Help Me, I’m Poor! How to get a Heart Healthy Diet on a Budget

I think we could all identify with Kristen Wiig at this pivotal moment in Bridesmaids. Haven’t we all, at some point, looked at our bank account and uttered the words ‘Help, I’m so poor!”? The sad fact is that leading a healthy lifestyle comes with a price tag- and that includes eating a nutritious and balanced diet.

But with a recent study showing that people who eat a vegetarian diet filled with fruit and veg have lower blood pressure than non-vegetarians, it has never been more important to stock your fridge full of nutritious foods. So how can you get a heart healthy diet on a tight budget?

Become a ‘reductions regular’


We’ve all seen them: people crowded around the reductions shelf in the supermarket at the end of the day with a hungry look in their eye and incredibly sharp reflexes. But these ‘reduction regulars’ aren’t just standing around for the fun of it- they have worked out exactly when supermarkets discount their food and wait to get them at the very best price. Generally supermarket discounts start at lunchtime but really kick off after 6pm, when the produce expiring that day is slashed to as low as 10p. Wait to go shopping until around an hour before closing time and make an offer on a product just as the store is about to shut- discounted meats are the Holy Grail since they can be frozen and used for months afterward. And don’t forget to maximise your discount codes and vouchers.


Make a food plan


Create a weekly or fortnightly meal plan and only buy the food you need. Breakfast, lunch and dinner can all be made using the same ingredients in different ways, and you can easily cook large amounts and freeze the leftovers for another day. By knowing exactly what you are going to eat that week you will cut down on bingeing (and stop those lunchtime Starbuck runs when you forget to pack a sandwich!). A food plan will also ensure you include your 5 portions of fruit a day, which you need to maintain a healthy heart. This  free tool from the NHS is a great place to start.


Think about ‘Price per Nutrients’


Don’t worry; we don’t expect you to start performing difficult calculations in the middle of the supermarket! Thinking about price per nutrients simply means making sure you buy quality food which is full of good stuff, rather than buying cheaper items which may not provide the same nutritional benefits. For example, bananas are not only cheap, but they are also rich in potassium and dietary fibre. Oats are also great bang for your buck, since they provide carbohydrates and protein, can be bought in bulk, and make a yummy breakfast. And don’t forget about eggs- cheap to buy and filled with vitamins, minerals and protein (stick to the whites only if you are watching your cholesterol levels).


Buy frozen veg and make it taste great


One of the problems with having ‘funding issues’ is that fresh fruit and veg suddenly becomes a lot less appealing due to the price and potential wastage. However, keeping a supply of frozen fruit and veg in the freezer allows you to buy in bulk and reduce the amount you throw away, without sacrificing on your 5 a day. To make the veggies taste better (because let’s be honest, frozen carrots just aren’t as appetising as the fresh stuff), make sure you season well using cupboard essentials. If you are adding your frozen veg to a recipe then avoid cooking it first, otherwise you will end up with pulpy mush. And don’t forget about frozen berries- delicious when defrosted in the microwave and added to porridge.


Switch to dried fruits


Swapping crisps and chocolate for dried fruit is one of the easiest ways to satisfy your sugar cravings whilst keeping your heart healthy. However, some dried fruits often have refined sugar added, making them more like sweets than a healthy snack- including pineapple, banana pieces, cranberries and watermelon- so keep your eyes peeled for added sugar when reading the label. Whilst dried fruit is often more expensive than a cheap and cheerful chocolate bar, there are ways to lower the cost- such as drying your own fresh fruit to avoid wastage. You can dehydrate your own fruit in the oven by following this simple guide, or invest in a dehydrator to speed up the process.


Buy tinned fish, not fresh


Oily fish is a key part of a heart healthy diet since it is packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, but buying it fresh is a costly business. Luckily, tinned fish like sardines, salmon and tuna is not only cheaper but still has the same nutritional benefits as the fresh stuff- as long as you are smart when shopping. Avoid buying any tinned fish in sunflower oil because it will have higher calories and ramp up your cholesterol levels. Also, stay away from brine due to its high sodium content; instead, stick with tinned fish in spring water that has not been farmed (farmed fish can contain PCBs from polluted water).


Make homemade soup


I promise that you don’t have to be Nigella to make a healthy and filling soup (if I can do it, anyone can!) and it is the perfect way to use up leftovers. Pretty much any meat or veg can be added to a basic stock and blended to make a soup, keeping you fuller for longer and contributing to your five a day. Do a quick Google search to find a simple recipe and alter it depending on what goodies you find cheap at the supermarket or languishing in the cupboard.

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