Back in August, 2011, I wrote a blog post that addressed one of the most common objections to low-carbohydrate eating. Folks say, “I can’t afford to eat that way,”, as if it’s some sort of mantra. And more than two years after writing that first post, people are still reading it. People still want to know how to succeed without breaking the bank, so I thought I’d share a few more thoughts on the subject of low-carb, high-fat eating when you’re on a budget.
My 2011 post is by no means irrelevant. I still use all those strategies today, but I think there’s always an opportunity to say more when it comes to one’s budget and healthy eating. Money doesn’t have to be a barrier. It certainly hasn’t been for our family anyway.
For those of us low-carb “veterans”, it’s usually pretty easy to rattle off a quick list of money-saving tips and tricks. A key point that’s often overlooked though is mindset. At the Wittekind homestead, we do our best to be “producers” rather than “consumers”. This critical shift in perspective keeps us asking ourselves, “How can we produce more of the things we need to save money?” And the answer to that question drives decisions that impact our budget in real ways.
I know. Not everyone can have chickens for fresh eggs like we do. Not everyone can grow a garden. But if you start thinking in terms of baby steps, you can make real change.
For instance, how many folks use fresh herbs in their cooking? (If you’re not one of those folks, I suggest you try it at least once. You’ll be hooked!) Have you noticed how much those herbs cost? It’s insane! Fresh herbs probably have some of the highest profit margins out there because they’re relatively easy to grow but command a high cost in the market. Interestingly enough, most of those herbs are SO easy to grow in your own kitchen. All you need is a window with some decent light and a little bit of water. Heck, I started with a Chia Herb Garden back in 2007, and it worked pretty well.
Later, I learned other tricks. Did you know that you can propagate green onions and celery in water? I don’t use celery, so I haven’t tried that one myself, but I’ve grown green onions in water many times. It works pretty well. I’ll bet you could even use the same trick with leeks, and those things are EXPENSIVE!
Salad boxes are another great option inside. They don’t take up a lot of room, and the greens grow quickly. It doesn’t work at my house though because I have an old cat who loves to eat my seedlings. I guess nobody told her she’s a carnivore!
Something else that goes along with the “producer” mindset is home canning or freezing. Last year after Thanksgiving, I got some turkeys for a song. A friend and I canned the meat and we made bone broth from the left-over carcasses. Now, that might be a little more work than some folks have the time for, but since I’m a stay-at-home mom and my friend is retired, we had the time. The turkey was awesome, and it only had two ingredients — turkey and salt. And the stock was out of this world! Better still, the stock was almost effortless. I put some veggie trimmings, the carcasses, and some water in my stock pot and let it simmer for hours. When it was nice and thick, I strained it into a huge bowl and allowed it to cool some. Then I put it in my fridge so I could skim off the fat. (If I weren’t going to can it, I wouldn’t have skimmed the fat, but this extra step made for a better end product.) Including all those steps AND loading my jars, I think I put a whopping 20 minutes worth of work into that stock, and there’s NO way I could have bought better at the store. Better yet, there were no weird ingredients.
Another point that’s overlooked when considering budget and low-carb, high-fat, real food eating plans is medical expenses. When you first start out, you probably ARE spending more money at the grocery store. There’ll be a bit of a learning curve as you figure out what you like, what your family likes, and how hungry you’ll be. But by the time you get a handle on food costs, you’ll likely be seeing improvements in your health that’ll lead to fewer doctor’s visits, fewer prescriptions medications, and fewer days of missed work (due to illness or disease.) It’s not at all uncommon for a person to drop all their prescription medications just because they’ve made the switch to eating low-carb, high-fat, REAL food! (Just to be clear, I’m not advocating anyone drop meds without consulting their doctor first.)
Of course it goes without saying that people can save money by not buying “junk” food. Treats ARE an occasional part of my eating plan, but I make them myself. I don’t (usually) buy them from a store. Not only are the ingredients substandard, but food companies have come to capitalize on the whole “net carb” notion that allows them to sell junk food for a small fortune simply because it says “Made with Splenda” on the front or “Just 2 net carbs per serving”. There’s no reason for folks to buy into that nonsense, and it doesn’t help the budget one iota!
Lastly, one of the most important money-saving tips I can share with you is this. Get fat-adapted! When our bodies burn fat for energy instead of sugar, we simply require less food. Because of the appetite-suppressing effects of nutritional ketosis, I often find myself struggling to consume adequate calories. Because I require less food, I can buy more premium foods (organic, grass-fed, etc) and I’m STILL spending less at the grocery store. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it really works that way for me, and I can compare it in very real terms.
My husband eats a low-carb diet, but he is not fat-adapted. Now, I realize there are inherent differences in food requirements for men and women, but the differences in the way we eat are stunning. My husband usually consumes about 500 calories around breakfast time. (This includes his first cup of coffee with half and half.) Lunch is usually somewhere around 700 or 800 calories. Supper is another 800 to 1000 calories. And of course, we can’t forget the snacks that come sometimes before but ALWAYS after dinner. Those snacks usually account for another 300 to 500 calories worth of food.
Now, for those of you who’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I think calories are like points on “Whose Line Is It Anyway” — ya know, “The game’s made up and the points don’t matter.”? Because Fred’s not fat-adapted though, not only is he consuming more calories, but those calories are coming from foods that are inherently more expensive.
Think of it this way. A 5-oz steak topped with two tablespoons of garlic butter is more than plenty for me. That’s about 500 calories at a cost of about $1.96, give or take a few pennies. It wouldn’t be unusual, on the other hand, for my husband to eat a 14-oz steak topped with two TEASPOONS of garlic butter. That’s about 910 calories at a cost of around $4.90. See how the difference can add up?
In the end, I suppose our best defense against out-of-control food costs is creativity and determination. I find that when I’ve set my mind on something, it’s amazing how creative I can be in order to make things happen. I understand that it can be hard for folks on the initial buy-in, but as Robb Wolf likes to say, just try it for 30 days and see how you look, feel, and perform. After that, I suspect the determination and creativity will be enough to carry you forward so that you too can SAVE money with a low-carb, high-fat, real food eating plan.