By Dr. Mercola
Processed foods may be convenient, but they will not necessarily save you money—especially not if you count the cost of added healthcare expenses down the road when a poor diet starts catching up with you.
In terms of long-term disease-prevention, cooking from scratch using fresh unprocessed ingredients is perhaps your best guarantee.
Recent research1, 2 on healthy eating suggests that home cooking tends to result in reduced calorie consumption. People who ate the most home-cooked meals wound up consuming about 130 fewer calories daily, on average.
The authors also noted that: "If a person—or someone in their household—cooks dinner frequently, regardless of whether or not they are trying to lose weight, diet quality improves."
Contrary to popular belief, healthy unadulterated foods also do not necessarily have to cost you a lot more than processed fare. There are in fact many examples of exceptionally affordable health foods. Following are five examples that are frequently overlooked.
#1: Homemade Bone Broth
Homemade bone broth is a true staple that can go a long way toward improving your diet and health. It's excellent for speeding healing and recuperation from illness, and it contains many valuable vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that support your immune function.
These include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulfur, trace minerals, and compounds like chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, which are sold as expensive supplements for arthritis and joint pain. Other health benefits of good-old-fashioned bone broth include:
Helps heal and seal your gut, and promotes healthy digestion: The gelatin found in bone broth is a hydrophilic colloid. It attracts and holds liquids, including digestive juices, thereby supporting proper digestion Inhibits infection caused by cold and flu viruses, etc.: A study published over a decade ago found that chicken soup indeed has medicinal qualities, significantly mitigating infection Reduces joint pain and inflammation, courtesy of chondroitin sulphates, glucosamine, and other compounds extracted from the boiled down cartilage Fights inflammation: Amino acids such as glycine, proline, and arginine all have anti-inflammatory effects. Arginine, for example, has been found to be particularly beneficial for the treatment of sepsis (whole-body inflammation).
Glycine also has calming effects, which may help you sleep better
Promotes strong, healthy bones: As mentioned above, bone broth contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients that play an important role in healthy bone formation Promotes healthy hair and nail growth, thanks to the gelatin in the broth
Making your own bone broth is extremely cost effective, as you can make use of leftover carcass bones that would otherwise be thrown away. And while the thought of making your own broth may seem intimidating at first, it's actually quite easy. For instructions and a sample bone broth recipe, please see this previous article.
#2: Homegrown Vegetables and Sprouts
Growing your own food is a great way to lower your food costs, improve your health, and help build a more sustainable food system. Homegrown vegetables are fresher, taste better, and are oftentimes more nutritious than store-bought food that has traveled thousands of miles—and you certainly cannot beat the price!
Whole, organically grown plants are a rich source of natural medicine. Even our DNA contains much of the same material found in the plant world, which gives new meaning to the idea of healing plants.
Even if you only have access to a patio, you can still grow some of your own veggies using containers. Tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, lettuce, and peppers are examples of plants that thrive in containers. You can also use hanging baskets to utilize your lateral space.
To learn more, please see my previous article on creating edible gardens in small spaces. I've also written about how you can garden during the winter. This clearly requires a bit more dedication and planning, but it can be done if you have the will.
If, for whatever reason, you are unable to garden or prefer not to, then you can still access healthy vegetables grown locally by supporting local farmer's markets.
One of the easiest plants to grow at home, even if you're new to gardening and have limited space is sprouts. It's also an excellent choice during winter months, when outdoor gardening is limited or ruled out.
A concentrated source of enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals, sprouted seeds are a true superfood that many overlook. In fact, the protein, vitamin, and mineral content of many sprouted seeds far surpass that of organic homegrown vegetables!
An added boon is that they grow really quickly. You can have homegrown sprouts ready to harvest in a matter of days, which you can then add to salads, soups, or fresh vegetable juice.
Some of my favorites include watercress, broccoli, and sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds can provide you with 30 times the nutrient content of organic vegetables, and sprouts in general also contain up to 100 times more enzymes than raw fruits and vegetables. These enzymes are important as they allow your body to absorb and use the nutrients of other foods you eat as well.
Broccoli sprouts, specifically, have been shown to help detoxify a number of environmental pollutants, including carcinogens like benzene and acroleine. They're also an excellent alternative if you don't like the taste or smell of broccoli, which has well-established anti-cancer properties.
Studies suggest that watercress may have cancer-suppressing activity resembling that of broccoli sprouts, and its overall nutritional profile surpasses most other sprouted seeds, including sunflower seeds.
I started sprouting seeds in Ball jars about 20 years ago. Now I grow them in them in trays using soil instead, as it's far easier and produces more nutritious and abundant food. For directions, see my previous article, "How to Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces."
#3: Fermented Vegetables
Once you're growing your own vegetables, fermenting them will allow you to eliminate waste and provide you with healthy food during the non-growing season. Fermented vegetables are teeming with essential enzymes and beneficial bacteria needed for optimal gut health and digestion, and they are easier to digest than raw or cooked vegetables.
When your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is not working well, a wide range of health problems can appear, including allergies and autoimmune diseases. If fermented with a special starter culture, they can also provide high levels of vitamin K2.
If you suffer from any major illness, it is important to "heal and seal" your gut in order to fully recuperate. Fermented foods are a cornerstone for maintaining a healthy gut.
Just one quarter to one half cup of fermented food, eaten with one to three meals per day, can have a dramatically beneficial impact on your health. Fermented vegetables and other cultured foods also offer a multitude of medicinal rewards by:
- Strengthening immunity with increased antibodies that fight off infectious disease
- Helping pregnant and nursing mothers transfer beneficial bacteria to their infants
- Beneficially impacting the behavior of children with autism, ADD, and ADHD
- Regulating weight and appetite by reducing cravings for sugar, soft drinks, bread, and pasta -- all foods I strongly advise against
- Helping your body detoxify a variety of environmental toxins, including pesticides and heavy metals
Ideally, you'll want to include a variety of cultured and fermented foods in your diet, as each provides different beneficial bacteria. Besides fermented vegetables, other cultured foods include kefir and yogurt, ideally made from raw organic milk. To make it yourself, all you need is one-half packet of kefir starter granules in a quart of raw milk, which you leave at room temperature overnight. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a few days.
#4: Canned Wild Alaskan Salmon
So far, we've talked mainly about home-grown foods. Avoiding processed and pre-packaged foods is key for optimal health, but there are a few exceptions. One canned food I do recommend is canned wild-caught Alaskan salmon. It's inexpensive, selling for around a dollar or two in many places, and, in my view, the high amounts of healthy fats and lower contamination levels found in wild-caught salmon outweighs the risks of it being sold in a can. Some brands also offer BPA-free cans, which is well worth looking for. Rising pollution levels have contaminated most fish to the point of being potentially hazardous, especially for children and pregnant women, if eaten too frequently, or in too high amounts.
The key to eating fish these days is to choose fish that are high in healthy omega-3 fats, and low in hazardous contaminants. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon (NOT farmed salmon such as Atlantic salmon) fits this description, and is one of the few types of fish I still recommend eating. Fresh or frozen Alaskan salmon tend to be pricier, so canned salmon can be a thrifty alternative. Just make sure it's labeled "Alaskan Salmon," as it is not allowed to be farmed. Sockeye salmon is another healthy option that cannot be farmed. Sockeye salmon has the added advantage of having one of the highest concentrations of astaxanthin of any food. Other canned fish that are in the safer category (having lower contamination risk and higher nutritional value) are sardines, anchovies, and pickled herring—all of which also contain higher amounts of healthy fats such as omega-3.
#5: Organic, Free-Range or Pastured Eggs
Organically raised fee-range or "pastured" eggs are another excellent source of high-quality nutrients, especially high-quality protein and fat. Proteins are essential to the building, maintenance, and repair of your body tissues. Proteins are also major components of your immune system and hormones. While found in many types of food, only foods from animal sources, such as meat and eggs, contain "complete proteins," meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health, choline for your brain, nervous and cardiovascular systems, and naturally occurring B12.
The key to healthy eggs is making sure they come from chickens that have been allowed to range free on pasture. The nutritional differences between true free-ranging chicken eggs and commercially farmed eggs are a result of the different diets eaten by the two groups of chickens. You can tell the eggs are free range or pastured by the color of the egg yolk. Foraged hens produce eggs with bright orange yolks. Dull, pale yellow yolks are a sure sign you're getting eggs from caged hens that are not allowed to forage for their natural diet.
Your best source for fresh eggs is a local farmer that allows his hens to forage freely outdoors. The following organizations can also help you locate not only farm-fresh eggs but also other organic and locally produced foods, including many of those discussed above.
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce and grass-fed meats.
- Eat Wild: With more than 1,400 pasture-based farms, Eatwild's Directory of Farms is one of the most comprehensive sources for pastured foods in the United States and Canada.
- Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.