Money and time. Those are the arguments I hear over and over about why parents and families (and singles!) simply cannot eat more healthily. Why giving up sugar is just a pipe dream unless you have the luxury of a large salary.
There is a tiny grain of truth in the idea that healthy eating can be expensive. But on the whole, I have been surprised by how much money I actually saved at first by giving up sugar and eating more “real food”, and I want to share with you my top 10 reasons why I believe this is the case, as well as 2 reasons why it may end up costing more, but is perhaps worth it if you have that option.
The food industry, particularly the fast food industry, loves to tell us that healthy eating is too expensive. We are bombarded by those messages every.single.day, and naturally, they have become normal to us, having heard it so often. But doing the “Sugar Free for £1 a Day” challenge made me realise that the reality is very very different. A Harvard University study estimated that eating “healthy” would cost about $1.50 (just over £1) a day more than eating unhealthily. This may be too much for some, it’s true, but for the majority of us, this is less than we spend on coffees, and far less than we spend on sugary snacks or most phone plans, new clothes, or skincare products!
So how could eating healthily save you money?
- Medical bills and medicine: Sugar is a major contributing factor (some argue the biggest) to type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This can cost a huge amount of money to sufferers personally (or to the nation’s health system in the UK) and the best way to reverse (or better yet, prevent) this illness is by giving up sugar and limiting carbs. Saving money on medicine, prescriptions and medical bills in general, whether it is a disease you already suffer from, or one there is a chance of you getting due to sugar consumption later on, is a massive win in my book!
- More veg = less meat: Possibly the greatest factor of giving up sugar for me and my family was the fact that it automatically led us to increase our vegetable consumption. One really amazing side effect of this is the fact that between a growing preference and cravings for vegetables and consuming better quality meat less often, I have found that adding vegetables to meat-based meals (or replacing it entirely with veg for some meals) makes meat stretch much much further. Suddenly I only need one packet of mince meat alongside 2-3 vegetables to make enough meatballs or chilli to feed our family of four twice, rather than needing to splurge out more on a big pack!
- No more ready meals or packaged goods: I was never one to buy ready meals, but in England, we are the biggest consumers of them in Europe, so I feel confident that the fact that cutting back on sugar means cutting out virtually all ready meals would save most Brits money. Even though I considered myself to have a “healthy” diet and cooked a lot from scratch, reading labels when I first quit sugar made me aware of how many packaged goods I was actually consuming, and how much cheaper they were to make myself! I picked the things I bought most often or were highest in sugar and learned how to make sugar free versions in minutes and batch cook them once a month or so. Homemade butter or olive oil mayonnaise, sugar free ketchup and sweet & sour sauce are just some of the ingredients I now make myself in 5 mins in order to have healthier options that are actually far far less expensive than the shop-bought version.
- Less takeaways and cake in coffee shops: Despite considering myself healthy, I used to regularly give in to the sugar-laden “impulse counter” at coffee shops. I would be queueing up to buy a coffee and end up walking to my chair with a large slice of cake or a flapjack or muffin. Giving up sugar meant these were no longer an option, and when I did indulge in them as an occasional treat, I found them far too sweet as my tastebuds changed and so stopped buying them altogether. Since these were easily purchased once a week (if not more!), I found myself pocketing quite a lot more money! And buying a piece of fresh fruit or vegetables or having some homemade oatcakes as a snack was costing me so little, I was practically saving the entire amount for better quality, healthier food the rest of the week.
- No more skincare products: My make up, skincare, beauty and toiletries budget used to be smaller than most people’s, but would still ring in quite expensive for our income. But giving up sugar was the only thing that completely cleared up my skin and left me with rare spots (and absolutely no breakouts), softer and younger-looking skin, and made me feel more beautiful naturally. As a result, I cut way back on make up, often not even wearing any, and stop buying any skincare or beauty products at all! I sometimes use a little coconut or olive oil from my kitchen for moisturiser, but that is the extent of my toiletries’ budget.
- More meal planning and prep, and buying seasonal & local produce: Giving up sugar meant most processed foods were out of the question and left me focusing on real foods and cooking more from scratch. In order to keep the budget small and my time spent cooking to a minimum, I learned how to meal plan and prep properly, and started to understand how to buy food in season or more locally. Although it may not seem like it, this was in fact a direct result of cutting back on sugar, as our small budget left me no other option. If you want to find out more about this, why not check out my new ebook: 5 Steps to an Epic Sugar Free Meal Plan?
- The more we spend on healthy foods, the cheaper it becomes: Organic produce is becoming cheaper as more people buy it and the demand grows. Obviously this one is a long-term saving, and involves spending a little more at first, but I believe that if we have a little bit of stretch in our budget, or are able to give up something in a different part of our overall budget, it is worth the small extra spend. There are great tips out there to help keep more ethical, better quality, healthier food spending to a minimum, but I feel like it is partly the responsibility of those of us who have even the smallest stretch in our budget to vote with our cash in order to help the long-term benefits of cheaper healthier food become available for those who don’t have that stretch! Obesity is a very big issue in poorer areas, and I feel like our spending on better food to bring the cost down is a truly ethical, great way to help those who need that financial help long-term.
- Less impulse buys: Just as I used to do at coffee shops, I found that the little additions to my shopping trolley at the end of a shop were a big contributing factor to going over-budget on food. Having to read every label, being more conscious of what I was eating generally, and needing the money in the budget to spend on real foods meant that I had no choice but to put down the cereal bar or 2 for 1 bags of crisps before I headed for the checkout. It simply wasn’t an option, and my health is very grateful for it!
- There are a growing number of people who have done the work for you: I Quit Sugar have an 8-Week Program that plans all of your meals, give you a shopping list and access to world-leading experts in order to keep sugar out of your diet on a budget. Tiffany from Don’t Waste the Crumbs has free past meal plans, as well as a very cheap subscription service to get new exciting real food meal plans delivered straight to you every month, and while her recipes occasionally need tweaking to remove or reduce sugar, for the most part they are healthy and most of the work is already done for you! Food Babe has written about how to buy organic on a budget, as have many before her, and she generally helps reduce over-spending on healthy foods. And these guys are most definitely not alone!
- A banana and plain yogurt are cheaper than fruit yogurts, cereal bars and coffee shop cake! Giving up sugar through the I Quit Sugar 8-Week Program made me more aware of how to shop for real food and how much cheaper the simple things are. With my tastebuds so changed after quitting sugar, I actually found myself enjoying a bowl of plain yogurt and a banana or homemade hummus and a bit of veg more than a far-more-expensive pot of sugary fruit yogurt or a branded cereal bar.
And why might it cost you more?
- Eating healthier leads you to want to consume more organic/grass-fed/free range/wild foods: These are more expensive. There are ways to cut the costs to a minimum, ways to make meat stretch further, have more veggie meals, buy the Clean Fifteen (or British Clean 18) more and Dirty Dozen (British Mean 18) less, and many many other ways that we have found to successfully keep our healthy eating to a minimum. You can just choose to make little adjustments at first (every little helps!), as we did: we started with just organic dairy and organic veg and fruit for the kids. Although our overall income has not increased by much, our food budget has got bigger as we have moved money from what we consider less important areas (we buy less clothes, have no Sky TV, have basic phone plans, have a tiny toiletries/beauty products budget, etc). We have tried to copy most countries in their committing to spending at least 10-30% (in some countries it is as much as 45%) of our income on food as we have decided it is worth the sacrifice.
- Don’t succumb to “superfoods” and the now-huge health food product market: I personally choose to buy chia seeds and cacao powder (in bulk) because I believe they are worth the price tag (although buying in bulk keeps it pretty small still) but I do not buy into protein powders (which often have sugar), supermarket products labelled “healthy” or “no refined sugar” (which are often stuffed full of dates or maple syrup anyway), or Goji berries and green powders. I keep my shopping list simple: vegetables, fruit, grass-fed meat (1-3 meats a week), wild (often tinned or frozen) fish & seafood, wholegrains (which I usually buy 2-3 types of in bulk – most often quinoa, millet & Basmati rice), pulses & legumes (which I usually buy in bulk also – dried beans, chickpeas & lentils).
Is it worth it?
In my personal experience (and I am most certainly not alone in this), absolutely! Although we have since moved our budget around to give food a bigger spot and invest more in organic, free range and Fairtrade foods, initially we were actually saving money on a low sugar diet, and it is reassuring to know that if our income went down for some reason, we would still be able to eat healthy without it costing the world. The reason we have since shifted to spending a little more again is simply that we have found that it is completely and utterly worth the money spent in order to feel amazing and be far healthier and happier!
And seeing my children enjoying fresh, real, sugar free foods and making good food choices – well that is the (sugar free) icing on the metaphorical cake for me!