powders have their uses if you’re a serious sports person, but for most people who exercise daily they are not really needed.

There are plenty of high protein, healthy foods that are much better to consume in terms of health and in terms of your wallet. Good protein rich foods to have instead of protein powders, include eggs, nuts, peanut butter, seeds, beans, lentils and dairy foods like yoghurts.

Nicky’s favourite budget friendly, quick and healthy meals and what they cost

Scrambled eggs (2 eggs), beans (½ tin) and wholemeal toast (2 slices) at just 48p per portion, high in protein and fibre.

Mexican omelette. 3 eggs, ½ tin of mixed beans in chilli sauce, handful of cherry tomatoes and 30g cheese – high in protein and two of your five a day for just £1.31 per portion.

Fish finger sandwiches and pea soup made with 3 fish fingers, 2 slices of wholemeal bread, tartare sauce and half a tin of pea soup – high in protein and fibre and just 76p per portion.

Easy egg not-fried rice – a portion of brown rice, 80g of frozen mixed veg and once boiled mix in an egg and a splash of soy sauce for a fibre-full 31p per portion.

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