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22 Cheap and Easy Ways to Eat Healthy

22 Cheap and Easy Ways to Eat Healthy
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Proper nutrition is important every day, but now there's even more reason to ditch the bag o'chips and go for the greens. Today, November 7, is National Eating Healthy Day, a holiday sponsored by the American Heart Association. And it just so happens we've found 22 ways to celebrate. So forget about the tempting smells from the pizza place down the block or how easy it is to pick up a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on the way to work. These tips make eating healthy not only easier, but often cheaper, too.

22 Cheap and Easy Ways to Eat Healthy

Photo by Caitlin Covington

At the Grocery Store

1. Make a grocery list (and stick to it). By heading to the store with a clear list of what's necessary, it's much easier to avoid last-minute purchases. (Some studies say shoppers may still make impulsive buys… but the list can't hurt.) Feeling techy? Try one of the many apps that can help with shopping, like GroceryIQ or Shopper.

2. Don’t go shopping hungry. Even after you take the time to write a meticulous grocery list, if that stomach is grumbling so loudly the people in the next aisle can hear it, chances are something surprising’s going to jump into the shopping cart. Avoid succumbing to last-minute cravings (like, say, for lardwiches) by eating a healthy snack (or meal) before heading to the store.

3. Buy more greens. On that weekly trip to the grocery store, grab some extra green vegetables for health benefits like a stronger immune system [1]. They're super-healthy (kale and spinach are bona fide superfoods!) and easy to fit into any meal!

4. Choose fresh or frozen over canned. For veggies, soups, and beans, nixing the can cuts out unnecessary sodium. For fruit, it avoids excess sugar. Plus, the fresh stuff always tastes better. And, perhaps surprisingly, canned produce can actually end up costing more (or at least the same amount) as the fresh stuff!

5. If you can’t grow it or raise it (theoretically), don't eat it. Monosodium glutamate doesn't grow on trees. Neither does high fructose corn syrup or Yellow No. 5. But at least one of these ingredients is found in many (if not most) of the processed foods on grocery store shelves, from chips to fruit juice. And these ingredients have been linked to everything from obesity and diabetes to brain and liver damage [2] [3] [4]. If whatever's in that grocery basket couldn't theoretically come from your own backyard, swap it for something closer to the original. Choose whole potatoes over a box of mashed; pick plain ol' oats instead of pre-sweetened packets.

6. Choose whole grains. When grains are processed — like, say, to become white flour used in crackers, cookies, or white bread — two essential parts of the grain (the bran and germ) are removed. The problem is these parts hold the most health benefits and nutrients, including vitamin E, major B vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Look for the "Whole Grain Stamp" on packaging or just opt for ingredients like whole grain, brown rice, and oats.

7. Avoid sweetened drinks. Added sugar is a big no-no. Not only does it pack on calories, but eating foods with added sugar has also been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and weight gain [5] [6]. Replace sweetened beverages (even artificially sweetened diet drinks) with water, seltzer, and fresh fruit, or 100 percent fruit juices diluted with water.

8. Eat naturally sweet food (and don't add extra sugar to it!). Some of us have a sweet tooth, but instead of indulging in sugar-packed processed foods, choose naturally sweet ones to cut down on sugar cravings later. Start in the fruit section and choose naturally sweet vegetables like beets, corn, and sweet potatoes (just to name a few!).

9. Buy in bulk and divide into portions. Yes, this strategy is mostly a way to cut down on cost. But buying in bulk — anything from vegetables, to meat, to grains — can also cut down on shopping time, so there’s more time left to prepare healthy meals.

10. Stick to the edges of the grocery store. The outer edges are typically home to fresh produce, meats, dairy, and breads. The inner aisles usually feature highly-processed items packed with extra sugar and artificial ingredients. There are always exceptions, of course, but try sticking to the 80:20 rule (80 percent of the grocery cart from outside the aisles, 20 percent from inside the aisles) for a healthier diet.

Food Storage and Prep

11. Make grocery day "Food Prep Extravaganza." To cut down drastically on food prep throughout the week, do it all at once after returning home from the store. Unwrap, clean, and cut up meat to freeze or refrigerate in portions. Wash and prep all produce. Chop and freeze anything that may be used at a later date. Pre-portion snack foods (see below), and yogurt or rolled oats for easy breakfasts throughout the week! (Overnight Oats are a favorite in the Greatist office!)

12. Prepare your own food as often as possible. We're not talking give up eating out entirely — it’s no fun skipping those special restaurant dinners! But by preparing as many meals as possible on your own, it's much easier to know (and control) exactly what's going into your body, without any sneaky ingredients. Going to be at work during the lunch hour? Pack something to eat there. No time to eat before heading out in the AM? Bring something to eat on the way or at the office.

13. Pre-package snacks. When eating out of a family-sized potato chip bag, it's easy to keep reaching that hand in until all that's left are the greasy crumbs. Instead of wasting away in a bottomless pit of chips, try pre-portioning snack foods into single-serving plastic baggies or reusable containers.

14. Grow your own herbs. Fresh herbs (or freshly dried ones) are a great way to season food without excess salt, butter, or cheese. Growing a personal herb garden isn't only good for that belly — it's also an easy way to pretty up any space! All that’s necessary for a DIY herb garden is a few small planters and an empty windowsill (even the Greatist office has one!).

15. Store the healthiest food in the front of the fridge. When the fridge door opens, make sure you see the healthiest items first. If the leftover chocolate cake is shoved in the back corner, chances are the eye will gravitate towards the shiny apple right up front first. Bonus points for storing healthy options in transparent containers and unhealthy stuff in opaque ones so you see the healthy stuff before the stomach really starts grumbling.

Cooking and Mealtime

16. Sneak veggies into everything. We even have a few ways to fit veggies into dessert. Yep, we went there.

17. Forget about counting calories. Checking every nutrition label before chowing down is annoying (to say the least). Instead focus on meals that include a variety of nutrients, colors, and fresh ingredients. It's much easier to keep a healthy, balanced diet this way than by counting calories.

18. Eat a healthy breakfast! Starting the day off right is key to eating healthy all day long. So what makes the best breakfast? One study found consuming protein for breakfast can help prevent overeating later in the day [7], but another found that eating a big breakfast with dessert could help keep off excess pounds [8]. Choose what works best for you.

19. Opt for smaller portions. When restaurants pile plates bigger than a human head, it's easy to overeat. Limit those portions to less gargantuan sizes to easily eat a little healthier. Not sure where to start? Try these portion-size plates, or learn how to estimate serving sizes for certain foods. And here's a great tip for eating out: To avoid eating more than planned, ask the server to wrap up half the dish beforehand and go home with a pre-made doggie bag.

20. Replace dessert with fruit. (…Or at least add fruit to dessert.) While some varieties can be high in sugar, fruit is a great way to satisfy that sweet tooth without breaking the sugar bank. Plus, it offers health benefits typical desserts can't, like fiber and antioxidants. And opting for fruit can help avoid that dreaded sugar crash.

21. Pace your mealtime. When we eat quickly, our bodies don’t always have time to realize we’re full — so it’s easy to overeat [9]. Enjoy what's on the plate, and stop eating as soon as that stomach gives the first hint of being full. It's always possible to eat more later.

22. Consider not buying unhealthy stuff in the first place. 'Nuff said.

Originally posted April 2012. Updated November 2012 by Shana Lebowitz. What are your favorite healthy eating habits? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author @ksmorin.

Works Cited +

  1. Exogenous stimuli maintain intraepithelial lymphocytes via aryl hydrocarbon receptor activation. Li, Y., Innocentin, S., Withers, D.R., et al. Division of Molecular Immunology, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London, UK. Cell, 2011 Oct 28;147(3):629-40
  2. Nutrigenomics of hepatic steatosis in a feline model: effect of monosodium glutamate, fructose, and Trans-fat feeding. Collison, K.S., Zaidi, M.Z., Saleh, S.M., et al. Cell Biology and Diabetes Research Unit, Department of Biological and Medical Research, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, Saudi Arabia. Genes and Nutrition, 2012 Apr;7(2):265-80. Epub 2011 Dec 6.
  3. Opposing effects of fructokinase C and A isoforms on fructose-induced metabolic syndrome in mice. Ishimoto, T., Lanaspa, M.A., Le, M.T., et al. Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension, University of Colorado Denver, Colorado. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 2012 March 13;109(11):4320-5.
  4. Role of fructose-containing sugars in the epidemics of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Stanhope, K.L. Department of Molecular Biosciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis. Annual Review of Medicine, 2012; 63:329-43.
  5. Consumption of added sugars and indicators of cardiovascular disease risk among US adolescents. Welsh J.A., Sharma A., Cunningham S.A.,et. al., Nutrition and Health Science Program, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, Circulation. 2011 Jan 25;123(3):249-57.
  6. Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. Schulze M.B., Manson J.E., Ludwig D.S., Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, Journal of the American Medical Association 2004 Aug 25;292(8):927-34.
  7. Neural responses to visual food stimuli after a normal vs. higher protein breakfast in breakfast-skipping teens: a pilot fMRI study. Leidy, H.J., Lepping, R.J., Savage, C.R., et al. Department of Dietetics & Nutrition, University of Kansas Medical Center. Obesity 2011(10):2019-25.
  8. Meal timing and composition influence ghrelin levels, appetite. Jakubowicz, D., Froy, O., Wainstein, J., et al. Diabetes Unit, E. Wolfson Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, Holon, Israel. Steroids 2012;77(4):323-331.
  9. Eating slowly increases the postprandial response of the anorexigenic gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1. Kokkinos, A., le Roux, CW., Alexiadou, K., et al. Athens University Medical School, Athens, Greece. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2010 Jan; 95(1):333-7.

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