I read the other day where 95% of illnesses were directly related to diet. That is rather scary but the reality is, we are what we eat. To borrow from computer terminology - garbage in, garbage out. The nutritional value of food is an important consideration when it comes to frugal kitchens. Foods can be cheap with no to little nutritional value (eg. soda, many mass produced snack foods, boxed convenience foods) filled with preservatives and food additives that can ultimately cause health problems. On the other hand, foods can be inexpensive in terms of cost but high in nutritional value (eg. fresh fruit) with no or little preservatives and no or little food additives that ultimately heal. But it is more complex than that. A cheap food like potato chips may actually cost more per gram than fresh potatoes yet nutritionally they are a poor choice. Frugal home cooks will choose those foods with the highest nutritional value for their food dollars so the focus will be on whole foods, fresh produce, hormone free meat, dairy, eggs, and basically those food items found in the outside perimeter of the grocery store with very little bough from the interior aisles.
One nutritional component that is needed for good health is fibre. Dietary fibre is the indigestible portion of foods derived from plant material. It can be soluble or insoluble (provides bulk), usually a combination of both. Dietary fibre acts like a mini brush cleaning your intestines as it moves through. It aids in eliminating toxins and a diet high in fibre can reduce the risk for some cancers. Everyone at some point suffers irregularity that in most cases is dietary related. Instead of reaching for a pharmaceutical remedy which can have negative health effects, the frugal home cook will strive to increase the dietary fibre. This isn't as hard to do given that fibre is one of the food industry's current buzz words. There's high fibre dry cereals and breads, fibre added bakery products, and fibre products that can be added to beverages, cooked or baked foods. Increasing dietary fibre is very inexpensive and easy to do. Here's a few ways to increase dietary fibre without breaking the bank:
- produce - The skins of potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, pears, plums, and peaches are good sources of fibre so if at all possible do not remove them before eating. This is a no cost way to increase fibre because you are already paying for the skins in the price per pound of the produce. Include raw fruits and vegetables in your diet daily. Leafy salads are a great way to increase fibre while saving money as eating salads with a meal tends to reduce the amount you eat of higher priced foods especial meat proteins.
- whole grains - Whole grains in general are rather inexpensive although if organic, tend to be a bit more expensive. Whole grain flours (eg. wheat, rye, buckwheat, cracked wheat, spelt, tiff) can be substituted for refined flour (eg. white, unbleached) in part or all in many recipes. Whole grains like quinoa, rolled oats, millet, pearl barley, and bulgur wheat can be inexpensively and easily incorporated into your diet. Popcorn is a whole grain that is one of the least expensive snacks you can make. Not only is it high fibre, it's low cal and kid friendly.
- legumes - Dried beans are very, very inexpensive. They are the number one frugal diet stand-by. One frugal forum I used to read, maintained that you were not eating frugally unless you ate rice and beans at least three times a week. I won't go that far but if you really want to cut your food bill yet still pack in the nutrition and fibre, including beans in your diet on a regular basis is one of the best ways to do so. Dried beans cooked from scratch are less expensive than mass produced canned beans and they are quite easy to cook especially if you use the quick soak method. Once you learn how to cook them, you won't go back to store bought canned beans. I cook beans from scratch as well as home can them for those times I don't have time to cook them from scratch. Mashed cooked legumes can be used in dips or for refried beans.
- nuts and seeds - Nuts and seeds are an ideal way to increase the fibre in your diet and many are heart friendly while providing a good source of protein. The best part about incorporating nuts and seeds into your diet is it is very easy to do. They are perfect for snacking as is, tossed into salads or used in baking (quick breads, muffins, cookies), use in stir fry or sauces and so much more.
- dried fruits - Dried fruits especially plums, cranberries and raisins are high in fibre. Like nuts and seeds, they can be used as is for snacking or added to salads and used in cooking or baking.
- fibre additives and supplements - Wheat germ, flax seeds and psyllium are the most commonly added fibres for baking or cooking, although wheat germ can be sprinkled on foods like mashed potatoes, cereals and yogurt if desired. A large bag of wheat germ costs about $3 but goes a long way. A 1 - 2 tbsp of wheat germ can be added to bread doughs, cookie doughs, muffins and cake mixes. It isn't even noticeable in the final product but it does increase the fibre content. Ground flax seeds can be used the same way. They increase Vitamin E as well as fibre. Psyllium can be added to beverages or in baked foods. It can be bought it bulk from a bulk food store and like wheat germ is very inexpensive yet goes a long way. Shopper's Drugs Life Brand has two fibre product that are not laxatives. Both are about $11 fo a 340 g container. One is for use in beverages and the other for baking or cooking. I'm sure there are other brands of similar products. My feeling is wheat germ, flax seed and psyllium are less expensive and just as effective as the drug store products without any unnecessary additives.