Bacteria aren’t always bad! In fact, your digestive tract is loaded with colonies of these little guys. While some can be harmful, most are helpful. Having a good balance of bacteria in your intestines (aka gut bacteria) can be a critical piece of your overall health puzzle.
Less than ideal gut bacteria have been linked to depression, anxiety, overeating, food cravings, brain fog, fatigue, diabetes, obesity, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and intestinal damage, among other issues.1-5 Tending to the needs of the tiny bacterial warriors in your gut can be hugely beneficial to your wellness. Here’s are four groups of foods you can eat to support your gut health:
What they do: Probiotic foods contain the good bacteria that can help reinforce the armies in your gut. Different strains of probiotics have been researched for different health benefits. For example, L. plantarum and L. rhamnosus are linked to lower levels of stress hormones and increased amounts of intestinal building blocks.1, 2 L. heleveticus and B. longum improved stress responses in mice.4
How much: Since research into the benefits different strains of probiotics is still in the works, there is no official probiotic recommendation.
How to get them: Foods that are fermented often retain healthful bacteria all the way into your digestive system. Fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi all contain healthful probiotics.
Vitamins A and D
How much: For vitamin A, men should aim for 900 mcg and women 700 mcg per day. For vitamin D, aim for 600 IUs per day unless you’re over 70, then boost that to 800 IU daily.*
How to get them: Boost vitamin A intake with a serving of sweet potato (1403 mcg), spinach (573 mcg), carrots (459 mcg), cantaloupe (135 mcg), red peppers (117 mcg), or mango (112 mcg).
We get vitamin D primarily from exposure to sunlight, but if your area lacks that for some or all of the year (heyyyyy Western Washington!), try a serving of salmon (447 IU), canned tuna (154 IU), and dairy or dairy alternatives with added vitamin D (115-125 IU). For many living far from the equator, a vitamin D supplement can be a wise idea, but ask your doctor to check your vitamin D status first.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
How much: 1.6 g per day for men, 1.1 g per day for women.*
How to get them: Different forms of omega-3s are absorbed and utilized at different rates. To get the most usable EPA and DHA, eat a serving of salmon (1.5-1.8 g), mackerel (1.0 g), or trout (.84 g). For non-fish-eaters, plant-based sources of omega-3s contain ALA which can be converted to EPA and DHA, but only about 15% of the ALA is converted. These ALA sources include a serving of chia seeds (5.06 g), flax seeds (2.35 g), black walnuts (.76 g), and edamame (.28 g). If you aren’t likely to meet recommendations with food, a daily omega-3 supplement can back you up. Be sure to choose one that is “burpless” or “enteric coated” to avoid fishy-smelling breath.
What they do: “Prebiotic fibers” are specific types of fiber that the bacteria in your gut like to snack on. Keeping a healthy colony of good bacteria well-fed can keep your intestinal lining strong and regulate digestion.1, 4-5 For those who already have a bacterial imbalance or a condition like inflammatory bowel disease, some of these can actually worsen symptoms. Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns about your gut health.
How much: There isn’t a specific recommendation for prebiotic fiber intake, but 25-30 grams of fiber covers it for most adults.*
How to get them: Most whole plants foods are good places to find fiber. For prebiotic fibers, go for lentils, kidney beans, apples, currants, dates, figs, and whole grains like wheat, rye, and barley.
*Recommended intakes and food nutrient contents were obtained from National Institutes of Health fact sheets. Children and pregnant or lactating women may have different recommendations.
- Bischoff SC, Barbara G, Buurman W, et al. Intestinal permeability – a new target for disease prevention and therapy. BMC Gastroenterol. 2014;14:189. Accessed from: https://bmcgastroenterol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12876-014-0189-7.
- Carabotti M, Scirocco A, Maselli MA, et al. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiotia, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol. 2015;28(2):203-209.
- Galley JD, Nelson MC, Yu Z, et al. Exposure to a single stressor disrupts the community structure of the colonic mucosa-associated microbiota. BMC Microbiol. 2014;14. Accessed from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25028050/
- Foster JA, Rinaman L, Cryan JF. Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome. Neurobiol Stress. 2017;7:124-136.
- Oriach CS, Robertson RC, Stanton C, et al. Food for thought: The role of nutrition in microbiotia-gut-brain axis. Clin Nutr Exp. 2016;6:25-38.
Regardless of your body’s size, maintaining positive habits makes a significant difference in your overall health. Sometimes, though, your health goal itself may include losing some extra fat that is causing you discomfort or health problems. Weight loss is a commonly sought after and frequently frustrating goal – mostly because there is so much confusion about how to effectively go about it! After working as a dietitian for 6 years, I’ve compiled a list of my top 15 weight loss tips to help you meet your goals. Enjoy!
1. Ease into it
I know this might be a weird thing to hear from a dietitian, but don’t come out of the gate doing every healthy thing you can think of. Plan a couple of healthy changes, add them into your life, get used to them for a few weeks, then add in a couple more.
There are a couple of reasons I recommend this – first of all, it’s much more likely that you’ll be able to stick with your new habits if you have a little time to get used to them and work out the kinks. Second, nearly everyone will run into a plateau at some point on their journey. For plateaus lasting more than 2-3 weeks, it’s nice to have a couple of healthy changes in mind to get things moving again. If you start out by maxing out your exercise and strictly limiting your food intakes, you don’t have anywhere to go when things inevitably get stuck.
2. Be part of your own plan
As tempting as it is – trust me, I know – avoid going for pre-made meal or diet plans. These plans are convenient and seem simple, but they were not made to match your lifestyle. They may get you moving along for a week or two (or even a month or two), without teaching you to make your lifestyle more healthful. Often, they contain foods you don’t care for and leave out some of your favorites – that’s no way to live! This is one reason I don’t make meal plans for my clients. Participating in the creation of your own healthy plan will help you practice making a healthy lifestyle that you actually enjoy and can follow long term. If you’re lost on how to do this, find a Registered Dietitian to help you!
3. Don’t expect (or aspire to) perfection
Do not expect to never eat your favorite foods. Do not aspire to never eat your favorite foods. It makes me sad just to think of it! You can and should include all kinds of foods that you enjoy while meeting your health goals. Do it intentionally and without guilt. Including favorite foods will help your plan be sustainable and enjoyable, and prevent out-of-control bingeing.
4. Consider your personality
A sustainable healthy lifestyle is about so much more than calorie calculations and exercise. Consider aspects of your personality that you may never have thought of in relation to nutrition and fitness before. Are you detail-oriented? Tech savvy? Flexible? Need structure? Tend to obsess? All of those things should play into your choices about which paths to take. If you’re not sure how to do that, check out this handy graphic to guide you.
5. “Begin as you mean to go on”
Originally said by Charles Spurgeon, the sentiment of the quote is to only begin a life change that you expect to be able to continue long-term. Do not begin any nutrition plan that you only intend to follow temporarily. Your plan should be sustainable. Now, sometimes, life will happen and you’ll have to change up your plan accordingly, or you’ll change it up to match your workouts, for example. The point is that you shouldn’t embark on a plan that you know beforehand will be too hard to stick with after a few months.
6. Embrace the trial and error
Approach your healthy plan as a series of trials and errors, designed to find the healthy plan that perfectly fits your life. If you try something that doesn’t work, it’s not failure, it’s information. That wasn’t the right approach for you. Try another! Keep going, and you’ll have ironed all of the wrinkles out of your plan and it will fit your lifestyle like a glove.
7. Make sure you’re eating enough
There is so much bad info out there. Weight loss is so much more than eating less and moving more. In fact, about half of the clients I see who are trying to lose weight are undereating, not overeating. Their undereating is what keeps them from being able to lose weight! Without going into the nitty-gritty hormonal details, chronic over-restriction leads your metabolism to slow down and puts your body in fat-saving/fat-storage mode. Strict calorie restrictive diets actually teach your body to store fat. The next time someone says that you should be eating 1200 calories per day to lose weight, just let that comment roll off your back. The goal is to eat exactly what your body needs, minus just a tad. Then your body won’t mind filling in the gaps with extra fat.
8. Don’t fear the carbohydrate!
While we’re on the subject of slowed metabolism, let me address one of the most common weight loss mistakes I see – undereating carbohydrates! Poor carbohydrates, they get such a bad rap as being one of the leading causes of weight gain. Not true! Carbs are the primary fuel our bodies use. When our bodies don’t get enough carbs for a while, they slow our metabolisms down to “survive the winter.”
This is why nearly every low-carb diet works spectacularly for a while, then weight tends to plateau. Typically as soon as you start adding carbohydrates back in (no matter how gradually), most of the lost weight comes back. This is because your body believes it is now summer again – time to start stocking up fat for the next period of starvation!
This is not to say that a mild decrease in carbohydrates can’t help speed weight loss, but drastic reductions are not the answer for sustainable weight loss. Lose the weight in a way that includes carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, but choose well in each category. Go for complex and nutrient-dense carbohydrates like whole fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives. Choose lean proteins like skinless poultry, lean beef or pork, fish, eggs, and nuts. Aim for liquid, plant-based fats like avocado oil and olive oil. Add plenty of antioxidant-laden veggies. 🙂
9. Hold steady (and expect plateaus)
Plateaus happen for all but the very lucky in weight-loss journeys. Sometimes they happen for a discernable reason, sometimes your body just isn’t feeling like losing weight that week. Don’t stress, and continue doing what you are doing. If your weight sticks for more than 2-3 weeks, only then is it time to consider tweaking your plan. Try adding a little time or intensity to your workouts, or add in some cross-training.
10. Build in non-scale victories
Keep goals besides weight-loss goals, because sometimes the scale just doesn’t want to reflect the hard work you’re putting in. It happens. To everyone.
My faves are achievement goals. They are the most fun! Explore new territory – maybe something you’ve always dreamed of doing but never believed you could do. Want to learn to box? Hike part (or all!) of the Pacific Crest Trail? Ride a horse? Become a personal trainer? Play tag with your grandkids? Skydive?
Pick one that fires you up. Consider your workouts training for that dream. Be consistent. Achieve it. Pick a new goal. Rinse and repeat.
11. Embrace health improvements, not just pounds lost
Along those lines, make changes for their benefit to your health, disease prevention, or an increase in energy. Believe in the good you are doing for your body by moving it more, eating more vegetables, or drinking more water. Read handouts or books about it if you need to! Sometimes it seems the only reason someone is willing to do anything healthy is to watch the number on the scale go down. While that can be a satisfying and healthy goal, the scale does not always cooperate (as mentioned above). If you’re putting all your eggs in that basket, you’re setting yourself up for frustration. Instead, notice the way your body feels – your energy levels, your digestion, your skin, the way your clothes fit. All of those are signs that you’re headed in the right direction, and none of them require weight loss.
12. Ditch an “all-or-nothing” mindset
Some people are inclined to have an “all-or-nothing” mindset, particularly about nutrition or fitness. Either they’re doing all the things – eating “clean,” working out out 5 times a week, drinking enough water, and taking their vitamins – or they’ve given up on being healthy. One day of a missed workout or a serving of french fries leads them to throw in the towel on all of their healthy habits. Health does not work this way, and neither should you think this way about your health. Every step is a step in a healthier direction. Don’t let one “imperfect” moment tell you how everything has to be. Just pick it back up and move on.
13. Steer clear of “diet lingo”
While we’re at it, avoid phrases like “eat clean,” “cheat days,” “cutting carbs” and “guilty pleasure.”
There’s nothing dirty about dessert, eating cheese is not cheating, carbs don’t need cutting (except with a bread knife), and no tasty food should make you feel guilty.
Using these phrases reinforces the mindset behind them, and that is not a helpful mindset. All food can fit in a balanced weight-loss lifestyle.
14. Rewrite your cassette tapes
This is an idea one of my clients had and I loved it. She said she had all of these old self-deprecating diet “cassette tapes” playing in her head, telling her she was too fat, shaming her for what she would choose to eat, or telling her that fruit was bad because it was too high in sugar. As she was working with me, she learned that the voices on these tapes were misinformed or just plain wrong. She had to make a conscious effort to “record over” the unhelpful voices with something she knew to be true. She actively thought about how nutritious fruit is and how the fiber helps her digestion, or how she is making many efforts to improve her health and she should not be ashamed for the choice she is making now. Rewriting her tapes enabled her to take charge from all of those old, useless philosophies that had held her back for years.
15. Believe in yourself – no matter how long it takes, you can do it.
If you follow the other tips, losing weight and making healthy changes shouldn’t be excruciating. If it is, it’s time to change your plan! I certainly won’t say it will be a walk in the park (though it may involve some of those!), but it’s doable. It takes consistency, patience, and dedication to the process over anything else. Slow and steady, and if you need some help, go and get it. There’s no shame in that. You can lose weight. You can improve your health. Believe it.
Ahhh pre-made meal plans…I gotta tell ya, I love to hate ’em. Finding them, selecting them, and most of all, following them. They are stinky, like fish. That will make more sense in a few paragraphs. Promise.
Why are they stinky, you ask? Well I would be more than happy to tell you.
The food we eat is connected to everything in our lives. Everything. Your budget, your spouse (or lack of spouse), your kids (and their preferences, allergies, and appetites), your schedule, your culture, and your mood all play in to the food you choose to eat. That being said, someone would have to thoroughly understand all of those things about you in order to select foods that are good options for a meal plan for you. Now, how many meal plan makers know you that well?
Let’s take, for example, some meal plans I’ve been on in the past for different blog experiments. For the heart healthy meal plan I followed, the ingredients increased my grocery budget by 75%! Typically I use dinner leftovers for lunches, but that meal plan used NO leftovers for ANYTHING. You know what that gets you (besides an expensive grocery trip)? A fridge full of leftovers waiting to go bad. It also leaves you cooking two meals every night – dinner and tomorrow’s lunch. Not sustainable, functional, or enjoyable.
My final gripe about following meal plans made by others? Sometimes I just don’t like the food. Like, for example, coleslaw. I’m not a huge fan, but it’s on the meal plan, because the person who made it didn’t know me and my lack of appreciation for coleslaw. So here I am, either eating coleslaw or feeling as though I somehow “failed” my meal plan because I didn’t like it.
And you know what else (yes, I lied about the final gripe part)? As a dietitian, my goal is to empower my patients to live a healthy life they love. Now even if I gave them the perfect meal plan that worked great for their lifestyle, are they empowered? What will they do when the week-long meal plan is over? Will they just eat the same food week after week forever?
Of course not.
Remember the old saying, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and feed him for the rest of his life”? Well, a meal plan is a fish.
I can give someone a meal plan fish and they can meet their nutritional goals for a week (if they manage to stick with a meal plan someone else made), or I can teach someone how to plan for themselves and meet their health and quality of life goals. Truly, they are the only ones who know themselves well enough to do it. So usually, if my client’s would like to have weekly meal plans, we set aside a portion of each of their appointments and make the meal plan together. It’s not easy and it’s awkward at first, but once they get the hang of it they are empowered. After a few sessions they’ve got the hang of it and they’re making their own meals plans (that they love, that fit their budget and their health goals). They can eat for life – on a budget and with foods they love! And that is why I love what I do.
And why I hate stinky meal plan fish. End rant.
The New Year is almost here! So why not put out my dietitian two cents on New Year’s resolutions, particularly as they apply to healthy eating goals? Do you want to become healthier in the new year? That’s excellent! The next thing to do is determine specifically how you plan to do that. Are you going to exercise more? Eat more fruits and vegetables? Drink more water?
Too often the answer is, “I’m going to lose weight by following _______ diet.”
I encourage (and plead and beg of) you NOT to make that commitment this year. Here’s why:
Whoever made _______ diet did not have you in mind.
They don’t know about your budget, your son’s food allergy, your love for lattes, your busy, busy mornings, or your picky, picky toddler. They made _______ diet with the goal of getting pounds off of people and more than likely, selling some books/supplements/shrink-wrap belts/etc along the way. You may be able to fight, claw, and scratch for a few days, weeks, or even months. But the chances that the entire diet plan fits so effortlessly into every part of your life that you can maintain it forever are slim to none. It’s likely that you’ll throw your hands up at some point and say, “I’m DONE!”
Here’s the other reality about weight-loss diets: they aren’t necessarily good for you. If the goal is only to take pounds off, most of them work like a charm. They do! The pounds come off for most people (not all) if they really follow a diet plan. The problem is, if the goal is to keep weight off, most diets are total failures for most people.
Most weight-loss diets in some way mimic starvation (often with a myriad of dietary contortions that are miserable and difficult to follow). Do you know what mimicking starvation does to your body? It tells it to live off of stored fat (hence, weight loss) and it teaches it that starvation is a very real possibility in your life. In fact, it has happened! It teaches your body that every time it gets a chance it should take every single extra calorie and store it away as fat to help you survive starvation. That means that as soon as you are sick of your diet (or reach your weight loss goal) and begin to eat normally, your body will be itching to build up its “savings account” of fat again to weather the next starvation storm.
This also means that every time you “cheat” your body will store that innocent little piece of cake or that perfectly acceptable apple crisp and send it straight to fat storage. Have you ever thought, “it seems like if I even look at dessert I gain weight”? It is practically true for some dieters. Your body will not happily burn through something that it sees as a vital deposit in a dwindling emergency fund.
Most weight-loss diets teach your body to store fat!
These diets slow down your metabolism (bye, bye energy!), prepare your body to regain weight, and let’s be honest…just suck to follow. Let’s be real.
Here’s what to do instead:
1. Don’t get married without dating first!
What I mean is, don’t commit to stick to a plan if you have no clue how well it is going to work for your body and your life. If it feels like fighting, clawing, and scratching, then it’s not the right change for you. Avoid committing to any plan that you haven’t tried out first. Honestly evaluate how it fits into your life and if it doesn’t, it’s not your failure – it’s the wrong plan!
2. Commit to a habit, then figure out how to make it work in your life.
Instead of a whole plan, pick a healthy habit. Want to drink more water? Great! Pick an ounce goal (80-100 oz is a good start for most folks) and try however many strategies you must in order to find the one that actually helps you get there. Try carrying a water bottle everywhere. Try setting mini-goals (20 oz. by 10 am, 40 by noon). Try an app like My Fitness Pal. Try a cheesier app like Plant Nanny. Try fruit-infused water. Try tea. Try filling a gallon jug of water daily. Try whatever you need to try until you get closer to where you want to be. The real work is in finding the strategy that doesn’t feel like work.
Once you’ve figured that one out, choose another habit and stack it on top of the first. Ready to eat 5 servings of fruits and veggies per day? Walk for 20 minutes 3 times per week? Regardless of the goals you pick, this test-driving strategy means you’ll have the opportunity to make each change fit your life. Once you stack up all your new (and easy to stick with) habits, just think how much healthier you’ll be! Not to mention how much more enjoyable it will be than that “clean eating” cleanse you were thinking about trying…
3. Put your blinders on
This is the toughest part and it’s a total mental game. Your cousin’s on keto, your PTO pal is on paleo, and your fitness-nut friend is fasting 16 hours a day. They’re all losing weight and you’re over here working on your water intake. It can truly be maddening. Remember from before – most any diet will get weight off. Most any diet will not keep weight off. Remind yourself how many times you’ve watched someone (or you yourself have done this…it’s okay!) diet, lose weight, then gradually gain it all back and then some. All of these people you know are setting their bodies up to gain more fat in the long run. It’s sad, but it’s true!
So try not to let them influence you. It’s so, so hard, I know! I’m a dietitian – I’ve studied nutrition for 10 years – and I can still feel myself being influenced by social media progress photos from diets and supplements that I know are not safe or effective. It is a battle. But it’s a battle worth fighting, because even if keto is the perfect fit for cousin Kathy, you are not Kathy.
You must find your healthy life.
That means that you eat what works for your body, your family, your budget, your lifestyle, and makes you happy. Put in the work to find out what that is, and you’ll be so pleased with how easy it can be to be healthy!
To wrap up our series on Eating Well on a Budget, we’ll address one of the more common questions I get as a dietitian: is it worth spending more money on organic foods?
The answer is complex and individual. There are so many factors to consider – research, finances, and health concerns to name a few. The answer is a personal choice based on your consideration of all of these factors and how they interact in your own life. In an effort to inform those decisions, we will discuss some of the research surrounding these topics.
What Makes Produce Organic?
The USDA allows the use of the term “organic” on produce and products that meet the following criteria:
- produce or ingredients are “…certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.”
- Do not contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors
- “Not grown or handled using genetically modified organisms”1
Is Organic Produce Healthier?
Food that meets organic criteria also often touts a higher price tag (49% higher, according to Consumer Reports2). So for the budget- and health-conscious consumer, the question is: does eating organic vs. non-organic foods have a significant impact on my health?
The trickiest part about answering that question is that humans are such complicated critters…it is difficult to tease out the health impacts of something like eating organic produce vs. non-organic produce because in most cases, the effects of that decision would be long-term – some even lifelong. That makes research difficult, because over the course of a lifetime there are so many confounding factors that it is darn near impossible to definitively pinpoint a specific cause or even correlational relationship. For example, since organic produce is more expensive, those who eat organically-grown produce regularly might be more likely to have higher incomes than those who don’t. If there is a difference in health outcomes, could it be due to living in less polluted areas or having better health care? I’m not sure that there will ever be a direct, consistent, and documented difference in many of cases, for that reason.
Instead, what often happens is that research tends to produce a lot of conflicting or confusing results. Here are the findings of a just a handful of different research studies:
- A study of organic vs. non-organically-grown greens found that organically grown spinach had higher concentrations of iron, zinc, and calcium than non-organically grown spinach, but no difference between organically vs. non-organically grown romaine. Non-organic romaine contained higher concentrations of magnesium than organic romaine.3
- In a review of the nutritional content of organic vs. non-organic produce, organic foods were “nutritionally superior” (based on an assessment of the content of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, nitrates and protein) in 61% of cases, while non-organic produce was “nutritionally superior” in 37% of cases.4
- The USDA’s report on pesticide testing in 2016 found that more than 99.5% of foods tested “well below” benchmark safety levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency.” 22% of the samples had no detectable pesticide residue.5
- Meanwhile, other studies have linked intakes of foods with higher pesticide residues with fertility issues. Non-organic produce with lower pesticide levels had no negative effect on fertility.6, 7
Just a little research muddies the water a bit, doesn’t it?
Is Buying Organic Produce Worth It?
In these cases I keep a mental category of recommendations that I call “common sense” recommendations. These recommendations apply to these complicated situations where research makes things less, rather than more, clear. Common sense would tell us that it is probably best for us to eat in the form in which God provided it to us. Common sense tells us that it is probably best to eat foods that was not grown with chemicals designed to kill other life forms.
That being said, these “common sense” recommendations are not wholeheartedly supported by research, as you saw above. They are not, by any means, hard and fast rules and, as mentioned earlier, there are many factors to consider.
One thing we absolutely know for sure is that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables every day is significantly beneficial for cancer prevention, heart health, reducing inflammation, and so many other health conditions.2 Those benefits exist regardless of whether those fruits and vegetables are organic or not. I can say with certainty that eating several servings per day of non-organic produce is much more beneficial than no produce at all! So that’s where it ultimately comes down to personal choice. You need to balance your own personal health goals with your own personal budget. For those who feel that they would like to limit their exposure to pesticide residues but simply find it beyond what their grocery budget allows, there are a few options:
- Prioritize your purchases: Each year, the Environmental Working Group produces a list of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. These are the produce items with the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residue, respectively. If you can’t afford to buy all organically-grown produce, you can prioritize the dirty dozen items as organic to reduce your pesticide exposure.
- Look for a cropshare or a wonky produce subscription: Small family farms and waste prevention programs have created subscription services to purchase local organic produce. Some of these programs feature fruits and vegetables of unusual size or shape that grocery stores don’t want to sell. These programs offer these items at reduced cost to consumers to prevent food waste. Check out Imperfect Produce to see if they provide these services in your area!
- Grown your own: This can certainly be a commitment, but the benefits are so delicious! You’ll enjoy fresh, tasty food grown in your own yard, containers, or window boxes. You can even use SNAP/EBT benefits to purchase seeds for growing. If you’re a total newbie, ask Google or a local librarian to help you find info on growing your own crops of delicious (and very low cost) produce.
You might also like…
- McEvoy, M. “Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Really Means.” U. S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2012/03/22/organic-101-what-usda-organic-label-means.
- “Eat the Peach, Not the Pesticide: Our new produce guidelines show you how to make the best choices for your health and for the environment.” Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/health/natural-health/pesticides/index.htm.
- Rose, S. B. et al. “Mineral Content of Organic and Conventionally Grown Spinach and Lettuce.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. September 2011. 111:9S. p A45. https://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(11)00868-6/pdf.
- Benbrook, C. et al. “New Evidence Confirms the Nutritional Superiority of Plant-Based Organic Foods.” The Organic Center. March 2008. https://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/5367_Nutrient_Content_SSR_FINAL_V2.pdf.
- “USDA Releases 2016 Annual Pesticide Data Program Summary.” United States Department of Agriculture. February 2018. https://www.ams.usda.gov/press-release/usda-releases-2016-annual-pesticide-data-program-summary.
- Chiu, Y. et al. “Association Between Pesticide Residue Intake and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Fertility Treatment With Assisted Reproductive Technology.” Journal of the American Medical Association. January 2018. 178:1. p 17-26. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2659557?alert=1.
- Chiu, Y. et al. “Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction. June 2015. 30:6. p. 1342-1351. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25824023.
So far in this Eating Well on a Budget series, we’ve already covered several ways you can save money on groceries right away – meal planning, buying in bulk, effective couponing, and preventing food waste. Today I’ll share about one of the things I do throughout the year to save money in the future: food preservation.
This is one of the ways I am able to keep our grocery budget at $100 per week for a family of four. When you preserve delicious in-season produce purchased at rock-bottom prices, you aren’t going to be paying absurdly high prices for sub-par flavorless produce the rest of the year. Each year I spend about $250 on produce to preserve, which would add $4.80 to each week’s budget, though I hope to reduce that by growing a garden next summer. Even without the garden, it’s definitely cheaper than buying fresh (and not as tasty) produce throughout the year.
Start with this post to help you know when to buy the cheapest and most delicious produce en masse. Buy them in boxes from a local farm stand. Start small – you can always adjust the amount next year. Then, decide how you’d like to preserve all that tasty nutrition. We’re going to talk about three easy methods of food preservation: freezing, drying, and canning.
Freezing is the simplest method of food preservation, as it does not require special equipment and takes the least amount of time and preparation. Often, all you need is a freezer bag and a permanent marker. Personally, I choose to freeze berries, jams, corn, and meat. I like the way these foods come out when frozen much better than when they are canned or dried. Applesauce and stock are great frozen as well. For most foods, you can simply place them in a zip-close freezer bag with the date and description written on it until you are ready to use them, though it is much easier if you take a little time to prep them first.
- Berries: Wash berries and remove stem, if there is one. Spread berries one layer thick on baking sheets and freeze for two hours. Remove from sheets and place into labeled freezer bags. Freezing on sheets makes them much easier to separate and use throughout the year.
- Jams: Prepare according to freezer jam pectin instructions (or try a chia jam recipe like this one – I haven’t done this myself yet, but I plan to try it…let me know if you have experience with chia jam!) and pour into a labeled freezer-safe container (leave 1” of space for expansion).
- Corn: Carefully remove corn kernels from cobs with a sharp knife (hold the cob vertically and shave down and away from you). Place kernels in labeled freezer bags.
- Meat: Place meat in a labeled freezer bag. If you want, you can trim and cut it first, but you don’t need to.
- Applesauce/stock: Follow the instructions on your favorite applesauce or stock recipe. Pour cooled applesauce/stock into labeled freezer-safe containers (leave 1” of space for expansion).
Keep tabs on what’s in your freezer – don’t let perfectly good food sink and sink and sink into the deep-freeze abyss, only to be tossed due to years-old freezerburn. This process is about saving money, not tossing it! Taking quick stock during your budget-driven meal planning is a great way to make sure you’re cycling through things and saving money!
Tip: You certainly don’t need one, but a vacuum sealer is a handy tool for freezing, as it removes all of the air from the bags your food is preserved in, saving space and preserving freshness even more!
Also very simple, drying/dehydrating foods can be a great way to preserve nutritious food for meals and snacks
throughout the year. You can dehydrate some foods in your oven, or you can use a dehydrator. They are about $30-40 online or in most kitchen or home goods stores.
Instructions for dehydration times vary depending on the food and recipe you are using. In general, the steps involve preparing the food you’d like to dehydrate, popping it in your oven or dehydrator, and waiting. It’s pretty much that simple.
For some example recipes, check out how you can make your own banana chips, raisins, beef jerky, or dehydrated meals for backpacking or an emergency kit. The dried food possibilities are pretty endless.
Tip: If you’re drying onions or garlic in a dehydrator, place it outside while it’s working. Trust me. Your house will smell like a sulfurous vegetable for days.
Canning is the most seemingly intimidating method of food preservation, and while it is a little more labor-intensive, it’s typically much easier than most people think! The simplest method is water bath canning, which can be used for high-acid fruits. For water bath canning, all you’ll need are prepared fruit, water or extra-light simple syrup, canning jars with matching rings and lids, a jar lifter, a canning rack, and a very large stock pot. No pressure gauges, no fancy equipment (though if you can spend a tiny bit on a canning kit like this one it will definitely make it more convenient).
Basic steps for water bath canning
These steps are an overview – please check out more detailed instructions before canning to ensure safe results. 🙂
- While completing remaining steps, heat enough water to boiling in your stock pot to cover all of your canning jars when full.
- Place prepared fruit (in most cases, this means removing pits, stems, and peels, but check out the recommendations here) in hot, clean jars, leaving 1/2”-1” space at the top.
- Ladle hot syrup over top of fruit, leaving 1/2”-1” space at the top.
- Wipe the top rim of the jar with a clean rag to remove any debris or syrup. Place a hot lid on the jar and tighten a ring on top of it.
- Place jar gently in stock pot. When all jars are placed in stock pot, cover and bring to a boil. Boil for the recommended processing time for your specific fruit and size of jar.
- When processing is complete, gently remove the jars from the pot with your jar lifter. Place on a cooling rack in a non-drafty area and avoiding touching them as they cool. Over the course of the next hour or two, you should hear the satisfying sounds of the jars popping sealed. Congratulations!
See? Not so bad! In fact, it’s pretty darn fun, especially if you can with a friend or family member. Many hands makes light work! You can enjoy your home-canned goodies all year round.
You can also can lower-acid foods through a method called pressure canning. This is slightly more involved, but not by a lot. Follow these instructions for safe and simple pressure canning.
Tip: Home-canned fruits and vegetables will ruin you for the store-bought versions. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.
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