Five Money-Saving Tips to Eat Healthy During a Tough Economy

Shopping and saving at the Organic Transformation, personal training, weight loss in Raleigh, NC

With food and energy costs on the rise and job losses mounting, many families are finding trips to the grocery store a bit more painful. With such a turbulent economy, any way to save a little is helpful. By making some minor changes, families can still eat nutritiously and cut expenses.

1. Plan out your meals.

Most people eat based solely on convenience. This carries a higher price tag and poorer nutrition. Simply buying more fresh foods and planning meals for the week will save a bundle and provide the nutrients needed to live healthier.

2. Substitute healthier protein sources.

Meat purchases are often significantly more expensive than good protein alternatives like beans, eggs, nuts and seeds. The protein found in eggs most closely matches that of human tissue, so the body uses it efficiently. Any type of bean – pinto, red, kidney or black – is an inexpensive, nutritional choice that can be added to soups, salads, stir-fries, rice or pasta dishes. Nuts and seeds are a healthy snack the entire family can enjoy.

3. Minimize the purchase of prepared foods.

Replace meals such as instant oatmeal and boxed rice meals with less-processed grains including brown rice, wild rice, barley and old-fashioned oatmeal. Most of these can be bought in bulk, improving savings.

4. Eat seasonally.

Choosing seasonal fruits and vegetables can help consumers stretch their budgets while maintaining good nutrition. Apples and oranges are at their peak in the winter. Buy them by the bag and save even more.

5. Drink healthier.

Cutting out the morning trip to Starbucks, or sodas and bottled fruit juices, will not only save money, but will lower sugar and sugar substitute levels. Try clean water flavored with a squeeze of lemon or lime. Herbal teas with a touch of honey or Stevia are another good option.

USDA Free Range Chicken & Eggs

I always thought that a “Free-Range” chicken was allowed to roam freely around green pastures eating bugs and all kinds of other insects. However, what I discovered through doing some research (via internet and talking with local farmers that raise free-range chickens and sell their meat and eggs) threw me for a loop.

Photos of Free range chicken and eggs at in Raleigh, NC

What exactly is

USDA & Free Range Chicken

The USDA allows for any chicken raised with access to the outdoors to be labeled “free-range”. Nowhere does it state that the chickens have to actually go outdoors; ACCESS is the only legal binding verbiage of that rule. They may still be raised in the same overpopulated poultry house type production and be labeled “free-range”. Furthermore, those farmers can charge more for their “free-range” product. Certified organic chickens may also be raised like this. A trailer full of chickens, raised in coops stacked 3 tiers high on top of one another, can be labeled “free range” as long as there is a door on that confining facility. I bet you didn’t know that – I know I didn’t.

USDA Standards for Free Range Eggs

What’s even scarier is that the USDA has NO STANDARDS on free-range eggs and allows egg farmers to freely label any egg as a “free range” egg. This also means that chickens bearing “free-range” eggs have NOT necessarily been fed a better diet than those raised in a factory farm. In other words, the hens may still have been fed the same GMO or animal byproducts as in factory farming. It is mind-blowing that I have been spending more money on buying “free-range, hormone-free, antibiotic-free” eggs, when it really doesn’t mean anything.

Hormone Free Chicken

While we’re on this topic, one thing does require clarification. Hormones have not been approved for use in U.S. egg or poultry production by the FDA. So, there’s really no such thing as a chicken with hormones anyway. Those farmers labeling their chickens as “hormone-free” are either using that term out of ignorance of this fact (highly unlikely) or they’re simply trying to con you into thinking their chickens are better than anyone else’s. Either way, it makes no difference, so ignore that on the label. This applies to both organic and conventional.

Perhaps I sound like a broken record when advising people to talk to local farmers and find out about their food, but the reason I say this is that sometimes local farmers won’t go out and get organic certified. Most of their business comes from loyal customers who know about the true amount of labor and love that farmer is putting into that food. Why go out and become “organic certified” when it no longer means what it used to? It would appear that greed has taken hold where it hurts us the most; in our nutrition.

Marion Nestle in “What to Eat” – on Eggs

To sum up, let me leave you with a little of what the well-known nutritionist Marion Nestle states about eggs in her book “What to Eat” –

From a nutritional standpoint, eggs are eggs. Turning eggs into a “designer” food is a great way to get you to pay more for them but there are less expensive and easier ways to get vitamin E, selenium, lutein, and omega-3s from foods. If you do not give a hoot about how the eggs are produced, buy the cheapest ones you can find. The shell color makes no nutritional difference.

If you do care enough about how the hens are treated to pay more for eggs, buy Certified Humane (but not United Egg Producers Certified). If you also care about what the hens are fed, or just want to cast your food vote for the organic movement, buy eggs that are Certified Organic. Whatever eggs you decide to buy, don’t eat too many of them – or buy the smallest size. Small eggs still have a lot of cholesterol, but less than the extra-large and jumbo sizes.

Beef – Conventional, Grass-Fed or Organic?

For those of you that are joining in from our last blog, I know we promised our next blog to include the truth behind Grass-Fed beef AND free range chicken. Unfortunately as my research was underway, I uncovered so much disturbing information that I didn’t want to be neglectful and leave anything out. So, I decided to deal exclusively with grass-fed beef today and leave the next blog for the topic of free-range chicken and their eggs.

My research started with my usual sources such as Google, Wikipedia and I tried hard to dig into FDA and USDA. Here’s what I found. Basically, there are two ways to raise cattle in United States. One method is very profitable and predominant, and called a feedlot system. The other method is “Grass-Fed”.

Feedlot / Feedyard Cattle

Feedlot Cattle image

Feedlot / Feedyard Cattle

From Wikipedia “A feedlot or feedyard is a type of Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) (also known as “factory farming”) which is used for finishing livestock, notably beef cattle, prior to slaughter. They may contain thousands of animals in an array of pens.” This means the calf is raised on the pasture with its mother to feed on her milk and graze until it reaches an entry-level weight of 650 lbs. It is then placed in a pen and fed a “specialized” diet consisting mainly of hay, corn, sorghum and other by-products of food processing. These by-products are usually cottonseed meal, soybean meal, sugar beet waste, molasses and minerals. In order to get as much fat deposits (marbling) as possible in the animals muscles, feedlot cattle are fed a very nutritionally dense diet. In addition to this unnatural diet, feedlot cattle are usually given growth hormone to achieve faster growth as well as antibiotics, which they wouldn’t need if they were able to graze freely.

Grass-Fed Cattle

Grass-Fed Cattle Image

Grass-Fed Cattle

Grass-Fed cattle spend their lives on the pasture and are allowed to graze freely on fresh pasture, hay or grass silage. This means they do not need antibiotics, genetically modified growth promoting hormones or a diet that they were not meant to eat.

Ruminents, Corn & Acidosis

You see, a cow is a ruminant. It has a rumen which is a 45-gallon “fermentation tank” in which resident bacteria convert cellulose into protein and fats. After this food is properly broken down they regurgitate their food, and chew it more thoroughly until proper digestion has taken place. One of the most serious illnesses that can happen to a cow on corn is a condition known as feedlot bloat. The rumen is always producing a lot of gas in which the cattle normally belch out during rumination. However, in a cattle on a diet high in starches and little roughage, rumination all but stops. At this point a foamy slime forms that traps gas, and the rumen expands like a balloon. Unless immediate action is taken (usually by shoving a tube down the esophagus,) the animal suffocates. The pH of a rumen is neutral, unlike our stomach which is highly acidic. A corn based diet can also give the cattle acidosis, which in serious cases can cause death but typically renders the animal very sick. Cattle affected by acidosis stop feeding, pant and salivate excessively, eat dirt and paw at their bellies. This condition can cause diarrhea, ulcers, bloating, liver disease and weaken the immune system. In these confined environments, any disease from polio to pneumonia can run rampant. In short, cattle, sheep, goats and deer are ruminants, and as such these animals were created by God to eat and live off grasses. Any diet other than that, endangers not only these animals’ lives, but also those humans that consume them.

“Cattle, sheep, goats and deer . . . were created by God to eat and live off grasses. Any diet other than that, endangers not only these animals’ lives, but also those humans that consume them.”

Avoiding Hormones in Beef

If Grass-Fed beef is something your family cannot afford than at the very least you should consider purchasing organic beef. Although organic beef may be raised in a confined feedlot system they cannot be given antibiotics and growth hormones. Also take this into consideration – the European Union has banned US beef from being imported. The reason for this ban is that the EU prohibits hormones in beef – something that the US still regularly allows to be administered to cattle. Per an article written by, the hormones allowed for use in US cattle are estradiol (a sex hormone that represents the major estrogen in humans), testosterone, progesterone (a steroid hormone), zeranol (a non-steroidal estrogen agonist), trenbolone (a steroid used on livestock to increase appetite and muscle mass. This drug is a schedule III drug and is illegal for human use), melengestrol (a steroid hormone), clenbuterol (A non-steroidal anabolic and metabolism accelerator), dexamethasone (anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant) and triamcinolone-acetonide (a type of corticosteroid, about 8 times more effective than prednisone). This is serious stuff. If the consumption of meats containing these hormones doesn’t scare you, it should.

U.S. Wellness Meats Logo

Buying Beef Locally

The local farmer’s market is one of the best places to get your food. As a boy who was raised in Albania for the first 13 years of my life, when we came to the United States one of the things we had to get used to was that we did not know the source of the food we ate. It was just there, waiting for us to purchase at the supermarket. We did not know the farmer that grew it, nor did we know by what methods. At the time we did not think any more of it; it just became a fact of life. Now that I am older and see for my own eyes the importance of knowing where your food comes from, I’m much more selective. It may be more inconvenient to seek out and go to your local farmer’s market, but REMEMBER! your health is worth more than the cost of gas or any other excuses you may come up with! Getting your kids involved in this process can be as much fun and educational for them as well as future generations down the road. I have personally had the pleasure to meet with Mr. Bailey Newton of Triple B farms in Bullock, North Carolina, who sells his product at the Wake Forest Farmer’s Market. He goes out of his way to rotate his animals’ pastures daily, allowing them to graze on native grasses. He maintains fertile soils and green grass pastures by relying on compost and time-tested pasture grazing methods. The people responsible for your nutrition and well being should know you and care about you as much as they do for their families. After all, you are a part of their family.