Simple Strategies to Eat Better for Less

Redirect your food dollars to reduce your risk of certain diseases and lower your grocery bills.

| February/March 2011

pinto beans

Save money by eating more legumes, such as pinto beans.


Americans already spend far less on food than the citizens of most other nations, but our recent national belt-tightening has translated into even less money spent on groceries. A consumer survey from 2009 shows that in order to save money, 80 percent of the American public is spending less on groceries, and half of those admit to replacing healthy foods with cheaper, high-calorie foods. But a recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition proves that if you choose the right foods, such as nuts, beans and grains, you can actually spend less on food and still achieve a higher quality diet.

The study’s authors used food-cost data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and survey data from the long-running Harvard Nurse’s Health Study to examine the diets of nearly 80,000 women over several years. Each participant was assigned an Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI) score. Higher AHEI scores are associated with lower rates of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases, and are achieved by eating more fruits, nuts, vegetables, soy, lean meats, fish, beans, whole grains and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The authors found that, although spending more money overall was associated with a healthier diet, you can improve your diet greatly without spending more. They examined changes in AHEI scores for a $1 shift in spending on various food groups, and found that greater spending on nuts, soy, beans and whole grains yielded a higher AHEI score, while greater spending on red and processed meats, and high-fat dairy products resulted in a lower AHEI. (Note that the study did not differentiate between industrial red meat and dairy and pasture-based options, which have far more healthful nutrient profiles.)

Shift Spending for a Health Boost

Health scores are determined by Harvard’s Alternative Healthy Eating Index. 

Spend more on fruits and vegetables: +7  

Spend more on whole grains: +18 

6/5/2011 10:32:37 AM

For Clint regarding soy beans. In the "Makers Diet" by Jordan Rubin N.M.D..Ph.D. (page 103) he says "Myth: Soy Products are adequate substitutes for meat and dairy products. In Asia soy products are never used as a primary food! They are used as condiments or in traditionally fermented forms. Unfermented soybeans and soy products are high in phytic acid, an antinutrient that carries minerals out of the body. ---- Processed soy products are rich in trypsin inhibitors, which inhibit protein digestion! Some recent research indiciates that soy's phytoestrogens (or isoflavones) could be causative factors in breast cancer, penile birth defects, infantile leukemia and depressed thyroid function. They have caused infertility in every animal species studied so far!" He says in other places that tofu, miso, soy sauces are fermented. I really recommend reading this book. It opened my eyes to several things I was not aware of.

6/4/2011 7:03:05 AM

Cat, I am wondering what are your resources for stating that "soy is not at all good for you"?

6/3/2011 1:43:22 PM This is a better article on healthy diets. As Thomas Jefferson said “If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” Soy is not at all good for you and too many grains are what is making us fat (though some people obviously live on McDonalds and such other items that are hardly considered edible in my book). Proteins are inexpensive especially if you raise your own animals. Eggs and chicken are free at my house, and much healthier then what you buy at stores since my chickens free range and have wonderfully healthy diets as well. We are broke so we have eggs for breakfast and chicken for dinner. I roast the chicken in a pot over the grill and then turn the rest into soup the next day. Good for 2 meals + extra soup for lunch and dinner another day!

russell bowman
6/3/2011 8:04:46 AM

News from the Northwest: Extremely excessive rain this year has produced a 'bumper crop' of hydro-electric power here. This caused the wind power plants in the region of the Columbia Gorge to shut down indefinitely since there would be no place to send the electricity without causing economic problems with primary power generation companies. Too bad we don't have a distribution means to send it to places where coal plants are the only means to generate power. The problem is power sent over a long distance dissipates by heating up the power lines over thousands of miles, causing it to be too impractical. Come to think of it, too bad we don't have a means to send excessive water to the thirsty areas in the south west. This would be a great national project that would benefit millions and generate a lot of jobs, wouldn't it? Russ Bowman

russell bowman
6/3/2011 7:50:06 AM

I remember that for 8 months after being laid off as a manual machinist I survived well with bulk lentils, brown rice, a few other things on sale, and vitamins. It got me by, and now life is better, but when it came down to survival time, that did pretty well. I ended up figuring out a lot of recipes to spice those dishes up to make it more palatable like stewed tomatoes, an onion and spices for lentil chili.

gwyneth mcneil
2/26/2011 2:10:45 PM

Great publication! I always find something interesting and useful.

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