Eating Optimally on a Budget


This is a topic that I am extremely passionate about given that I have lived most of my adult life on a fairly tight budget.  Additionally, I’ve always had high food & dietary standards, which have become “stricter” with each passing year as I continue to learn more about our food environment, our health as a nation, and how much nutrition dictates one’s overall wellness. 

All of these factors have taught me to be creative in obtaining healthy foods without going broke or in debt.  At first, this was no small feat, but I learned that it can be done!

Several years ago I ran another blog that mainly focused on how to eat a Paleo-type diet on a fixed budget; specifically, with a yearly budget of $35,000 and a growing family of 5! 

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Now I have a family of six with four very hungry children & a hungry husband.  While we have a little more wiggle room financially, it’s not by much. 

Especially when you consider that our growing kids are now becoming active and social individuals who want to be involved in extracurricular activities that cost an arm and a leg!  Yeow! 

Furthermore, most of the people I coach seem to have some financial constraints as well, and I don’t want them – or anyone else, for that matter – to feel that their health has to be negatively affected by their small-ish budget – because it doesn’t!

Now, I wish our government were similar to some others in Europe, France, for example, that make sure all families have a decent amount to spend on quality food.  Talk about “no child left behind”!  France puts so high an emphasis on good food, that they make sure everyone has access to it!

I really don’t want to get into a political discussion here, but as a nutritionist, this obviously gets my attention.  The statistics clearly show that states with higher poverty levels are also higher on the obesity spectrum.  Obviously not a coincidence.

So, while I can’t change poverty and food deserts in America with this series of posts (well, maybe I can!), I would like to help anyone who’s interested see that it is quite possible to eat healthy, quality foods on a budget.

Where I Stand, Nutritionally-Speaking

Before I launch into this Budget Series, I want to make sure you understand the nutritional paradigm that I speak from.  For the most part, I find diets that model the dietary patterns of our ancestors to be the most optimal for health. 

As you may have read on my Ancestral Nutrition page, this does not look the same across the globe.  Traditional communities in Africa eat a diet much higher in fibrous carbohydrates then those in the northern hemisphere, specifically Northern Europe and parts of North America, who eat a larger percentage of animal meats, fats, & dairy and much less carbohydrates.

Additionally, countries known to have the largest percentage of centenarians, like Okinawa and Sardinia, Italy, eat predominately higher amounts of carbohydrates and moderate amounts of good, quality fats (among other things).  BUT there is much more to this story....

There is also a fair amount of research available showing the diversity of our microbiomes may correlate to one’s physical environment and ancestry. 

Dr. Michael Ruscio recently released a fabulous book entitled, Healthy Gut, Healthy You, which brilliantly illustrates this point.  He makes it perfectly clear that just because one ancestral community eats in such-a-such-a way and is naturally thin, for example, doesn’t mean that this is the diet we all should be eating to lose weight. 

Quite the contrary!

He uses a ton of research to show us that the microbiome of one culture may be completely different from another, and that if two different cultures were to swap diets, tragic consequences might arise.  The specific microbiome of an African tribesman, for example, is adapted to digest and metabolize the specific foods common to their diet and so on and so forth.

Therefore, while this idea of Ancestral Health carries much truth and weight in the nutrition world, we still need to pay attention to our own biochemically-unique bodies!  And we can start by recognizing the commonality between the various ancestral diets that kept the majority of them free from the chronic disease that has overtaken our Western society.

That commonality is Real, Unadulterated, Minimally-Processed Foods!

I love what Deanna Minich, Ph.D. writes in her article, The ‘Personalized’ Paleo Diet.  She eloquently states what I fully believe to be true:

Maybe the “sweet spot” of nutrition is to make eating personalized, taking into account the foundation of the past as well as the dynamic fluidity of the present and future, by considering the DNA of one’s lineage, one’s current environment, time of the year, location on the planet, stress level, and toxicity status. I think we have to start with our ancestral DNA and then think broader…. We may ultimately find that eating is a moment-to-moment combined activity of assessing our genes, environment, age and gender rather than something statically Stone Age. (Emphasis mine.)

Additionally, the future of nutrition goes beyond the restrictive “diets” that we have become so accustomed to eating over the past several decades.  It really looks at a personalized eating approach specific to our bodies, which includes the discussion of epigenetics and how our genes are influenced (turned on or off) through interactions with our specific environment.

As you will uncover in most of my articles and webinars, I believe the Paleo way of eating provides a good framework to start with - removing the highly-processed products of the modern era, and then moving forward to personally uncover which methods best suit your body & lifestyle.

You may also notice that I have found a low-carb, higher-fat approach to be significantly effective for most Westerners and those of Northern European descent.  This is personally where I feel best and have found the most healing for my body!

Okay, now with that out of the way, let’s move on to saving your money AND your health!  In the next few articles, I will break down several steps that I have found to be helpful when trying to keep my food budget within certain limits AND while eating the foods that I enjoy most!

Stay Tuned for Part 1 of the Budget Series, My Friends!