10 Tips to eat healhty on a budget

Eating healthy on a budget is more than doable: it’s easy. In fact, nature “programmed” foods exactly to be nutritious and cheap. It’s humans who complicated everything: they turned foods into commercial products, frequently devoided of nutrients and pumped in price. 007-orange-money-bank

Go for nature. If you want to eat healthy on a budget, chose foods that arrived to your plate with a minimum human intervention. As I often say: “the less humans took part in the process of creating the food, the better it is”.

The healthiest foods are those that are basically harvested and brought to the grocery store. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains. Otoh, the unhealthiest foods are those that are created with long and expensive industrial processes. Think to red meat (often full of hormones and toxins) and low quality cheese (all salt and cholesterol).

To this general rule of thumb there are few exceptions. For example fish and organic products (healthy but expensive). Or sugary snacks and fast food (harmful but cheap). So a little extra judgement is needed, a judgement I used to write the following 10 tips. I hope they’ll be useful to you to save money and eat well.


Legumes are a marvellous source of proteins (other than minerals and vitamins) and much, much cheaper than meat. The cost of beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas is ridiculous. 007-cheap-legumes

I suggest you to buy the dried ones to boil at home, rather that the canned pre-cooked ones.

With a cheap bag of dried legumes you can prepare many portions of a proteic meal, with the advantage that you can boil them at moderate temperature for longer (saving more nutrients).



Nutrition is, somehow, really democratic. No matter if you’re poor or rich, the best thing you can do for your health is the same: have a diet abundant in fruits and vegetables. And fresh fruits and vegetables are generally very cheap. 007-affordable-fruit

If organic products are out of your reach, prefer fruits with thick skin (like orange, banana, melon, pineapple) or those that anyway aren’t in the “black” list for pesticides.

For example non-organic apples, peaches, apricots and grapes have frequently high levels of pesticides, while kiwi, broccoli, cabbage, onions have generally low levels of pesticides (even if non-organic).


As I wrote above, fish is generally expensive. But there are some interesting exceptions: small oily fish. That kind of fish which is caught in big amounts in the oceans (cheap) and which is full of omega3 fatty acids (healthy). 007-sardines

For example mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herrings. They are all very affordable, and their advantage over big predator fish (like tuna) is that they tend to accumulate less contaminants.





White bread, white rice and all the products based on white flour are definitely cheap. The problem here is on the health side: all these “white carbs” are unhealthy. whole-rye-bread

Ideally, you should eatbrown carbsfrom whole grains. But whole grains (grains that are more nutritious because their germ and bran were not removed) may be slightly riskier if non-organic (the external cortex is kept, and there’s where pesticides may accumulate).

So keep an extra eye open: if you find whole grain products that are organic AND even affordable take them. But if the organic version is too expensive for you, I would still prefer whole grain products (even if non organic) than any white refined product.


Key tip for eating healthy on a budget: prepare most of your own meals at home. It’s time well spent: you can use fresh ingredients, reduce the chemical additive007-homemade-egg-pastas, supervise the cooking.

When you eat outside not only you spend much more, you’re frequently vulnerable to those that I call the “big risks of the restaurant“: receive partially burnt foods (burnt spots on pizza, toasts, meat are carcinogenic), get foods with excessive amounts of salt or sugar, and eat foods cooked in (very) crappy oils.



The best thing you can do to shorten the production chain is to grow your own food. 007-home-grown-vegetables

If you have a space for gardening and have time to work on it, you can use it to grow delicious vegetables. They will cost almost zero and they will be super fresh and healthy.

If you can’t do the work by yourself, buying locally from a farmer is still a wise move.


This tip may may sound weird in this context, but it’s well know by nutritionists that a lot of people confuse thirst with hunger. 007-tap-water

What happens, is that a surprising percentage of people on the “western diet” live in a state of perennial dehydration.

They simply don’t drink enough water. The consequent thirst is often confused with hunger, and this mechanism brings to overeating. And overeating brings to addictional expenses for unhealthy, unnecessary food.


Micronutrients (minerals, vitamins, omega3) are those nutrients that are needed by our body in small quantities, but they are still needed.

There’s no need to buy commercial multivitamins, the same nutrients are present in a pletora of natural herbs and seeds. If almonds, walnuts, flaxseed, chia see007-natural-supplement-seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (and so on) seem not so cheap to you, I’ll tell you something instead: they are.

You need small quantities of these, so yes a bag of walnuts can cost even 4-5 dollars, but you can eat 1-2 walnuts a day and be just fine. A bag will last for weeks or months. And a teaspoon of flaxseed per day is more than enough. Not to mention herbs: they give taste to your meals, add some good phytochemicals and are practically free.


It’s easier to get better deals if you buy your food in bulk, rather than buying small quantities often. 007-discounted-bulk-food

Grocery stores apply special offers to “family packs”, so keep an eye open for these. This is valid for all the products that don’t expire quickly and can be stored in your kitchen.




Eating healthy on a budget is the art that many mums know well, as the are used to recycle leftovers. 007-recycled-leftovers

Especially with kids, there is often something left in the plate at the end of a meal.

Learn from mums: if it’s not too messy, there’s no hurry to throw that food away. Give it a second chance tomorrow, possibly baking the leftovers in the oven rather than frying them in oil.

The HCG diet scam

I noticed that this HCG weight loss program is generating a lot of interest recently, so I started researching about it. Hormones injections? 500 calories per day? It didn’t take me much time to start thinking that it was a scam. But I kept on researching, and while I was studying the bohcg-injections-bisoks and the articles, the idea that this diet is a nonsense became robust.

First, I think in the process of evaluating information you should always consider from what source that information comes from.

The idea of the HCG weight loss program comes from Albert Simeons, an english endocrinologist who died in 1970. In his book Pounds and inches a new approach to obesity he explains his theories about obesity. They made me roll my eyes as I read them. Here some pearls

I have always held that overeating is the result of the disorder, not its cause.

Good starting point to create a new crazy diet: switching causes with effects.

Obesity in all its many forms is due to an abnormal functioning of some part of the body.

Of course, there is “some part somewhere” that causes obesity…

Persons suffering from this particular disorder will get fat regardless of whether they eat excessively, normally or less than normal. A person who is free of the disorder will never get fat, even if he frequently overeats.

Really. And what about the poor areas of Africa? There should be fat people there too even if they are starving. And what about the US, with one of the fattest populations on the planet? Is it only a coincidence that their diet is frequently full of junk food?

If I can be forgiven for comparing my fellow-endocrinologists with wicked godmothers, HCG has certainly been their Cinderella, and I can only romantically hope that its extraordinary effect on abnormal fat will prove to be its fairy godmother.

I usually appreciate personality and sense of humor even in professional work, but this book clearly isn’t anywhere professional.

However, let’s see what this quick-fix diet consists of. In short, it’s about starving yourself with a 500 calories diet and adding HCG. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin is an hormone produced by pregnant women in their early pregnancy, with a peak at about 13 weeks. Simeons says he observed a reduction of abnormal-excessive fat in pregnant women on a calorie deficient diet, deducing that this effect was due to HCG.

His theory was that this hormone somehow programs the hypothalamus to trigger the consumption of this excess of fat instead of lean muscle, thus could be used to realize the dream of many: lose fat only where it’s needed.

According to this, Simeons created the following HCG weight loss program:

STANDARD CYCLE (described more in detail in the book)

  • Weight: to lose up to 15 pounds (7 kg).
  • Duration: 26 days. The duration remains the same even if the patient needs to lose less than 15 pounds.
  • Diet: 500 calories per day.
  • HCG: 23 daily injections from the first day. No injections in the last 3 days, only the 500 calories diet.

HEAVIER CYCLE (the book is not very precise here, the following comes out making two counts)

  • Weight: to lose more than 15 pounds (7 kg) but less than 34 pounds (15 kg)
  • Duration: ~48 days. The treatment stops earlier if the 34 pounds loss is reached.
  • Diet: 500 calories per day.
  • HCG: 40 injections here. He suggests only 6 injections per week to delay a sort of immunization effect that may appear after a while. That makes ~45 days. Not repeated, but I deduce that the last 3 days HCG-free thing is still valid, that makes ~48 days.

While the 40 injections limit is to avoid immunization to HCG, the 34 pounds limit is clearly intended not to weaken the body too much.

MORE CYCLES: to lose more than 34 pounds (15 kg) the treatment can be repeated. But after a 40 days cycle, a resting period of 6 weeks must be observed to make the hormone effective again.

This is basically what the HCG weight loss program is. Before I go with further details, I need to point out two things.

Simeons says clearly that the assumption of HCG must happen through injections. This is the original version of the HCG weight loss program, and drops are never cited in his book. But injections means needles, and this creates a big problem for the industry of fraudsters who market this diet: people is uncomfortable with the idea of being injected daily with needles. hcg-drops

So how did they make the hormone assumption more inviting? Drops! Easy to take for customers, easy to ship worldwide. The funniest thing is that since FDA declared the use of HCG fraudulent (December 2011) some suppliers started to produce HCG free drops!

Geniuses. Selling HCG products without HCG.

Second, there are a lot of misunderstandings and errors in internet about this subject. I browsed many sites that promote the HCG weight loss program to understand what it was.

But it’s even hard to find a consistent description of the plan: time schedules and hormone dosages vary from site to site. I am pretty sure that many authors of those sites have never read the Simeons book.


Back to the diet plan, there is something totally crazy.

Have you seen the program above? Well, you can’t just go to your physician and start it like nothing. No, you have to prepare. There is a prerequisite to start the HCG weight loss program that doctor Simeons explain well: you must eat like a pig for one week.

I’m not kidding. He says that since the 500 calories is very hard (I would not say the contrary, of course) before starting the program the patient must stock all the normal fat reserves by eating to capacity:

highly concentrated foods such as milk chocolate, pastries with whipped cream sugar, fried meats particularly pork, eggs and bacon, mayonnaise, bread with thick butter and jam, etc“.

He’s basically saying that you should eat some of the most harmful, chemical-loaded, processed foods around. I could understand if there was some logic about the calorie quantities (there is not).

But here we are not talking about simple highly caloric foods, that cause obesity instead of preventing it. Here we are talking about foods that have many other side effects on the health of a person. Diabetes, high cholesterol, dental caries to name a few. This is pure folly.


Take a look in the websites that market the HCG weight loss program. You will find enthusiast tones. You fill find lots of evidence from people swearing on the effectiveness of the hormone there. But if you dig deeper you can find real sites not sponsored by the sellers, and forums in those sites where the truth comes out.

People writing that they’re not able to follow the plan, because it’s too strict. They talk about the cravings, the hunger, the exceptions they do in the night, the early weight loss (due to the starvation) always followed by new gains of weight.

Don’t fall into this trap. Don’t think in terms of 26 days or 48 days, because diet is not something that is done for a short period. Diet is something you have for life, and it’s based on your lifestyle and attitude.

You can’t stress your organism by eating crap for one week, then starve it for some weeks, then come out of the period with a fit body and expect your life to be the perfect. This is just a nonsense.

So, stay away from the HCG diet, in my opinion is definitely a scam.

The bodybuilding freak and the diet obsession

I’ve been training at a gym for about 17 years so far, so I know the subject very well.

Have you ever seen those bodybuilding freaks in the weight room? Super muscular? Brown tanned? Always talking about diets and proteins? Always mixing some powders in their bottles? With their singlet effect “nipple I see it / I don’t see it”? bodybuilding-freak-singlet

Well, in my gym there is a conspicuous group. When I see one of them I can’t avoid to formulate mentally a question: “can you please stay 5 entire seconds without looking at yourself in the mirror!?”.

He enters the gym and makes a first check in the mirror on the wall. He talks in front of his mate, but he doesn’t look at the person -no- he is checking his abs eyes asquint. During the biceps exercise he is completely focused on his reflection in motion. To go from point A to point B in the gym he makes an itinerary that optimizes his mirror exposure. Recognized? Yes, I am sure that if you go to a gym you have your local version of Mr bodybuilding freak.

The funniest episode happened some time ago. My gym is on two floors, on the upper floor there are the machines for the cardio activities, on the ground floor there is the weight room. From the upper floor you can see the weight room below.

So, I was upstairs on the treadmill, and I was watching these two heavy guys doing the bench press downstairs. It was hard not to watch them, since they were making grunts and screams that you could hear in all the building.

The scenario was terribly funny: the guy who was exercising was lying down on the bench, while the other one was standing up over him for “help”. I’ve never understood why bodybuilders always lift more than what they are able to, and then need someone else’s help. Can’t they just lift less weight? bodybuilding-freaks-ridiculous-workout

By the way, the point is that the second guy was exactly at the height of the first guy’s pelvis. From my angle, I was basically watching these two guys, one over the other, moving rhythmically, sweating, grunting, with expressions of pain on their face.

I had to suppress the laughters because it looked so much like a dirty, crazy scene of sex in public.


Now, let’s get serious and go to the core of this article. I made the premise about the relationship between the bodybuilding freak and the mirror because it explains well some aspects of another relationship, the one between the bodybuilding freak and the diet.

Frequently, the first concern of bodybuilders in approaching the diet is aesthetics.

They count every carbohydrate, add plenty of proteins, take supplements, all with the aim of growing their muscles and have a statuesque body with sharp lines.

And it works. To get such kind of body, this is exactly how a diet should be. Plenty of proteins for growing muscle mass, few carbs and fats for reducing roundness and creating the furrows between the muscles, vitamins and minerals for the general health. Not only it works, it also produces results that are desirable under many points of view.

For instance, a solid muscular structure is an important support for the bones. And I know this very well, since I have a vertebral disease. To manage this disease I have to train my back muscles very well so they can support my wrecky spine.

Moreover, having more muscles and less fat is just good for living. When you climb a ladder, when you walk, and when in general you make every movement there will be more muscles that work FOR (when you raise a leg it’s the muscle that raises the leg) and there will be less fats that work AGAINST (when you raise a fatty leg you have to lift that fat with more effort).

And finally yes, from a pure aesthetic perspective, bodybuilding freaks look handsome. Unless they are excessively inflated, they are very attractive.

Good points no? So why not become one of them?


Eating becomes an obsession for our friend bodybuilding freak, very easily.

Some time ago a man in the locker room was discussing his workout diet with a friend. He was listing the grams of proteins and carbs that he was eating according to his plan. He was eating something like X grams of carbohydrates per day, and saying with a certain resignation tone that it was very hard not to eat more.

He said: “I am becoming crazy. I just eat a handful of rice per meal. If I drop a grain of rice on the floor, I search for it”.

An obsession and a distraction.

Yes, being beautiful and muscular is great, but is it worth the consumption of so much of your energy, attention, time? I say, if you are smart the answer is no. There is so much else in life that you miss if you are continuously focused on having a perfect mirror look, and therefore a super rigorous diet.

Unless you are a model, an actor, or do something where beauty is crucial, there is simply no reason for devoting so much of your attention to food. It’s a disproportioned investment.

Usually these guys that we see in the gym, shaking their powders and eating their energy bars while they hang on the machines, spend so much time pursuing their muscled version in the mirror that they don’t have much time for other.

They forget that diet is a tool, not a finish line.

What I mean by “a tool”? I mean that you’re that ideally you should go on a diet to obtain health, mental clarity, physical performance. And beauty, too. Instead, you’re not dieting for dieting.

If you forget this, you’ll end up counting your grains of rice too.


Finally, let’s make a little nutritional analysis of the typical workout diet that is proposed in a gym. As I said, if not from a smart point of view, from a nutritional point of view it is usually a good one.

The idea of reducing refined carbohydrates is super good. And even if I suspect that many gym trainers don’t know exactly why -frequently they just know that they are fattening- they wisely recommend to avoid white bread, pasta and co. They usually opt for the whole grain alternatives. That’s good.

The typical bodybuilding freak eats a lot of proteins from meat. I think that a certain degree of awareness has been reached in the gyms so that now almost everyone knows that not any kind of meat is good, but only lean meat like chicken and turkey. And fish.

Still I think that there is too much meat protein. Many bodybuilders eat chicken every day, or almost every day. That’s a lot of chicken. If one really wants to have a big percentage of protein in his diet he can go for many vegetable sources that not only give proteins but many other beneficial nutrients.

Soy, quinoa, beans are the easiest examples.

And a note about the “bottle culture”. This is something that I resolutely mark as wrong. Mr bodybuilding freak doesn’t have the culture of fresh, whole food at all. He tends to think in terms of pills and powders, that are usually inside commercially marketed bottled. bodybuilding-protein-supplements

This is a very limited nutritional view, since taking proteins from real food means taking also enzymes, fiber and plenty of useful things. On the other hand taking pills means just taking a limited range on nutrients.


Yes, something can be said also about the female counterpart: Ms bodybuilding freak. A creature that is slightly more discreet in some aspect of the practice (I’ve rarely seen a lady screaming during workouts, or obsessively swallowing pills between one lift and the other). But she has her own features, oh yes she does!

…have you ever seen those ladies that walk in the weight room tight in dresses that highlight their fit body, looking more like swimmin suits, and with nail polish, hair extensions, jewels, lipstick, mascara?

Well, When I see one of them I can’t avoid to formulate mentally another question “Why, why, why do you wear lipstick and mascara to do the abs!? This is not a catwalk, you’re in the gym to exercise!”.


Why diets don’t work

old videos – da caricare

This is a collection of the most common and evident reasons why diets don’t work.


“I want to be thin a lot. But I want that chocolate cake more.” It is SO TRUE! I like a lot this comic strip that I saw once somewhere, and that I tried to replicate here.

Similarly to many other things in life, there is a price to pay to be lean. If you want to be lean, you have to give up some short term pleasure, like the one junk food provides. Are you available to pay this price or not?

If you diets fail repeatedly because you keep on eating short term delights, it probably means that you’re not motivated enough to lose weight.

After all, considered the option of being fat eating tasty fattening food, and the option of being lean giving up the tasty fattening food, you decided that being fat is ok for you.


A lot of people try to lose weight using a “diet”, but do they really understand what a diet is?

Diet has nothing to do with the various “hcg”, “weightwatchers”, “slimfast”, that are basically commercial products created mainly to get your money (from pills, books, programs) and often they promise unrealistic things (for example I personally think that slimfast is an oxymoron, as there’s no “fast” way to go from fat to slim).

Diet is not something you do for a short period (like 3 weeks or 2 months) as an exceptional thing to lose weight. Conceived like this, it is inesorably doomed to fail.

Diet is the practical application, every time you eat, of your nutrition knowledge. It is lifestyle in the kitchen. It is long term. It is realistic. It depends on motivation. And it focuses on quality, on eating nutritious whole foods, rather that on quantity. In fact, counting the calories on a diet is a prehistoric approach, please don’t focus too much on the numbers!


The commercial diets advertised on magazines, tv, those diets that sell something (like pills, elixirs, bars) are not even created with the purpose of making you lose weight. It’s a business: they want your money.

In fact, the producers of those diets are quite happy to know that people fail in long term weight loss.

Why? Simple: they become repeated customers! It would be so sad if the customers buy their program once, lose their excess weight forever and never come back to spend more money. It’s much better if they fail, or if they only lose some weight for awhile, so they’ll come back to buy some other more powerful, incredible gimmick.


There are too many controversial information about what foods are actually unhealthy and fattening, and what are healthy and really promote weight loss. As consequence, a lot of people are deceived.

There are enormous quantities of fake healthy foods that are actually crappy, processed to the maximum, and fattening. And many diets that are popular and trendy today are based on these products, with the consequence that they never make you lose a pound.

Immediate examples are the foods with healthy claims that invade the grocery stores: there are actually a lot of people who think that “diet” coke, “fitness” sugary bars, “light” cheese”, “special” sugary cereals fit well into a diet regimen.

Furthermore, a lot of trendy diets lay on a series of nutrition myths that will make any attempt, inevitably, uneffective or painful. I still hear people say that white rice is good to lose weight, or that you have to starve and deprive yourself on a diet, or that fruit must be avoided because it contains sugar. And a diet will never work if you don’t get rid of all these misconceptions.


One of the main reasons why diets don’t work is that people think that they can just add some magic element, like a pill or a bar, to their usual diet composed of a lot of junk foods and it will work. Obviously, it doesn’t.

Overweight depends on your diet as a whole, on the entire set of foods you eat in a day. And if you eat too much food, and the wrong kind of food, you can’t expect that by just adding some pill or potion to it, you will reduce.

I see what people search on the web using some tools provided by the search engines, and there are so many queries like “pills forweight loss”, and “supplements for weight loss” and “shakes for weight loss”. Everybody is searching for something to ADD to their diet. But very few people accept that more than adding new things to their diet, they have to change their diet.

Change is so difficult for many human beings.


A lot of people don’t succeed with their diets simply because they know nothing about nutrition.

The approach of reaching directly for a diet as a solution for being fat, without learning and understanding what is nutrition first, leads inevitably to failure.

As I often say, nutrition is theory, diet is practice. Diet must be inspired by nutrition knowledge.

But a lot of people never really focus on the important things related to nutrition (like for example eating nutrient dense foods and avoiding empty calorie foods) and jump directly to the diet, and often on things of secondary importance (like the count of calories).


Diet is holistic, meaning that the way you eat is part of a bigger context: where you eat, with who you eat, what time you eat, in what conditions you eat.

You can plan your diet to the last vitamin and the last calorie, but if everyday you find yourself eating lunch in the workplace’s bar, where everything is fattening, or everyday at dinner you eat with your family where no one cares about healthy food but just eats tons of fried stuff, your odds to stay in shape are minimal.

Instead, if you want to succeed, it’s important that you do your best to create the ideal conditions, to surround yourself with health conscious people, and to eat in the right places.


“Oh I shouldn’t have eaten this. Well, I’ll start the diet again on monday.”

The common approach to diet is based on perfectionism. The typical person on a diet thinks: “I’ll stop eating fattening foods until I lose all this extra weight! I’ll do it!”. Then, as soon as they do one infringiment, eating one piece of chocolate or a sneakers bar, they consider the diet broken and splurge on more junk food. That’s exactly the way I used to think, before realizing that also in diet, like in many other things, perfectionism is a real damaging attitude.

Perfection is not human, and a period of “diet” where you can’t absolutely make a mistake can become very sad. This is why it usually lasts for very few days. How many times I heard “I’m on a diet”. Then, at the first infringiment, “oh damn, I’ll start again next monday”. And then next monday, and then next monday. A repeated failure that eventually will make you lose faith in your ability to really manage what you eat.

What do you think? Do you find these reasons familiar? Or did you actually succeed losing weight in the long term with one of those diets advertised on magazines? Share your experience in the comments.