Let's Eat

Low cost, high nutrition

Rising food prices don't need to hijack healthy eating


Healthy food backgrounds: multicolored fresh organic root vegetables shot from above on rustic wooden table. Root vegetables included in the composition are carrots, radish, onion, potatoes, garlic, ginger and turmeric. Some dirt is visible under the vegetables. The composition is at the right of an horizontal frame leaving useful copy space for text and/or logo at the left. High resolution 42Mp studio digital capture taken with SONY A7rII and Zeiss Batis 40mm F2.0 CF lens

Life’s expensive at the moment but it’s still possible to prioritise good nutrition to maintain health on a budget. Forget about expensive juice cleanses and diet supplements (that do not equal wellbeing) and focus on whole, unprocessed food that will do your body and your wallet good.

Here are my tips for maximising healthy foods on a budget:

Fruit and Veg tips:
With official sources reporting the average cost of fresh produce up by 13.3 per cent overall since October, it may be tempting to skimp on all-important fruit and vegetables. Shop smart though and you can keep your supermarket bills down.

Firstly, stay seasonal. Figures from Defra showed imported veggies such as green beans up from £1.40/kg in 2019 to £4.24/kg in 2022 — more than 200 per cent — but apples grown in the UK showed a smaller spike in price. Stick to UK- grown, seasonal produce, which will also have a higher nutrient load than imports and is often cheaper as transport costs are less.

Another money-saving, healthy- eating tip is to pick up your veg from the freezer aisle. Depending on the type, frozen might not always save you money, but you can defrost only what you need, so there’s less or no waste. Great for in soups and casseroles.

Seasonality is also key for fruit. In January, small citrus fruits such as Jaffa oranges are a good choice as they’re not travelling as far, are at their best, have a long shelf life and pack a nutritional punch.

Warm up from the inside:
It’s not just the food prices that have shot up. Energy costs have also hit us hard, but certain foods can help your body run at a higher temperature. Thermogenesis is the process the body uses to create warmth, and certain foods stimulate it. When it comes to selecting vegetables, the general rule is the longer they take to grow, the more they warm the body.

Pick root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and swede as well as pumpkins and squashes over salad-style veg. Spices such as turmeric, ginger and cinnamon also stimulate thermogenesis, so turn those veggies into hearty tagines and spiced soups. Israeli-Yemeni favourite spice mix hawaj — a blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric, black pepper, and cardamom, is perfect for giving root vegetable soups a burst of warmth. You’ll be increasing nutrients and you might even be able to switch off the heating.

Plant the seeds and take your pulses:
Evidence shows the benefit of an unprocessed Mediterranean/Israeli style diet. This means plenty of olive oil, nuts and seeds; protein from animal and plant sources; plenty of pulses and legumes, and a variety of vegetables.

Some of these foods can be expensive, but in terms of nutrition and bang for your buck, seeds are my go-to for a healthy and nutritious snack. Queen Esther knew a thing or two about eating right. They’re high in protein, fibre, essential fat; vitamins and minerals and if you shop around you can buy large bags for about £2 that will last weeks.

Mix into porridge for blood-sugar support at breakfast, sprinkle over your bean and barley soup for a protein-packed lunch; sprinkle on a stir fry for extra fibre at dinner. Choose raw seeds and go for an assortment — chia, flax, pumpkin and sesame are my picks.

Tinned pulses also provide great value for money. Make your own hummus for cheap, easy, healthy lunches and snacking.

Tahini is also a nutritional powerhouse. It’s not always cheap, but lasts ages and a little goes a long way.

Meating the cheaper cuts:
It will be one of the more expensive items in your shopping basket, but there are ways to save money here too. Get to know your local butcher — many kosher butchers have discount days. You can also buy in bulk, portion up and freeze.

Cheaper cuts such as brisket are just as nutritious as more expensive cuts and, when slowcooked with vegetables in liquid, can be even better for you, as this style of cooking makes the nutrients more easily absorbed by our bodies. A double win.

Protein is essential for growth, repair, immunity, muscles, brain health, hormones and study after study shows that a mainly plant-based diet, supplemented with a little animal protein is one of the healthiest ways to eat. So, for your health and your budget, you could reduce your meat consumption — saving it for once or twice a week, and make the bulk of your meals from (more economical) veg, beans and pulses.

Think like our ancestors and save the meat for Shabbat; be inspired by bubbe and make that roast chicken last all week — shredding Friday’s leftovers into salads and sandwiches and freezing the carcasses for next week’s soup. And maybe celebrate one Shabbat a month with vegetarian or vegan cholent loaded with beans instead of meat.

Old-world ferments for a good gut:
You may have heard of the importance of gut microbiome — trillions of microorganisms that colonise our digestive tract. Studies show a healthy microbiome supports digestion, mental health, hormone balance, weight management and more.

Health shops are crammed with expensive probiotic supplements and pricey, artisan fermented food, but supporting your gut health doesn’t need to be expensive.

A simple, inexpensive solution is to make an Ashkenazi staple — sauerkraut — which is simply shredded cabbage, packed in an airtight jar with salt.

The salt causes the cabbage to slowly leach juice, while microbes present on the cabbage begin to ferment it, and after just a couple of weeks the sauerkraut will be ready to go. Eat a little daily. Live yoghurt and fermented milk products such as smetana, which our grandparents may well have enjoyed, are also great gut supporters.

Fast favourite:
Something else you can do for your health that costs nothing is to look at the times that you eat. Studies over the last 10 years from experts such as Professor Satchin Panda and Professor Tim Spector all show that “intermittent fasting” has positive, long-term effects on weight management and blood-sugar regulation.

Fasting is free, good for longevity and might even save you money as you’re eating less. It can be as simple as fasting overnight and in between meals.

We Jews know a bit about fasting so we should be pros. The simplest way to start is with a 12- to 13-hour fast: for example, finish eating by 7pm and don’t eat breakfast until 8am.
During that time only consume water or caffeine-free herbal tea.

Laura Southern is a registered nutritional therapist. More information at londonfoodtherapy

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