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When bad economic times hit the first thing to go can be your food budget. Buying cheaper eats—like processed foods or something from the fast food dollar menu—may seem like good financial sense, but you could pay dearly down the road.
It’s true--dollar for dollar processed food delivers more calories. For instance, for about the same cost, you could consume 1,200 calories of potato chips, cookies or soda pop and only 250 calories of carrots, says Jennifer Ventrelle, a clinical nutritionist and registered dietitian at Rush University in Chicago. But all those empty calories are a prescription for weight gain that can lead to a host of health problems including cardiac disease, type II diabetes—even some cancers.
But eating on a skinny budget doesn’t have to mean eating food that’s not healthy. Here are some tips from the experts on how to do it right.
Eat fiber: “Fiber keeps you feeling full because it takes longer to digest than simple carbohydrates,” Ventrelle said. “Consequently, you eat less.”
Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, and also inexpensive and packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants. White potatoes can be high in fiber if you leave the skin on. Bean, lentil, tomato, or broth-based soups take up more space in your stomach and help to keep you feeling satisfied. Lettuce and mixed greens do the same. You can buy them in bundles instead of pre-cut to save on cost.
“Brown rice is another high-fiber option. Buy the long-cooking kind instead of the instant to cut down on cost,” Ventrelle said. "You can make your own 'instant' rice by cooking it ahead of time and freezing half-cup portions in individual bags – a trick that not only saves money but also controls your portion size.”
Eat Colorfully: “Buying colorful fruits and vegetables that are in season are less expensive than those out of season because shipping and storage costs are minimized,” said Colleen Doyle, MS, RD and director of nutrition and physical exercise for the American Cancer Society.