How to eat healthy on the cheap

Nine ways to do your body a favour without breaking the bank

Is going organic leaving you cash-strapped? Here, three Dubai nutritionists give Jenny Hewett their top tips on how to maintain a good diet on the cheap.

You’d be hard-pressed to log onto social media these days without coming across a photo of the green concoction a health-freakish friend just ingested. From Ripe Market to The Change Initiative to Organic Foods & Café, Dubai now has more options than ever when it comes to buying organic produce. But as many leafy green-seekers know, when it comes to healthy eating there is often a price to pay for produce that is free of additives, growth hormones and chemicals. Here, three Dubai nutritionists reveal how to stick to a budget without compromising a healthy diet in the process.

Be creative with protein
‘Usually the most expensive food items are meats, poultry and seafood. Instead, give vegetarian protein sources such as tofu, lentils, chickpeas and beans a fair chance,’ says fitness and nutrition expert and Adidas ambassador Bernadette Abraham. ‘Beans are cost effective, loaded with protein, and very versatile. Dried beans are also cheaper than canned beans, not to mention better for your health. If you have a pressure cooker, simply soak your beans for a few hours and cook according to your cooker’s instructions. Portion them into freezer bags and place them flat into the freezer.’

Buy in bulk
‘A great way to save money is to buy larger units, which is often cheaper than individual items,’ says Abraham. ‘The Fruit and Vegetable Market in Dubai is definitely worth a visit, especially if you have a large family and consume lots of fruits and vegetables. You can also split the items with friends or neighbours and share the cost. It’s a clean and open market that is well-organised and easy to find from Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Road (formerly Emirates Road).’

Build dishes around the Clean 15
‘Every year, the Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org publishes a list that states the top 15 items that are okay to buy conventionally,’ says Dubai-based nutritionist Alison van Camp. ‘If you don’t want to pay the premium for organic, then build your dishes around the Clean 15, which include items such as asparagus, corn, onions, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and mangos. For great prices, stop by Lulu Hypermarket (04 341 8888) next to the Mall of the Emirates.’

Wait for specials
‘Organic Foods & Café offers a store-wide 20 percent discount every third Friday and Saturday of every month at all of their locations,’ says Abraham. ‘If there’s one item you should spend your money on when buying organic food, it’s animal products to avoid growth hormones and antibiotics.’

Don’t throw out ripe produce
‘Since produce doesn’t last more than a week, much of it goes to waste before it gets eaten,’ says Abraham. ‘Instead, use your ripe vegetables for soups, stews and stock. Steam and puree the vegetables and add them to any soup or stew. They can also be frozen in sealable bags for future use. Ripe fruits are great for baking. Apple sauce is often used as a substitute for oil in baking and is easy to make. Simply peel, core, and cook the apple on low heat until it is tender, and then puree. You can also puree and freeze ripe fruits into freezer bags to make delicious smoothies.’

Make food from scratch
‘Convenience foods such as frozen meals, soup in a can, and instant rice are more expensive than their ingredients alone. By planning ahead and taking the time to prepare meals from scratch, you can eliminate preservatives, boost your nutritional intake and save money in the process,’ says van Camp. Take your lunch to work instead of wasting money on takeaway or restaurant fare. This will require a little extra planning, but it is well worth it for the cost savings and health benefits. Carve out a half hour every Saturday to plan a week’s worth of lunches and schedule accordingly.’

Get your friends involved
‘Invite friends round and have pot luck nights where everybody brings one healthy dish as well as a print out of the recipe,’ says lifestyle consultant and owner of Lifestyle and Weight Management Company, Ahlaam Ali. ‘This will help you to build a community of health-conscious buddies who will support you in your quest to get healthy and vice versa.’

Go generic
‘Choose generic brand products over the more expensive brand-name products,’ says Abraham. ‘Saving a few dirhams here and there can really add up in the long run and allow you to spend more money on organic food. Carrefour (800 73232) and Union Coop (04 321 2263) offer their own line of generic brands and can help save 15 to 20 percent on the total bill.’

Buy local
‘Imported food is generally environmentally and financially costly. Union Coop offers a wide selection of local organic and conventionally grown produce,’ says Abraham. ‘Local organic eggs are fresher and also cost less than imported organic eggs. You can find these at various local organic shops such as Greenheart Organic Farms, www.greenheartuae.com, and Blue Planet Green People’ www.blueplanetgreenpeople.com, in JLT. They also offer online shopping.’

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