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The Complete Guide To Healthy Eating On A Budget

healthy eating on a budget

“Healthy eating is too expensive!”

It’s true.

Unhealthy food is cheaper and more accessible than healthy alternatives. And when funds are running low it’s all to easy to turn to unhealthy food and forget all about your fitness goals.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Fortunately, healthy eating on a budget is possible.

There are healthy foods that are cheap wherever you are in the world, and knowing to look out for them is going to allow you to stay on track with your nutritional goals regardless of your budget or location.

Protein

healthy eating on a budget

Whether you’re looking to build muscle, get leaner, or you’re simply a health nut searching for an improved quality of life, an adequate protein intake will be crucial to your success.

Unfortunately, it can be expensive and in areas of the world such as Asia good quality sources are hard to come by.

Consequently, most people don’t get enough of it.

If you’re on a budget, leave the steak and salmon fillets for special occasions, and stock up on these cheap protein sources instead.

Whole Eggs

Eggs are a staple amongst the seriously strong for a good reason: they are an extremely cheap yet nutritionally dense source of protein.

Mainstream media would have you believe that eggs are going to send your cholesterol levels through the roof, but time and time again studies have shown that dietary cholesterol has little to no impact on blood cholesterol.

Meat & Poultry

healthy eating on a budget

Chicken, turkey and pork remain relatively cheap year round, and are all great sources of protein. They also come in a tonne of different varieties, which makes cooking with them interesting.

Beef is my personal favourite source of protein, but is typically the most expensive. To get a bargain, look for a cut that is on offer (there’s almost always one), and don’t be afraid of buying the cheaper or fattier cuts (flank, blade, chuck, skirt, shin, rump). Dietary fat is not making you fat, and is an important part of your diet.

Fish

The health benefits of eating fish are numerous, and for that reason alone I think it’s worth paying for.

Fish tends to be a little bit more pricey than other protein sources, but it’s almost always possible to pick up a deal. Keep an eye out for the brand of canned tuna that is on sale, or any frozen fish that is on offer.

Fish that are sold at consistently low prices include:

  • Tinned Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines
  • Pollock

Beans & Lentils (Legumes)

Beans, chickpeas and lentils provide plenty of protein and carbs, and are a staple amongst vegetarians. They are also extremely cheap and a great addition to any meal. They work great in a salads, soups, or even dips.

The nutritional value of legumes varies depending on the type you choose, and sometimes they aren’t a ‘complete’ protein. This is nothing to worry about as long as you eat other sources of protein and vary the legumes you choose to eat.

If you’re not confident about the quality of meat in a particular eatery, or you simply fancy a change from meat, I highly recommend looking for a dish including legumes.

Protein Powder

Protein powder is merely a supplement, and is by no means essential to your success.

Gram for gram, however, protein powder is one of the cheapest sources of protein available. They’re simply an effective and convenient way to increase daily protein intake.

If the above recommendations don’t work for you and you’re still a little short on protein, pick up a tub of protein powder and make yourself a quick protein shake for breakfast or your post workout meal.

Carbohydrates

healthy eating on a budget

There’s no food group more controversial than carbs.

Some ‘professionals’ will tell you that carbs are the sole reason you are fat, but the truth isn’t so clear cut. In moderation, carbs are a great addition to your diet, and provide a multitude of physical, mental, and even emotional health benefits.

You can read my full guide to including carbs in your diet here.

It’s important to eat mostly natural sources of carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting processed and packaged versions.

Vegetables

Certain vegetables tend to be a bit on the pricey side, but they provide so many nutrients that they are worth occasionally forking out for (as one study demonstrated… honestly, who funds these?). However, there are other veggies that offer amazing value for money, including:

  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Pumpkin
  • Swiss Chard (Silverbeet)
  • Bok Choy
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower

Whilst fresh veggies certainly taste better, frozen vegetables are cheaper and are supposedly more nutrient dense as they are frozen at the time they are picked. This makes it cheap and easy to get veggies into your diet – no excuses!

Incorporating a broad range of vegetables into your diet will be hugely beneficial regardless of whether you are looking to improve your health or athletic performance.

Fruit

The same goes for fruit as it does for veggies. Everybody knows they are good for you, and frozen or canned varieties are the cheaper option. If you’re craving something fresh, however, the best value fruits are:

  • Oranges
  • Kiwis
  • Apples
  • Bananas

You should aim to eat a few pieces of fruit every single day.

Starchy Carbohydrates & Whole Grains

healthy eating on a budget

Much of the controversy surrounding carbohydrate intake stems from higher calorie and starchy carbohydrates (namely; porridge, rice, pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes, bread, wraps, barley etc).

Proponents of the Paleo Diet would suggest you cut them out completely, regardless of your goals. Whilst cutting out starchy carbohydrates can be a great way to lose weight (due to the fact that starchy carbohydrates contain lots of calories), it’s not the only way to improve your health and physique.

Fewer starchy carbohydrates should be consumed on days where you are inactive, but more may be eaten on the days that you are most active.

Generally, starchy carbohydrates are extremely cheap. If you are looking to build muscle, you will need to eat lots of carbs to ensure you have enough energy to perform and recover from your workouts. My personal favourites are sweet potatoes and brown rice.

Fats

If you’re overweight, fat isn’t to blame. In fact, certain fats provide a myriad of health benefits, without which we would not function properly.

Most people don’t need to eat more fat, but instead need to focus on eating higher quality fats.

Junk food and ready meals contain a great deal of trans fats, which are highly processed and lead to numerous health complications. Replacing these fats with natural saturated and unsaturated fats will be highly beneficial to your health.

Dairy

Dairy products are a cheap way of incorporating higher quality fats into your diet.

Cheese and milk are both delicious, but Greek yoghurt is particularly useful whilst travelling as it contains ‘good bacteria’ that will help you fight off any nasty bugs.

If you are trying to build muscle whilst travelling, drinking whole milk is the cheapest and most convenient way of getting enough calories, and the right balance of protein, carbs, and fats.

Nuts & Seeds

healthy eating on a budget

Nuts and seeds are typically very expensive. Although they do contain a huge amount of calories, the price is often too high to justify.

For some reason, nut butters are significantly better value and make for a versatile snack. If you haven’t tried peanut or almond butter with fruit, you’re missing out.

Remember to look for 100% natural nut butters that do not have any added sugar or salt.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Given how long it lasts and the flavour it adds to food, extra virgin olive oil is a great investment.

It has long been a staple in healthy diets and has been shown to reduce the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and metabolic syndrome.

Like other fatty foods, olive oil is naturally high in calories and easy to overuse. Using a spray in favour of a bottle will reduce calorie content and save you money in the long run.

Other Sources of Dietary Fat

As previously mentioned, whole eggs, fish and fatty cuts of meat are great additions to your diet. Not only do they contain lots of protein, they also contain a great deal of dietary fat.

Fish contains Omega-3 fatty acids that improve just about every aspect of your health, and eating it regularly eliminates the need for a disgusting fish oil supplement.

Eat Smart

Using the list above and keeping your eyes peeled for a bargain, you will be able to stay on track with your fitness and nutritional goals, regardless of your budget. Just remember:

  • If you want to lose weight; the majority of your calories should come from protein, fat, vegetables, and fruit.
  • If you want to build muscle; include starchy carbohydrates in your diet. Just be aware of how much you’re eating.

If you want to lose weight and build muscle at the same time I highly recommend The Renegade Diet by Jason Ferruggia. He has taken millions of years of evolution and countless scientific studies into account to create the most easy-to-follow diet I have ever come across.

What foods did I miss that are amazing value?

Leave your tips for healthy eating on a budget in the comments below!

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  • Matthew J Hall

    Thanks for the posting. I’ll admit – given time constraints when I am on biz travel, I sometimes even jump in to McD’s – and get the GRILLED chicken salad. I find it to be tasty and a great source of protein. Plus the dressing has to be applied by the consumer so you can control that portion, too.

    • Hey Matthew, that’s a good idea! Fast food joints can be pretty useful if you know what you’re doing.

      • hoffman

        I received an email mentioning what you consider is necessary for a nutritionally adequate diet. Meat has for many years been considered damaging for humans, and the recent research points to genetic damage as well. Regular meat eaters in their middle age have th genetic makeup of someone much older when it comes to telomere length

        Dairy foods do not possess any magic properties that cannot be obtained as a better source from other foods. It is only in the last few thousand years that humans have been drinking milk, after 3 years of age and many cultures still do not drink milk and are far healthier than people in the west. There are millions of people who have problems in the west digesting milk.

        The result of eating junk food is damaging human health almost or probably as much as cigarette smoking if one considers the long term aspects of the problem( heart disease , stroke, cancer, diabetes etc)

        I can understand that the occasion use of these foodstuffs are not a problem but moderation seems to have disappeared from the majority of people who live in the west.

        There is one winner though and that is the food industry

  • Great post! It’s so refreshing to see a fitness blog that’s pro-healthy fats! Fat is necessary to absorb fat soluble vitamins, it satiates you so you eat less, and it makes your food taste better! 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words Elaina 🙂 I’m glad you agree!

  • Amna Akhtar

    I love your take on things..very informative and definitely easy to remember and pocket friendly…

  • Selena

    I love how you talk about the benefits of fat. I incorporate freshly ground flax seed into my meals daily. I also grow my own vegetables and either freeze or can them. The quality and flavor is way above anything that can be bought in a super market. When I lived in the city it was a bit more challenging to grow enough to do a reasonable amount of time. Then I learned how to build a vertical garden and the challenge of growing enough food was over. Thanks for all the helpful information.

  • Be

    I am so glad to see your mention of Frozen Veggies. I always keep a few bags of things like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, because they’re so inexpensive compared to their fresh counterparts.

    Boil any of the above in a little bit of broth, blend, add some seasoning and *whole* milk, and you’ve got both a wonderfully comforting, quick soup, not to mention a pretty decent source of protein.

    • That sounds delicious (not to mention healthy)! Will have to try that one 🙂

  • Lexy

    Hi Will,

    It’s so refreshing to hear a professional say that to eat well/lose weight/build muscle doesn’t mean you have to cut out any one food group – and you can even do it on a budget. I’ve recently started a short nutrition course and in just a few study sessions I’ve seen how essential all of the above are for your well being. Things I’d never even considered. It’s a stark contrast to the way I used to try and ‘diet’ (calorie restriction no matter which food groups the calories were coming from!).

    I now use MyFitnessPal to help me stay on track with my nutrition/weight goals. The next step is finding the motivation to get some real exercise in there so I can work on toning up too!

    Really like your style of writing – it’s a no nonsense, honest and trustworthy approach. I hope the more that people read your blogs, the more they say goodbye to those health harming fad diets! =)

    • Thanks so much for the kind words Lexy! So pleased to hear that like my style of writing and advice 🙂

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