Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Poor Man Diet: 5 Healthy Foods That Won't Break the Bank

If you've ever tried to eat healthy, and if you're reading this you probably have, then you've noticed the gaping hole in your wallet.  Real food can be expensive; naturally raised meat, fresh organic produce, extra virgin olive oil, nuts... healthy food ain't cheap.  The cost has been one of the main obstacles for me in eating a real food, paleo-style diet.  Even though I make food a high priority in my life, I'm still a poor college student.  I can't always afford top-quality food.

But luckily, there are healthy, dirt-cheap foods out there that even I can afford.  Sure, you've gotta make some compromises; you just can't eat optimally on a budget.  But you can make a damn good stab at it. Not poor you say?  Just looking to save some money on food to keep fueling your hookers and cocaine habit?  No problem.  I'm here to help.  Here are 5 healthy, inexpensive foods that you can base your diet around.

1. Kale
Kale is everyone's darling health food.  Some say it's even the most nutrient-dense food on the planet.  I wouldn't go that far, but it's a great food nonetheless.  Fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, lutein, zeaxanthin, calcium... Kale covers all of your vegetable needs in one little package, and at a great price.  It's versatile too.  You can steam it and eat it on its own, put it in your eggs, add it to a smoothie, or use it in a stir fry.  It works in everything.  You can even eat it raw in a salad if you're up to it, although I personally don't like the taste unless it's cooked.  But maybe that's just me.  Give it a try!  (If you really hate kale, substitute it with another green like swiss chard or collard greens, the difference is negligible.)

2. White Potatoes
$3.99/10 lb bag
White potatoes have been getting a bad rap lately, but it's completely unfounded.  Just because they're white doesn't make them bad; it's a case of nutritional racism I say.  In fact, according to Mat Lalonde's nutrient density scale, they're even more nutrient dense than sweet potatoes!  And they come in many varieties...  Russet, Yukon gold, red, they're all good. You can mash them, roast them, bake them, or just stick one in the microwave for a quick meal.  Throw some butter on it and you're all set.  They're full of a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, especially potassium... screw bananas, potatoes are an even better source of potassium.  And if all that isn't enough, research shows that they're one of the most satiating foods around, meaning they'll fill you up with fewer calories.  Perfect budget weight loss food?  Perhaps.

3. Bananas
Okay I know I just said screw bananas.  Don't take that literally.  But really, you shouldn't shun them completely, because they too are a cheap source of good calories.  At just $0.20 for the average banana, they make a great snack, or even a simple addition to your breakfast.  Bananas are surprisingly nutrient-dense as well, chock full of vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, and manganese.  You don't even have to worry about buying them organic, since we don't eat the peel. No pesticide concerns there.  Have at it, hoss.

4. Eggs
Gotta get your animal foods in on this Poor Man Diet.  Animal foods are typically more expensive, so that leaves our options few and far between.  But eggs provide far and away the most nutritional bang for your buck.  We've got healthy fats, vitamin A, choline, selenium, and much more. They're a little low on B12 and iron for an animal food, but we can get that from the occasional red meat.  We're poor here, remember?  Oh, and remember back when eggs killed you?  Well don't worry about that anymore.  If there's one high cholesterol, high saturated fat food that we can all agree is healthy, it's eggs.  Even WebMD agrees, eggs are no longer a nutritional no-no.  Have no fear, the egg is here.  Hard-boil 'em, scramble 'em, whatever you want to do.  Just eat them.

5. White Rice
$8.99/20 lb bag
Yes, white rice.  I choose white, not brown.  Brown rice may be posh right now, but don't let the hype fool you... brown rice contains higher amounts of arsenic, and it depletes the body of minerals.  Let go of your brown rice bias, just do it.  Is white rice high a nutrient-dense food?  No, of course not.  But there're a few minerals in there, and the white rice of today is fortified with B vitamins.  But that's not why I'm recommending it.  Would you look at the price??  It's 4 cents per serving for crying out loud!  This is by far the number one budget food... not even close.  It may not be nutrient-dense, but it's a good source of calories for your Poor Man Diet. You do have to eat something after all.  On top of that, it's incredibly versatile.  You can eat it on its own as a side dish, incorporate it into a stir fry, use it as a stuffing.  Just use your imagination, you can do it.  Oh wait, we don't use imaginations anymore, we use Google instead.  So Google it.  Or ask your resident Asian.

There you have it.  Five inexpensive foods you can base your healthy diet on.  Now you have no excuse.  

Coming up next week, look out for the next step... 10 cheap supplemental foods for your Poor Man Diet. These will fill in the nutritional holes of the base foods, although I have to say these do a pretty decent job of covering everything considering the circumstances.  Stay tuned!


  1. well, I agree with two out of five, anyway...

    1. Those are the two I agree with most. Bananas are eh to say the least, white potatoes and rice? Nope, not in excess anyways, and white rice never; bloats me like crazy. You should have mentioned Plain Oats though. Those are very cheap!

    2. Good point, oats would have been good! I think I have a bias against those since I've never been a fan!

  2. A year ago I probably would've rejected the white rice part, but after being in Beijing for 5 weeks I've come to realize that white rice offers a lot more than meets the eye. Though I can't quantitatively explain why, somehow consuming sticky white rice with a meal decreases overall caloric intake. Maybe it's because of stomach distention, I don't know. What I do know is that I ate the rice cautiously when I first arrived, thinking that it would make me incessantly hungry - but after I started eating more, I realized I was full for hours. Counterintuitive in my opinion - delicious nevertheless

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  4. My addition: 1.buckwheat 2. apples 3. oatmeal. This list isn't complete without those.