Gut Healthy Foods on a Budget
It’s only natural to want to buy the healthiest foods for your home and family, even when funds are limited. And recent research proves what common sense has been telling us all along—that our food choices really do matter. Eventually, everything we consume impacts the gut microbiome almost immediately, which not only affects nutrient absorption but actually shapes the state of our overall health.1,2
The standard American diet, made up largely of factory-produced and farmed animal products, trans fats, processed foods, artificial additives, and refined sugar, quickly reduces microbial diversity in the gut while harming beneficial probiotics.3,4 When the gut is thrown off balance and compromised in this way, it creates the perfect conditions for developing issues with digestion, skin, weight, poor energy, bad moods, sleep troubles, and more.
Thankfully the microbiome is quite resilient, and adopting a gut-healthy diet can begin to support microbial health (and the way you feel overall) right away—often after a single meal!3 Eating for your gut health typically consists of eating a wide variety of plant foods in their natural states, including leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, prebiotic foods (like apples, onions, asparagus, and bananas), healthy fats (including nuts, seeds, and avocados), and probiotic-rich foods (like kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi)—while avoiding processed foods, artificial additives, pesticides, GMOs, unhealthy fats, and refined sugar.
Choosing gut healthy foods isn’t complicated. For many of us though, the biggest obstacle to making the change is the cost. Let’s face it, organic whole foods can get pricey! But don’t give up, it truly is possible to give your gut some love at every meal—without breaking the bank.
What’s the Big Deal About Organics?
Organic farmers use the most natural methods possible to grow their food—and they have to conform to strict government regulations. This means their operating expenses are higher than those of conventional farmers, and that cost gets passed on to you. But although they tend to be more expensive, eating organically grown foods significantly reduces exposure to synthetic chemicals and pesticides, and that’s good news for your gut environment.
Man-made pesticides may be great at keeping creepy-crawly bugs off food crops, but ingesting insecticides like glyphosate (commonly found in Roundup) also makes it tough for friendly microbes to survive in your digestive tract. Perhaps even more troubling, many undesirable bacterial strains are resistant to some pesticides, which creates an opportunity for the bad guys to multiply and dominate the microbiome.4
It turns out that even handling pesticide-laden produce can have surprising microbial consequences—one recent study found that farm workers suffered detrimental changes to their oral microbiomes, just from pesticide exposure on the job.5
Keep in mind that not all organic produce is free of chemicals and pesticides, but organic farms typically go the extra mile to utilize mechanical and natural pest control tools like insect traps and intentional predators.
This is some scary stuff—and certainly makes going organic seem like a no-brainer when you’re minding your microbes. But while an all-organic diet is clearly the best option, sadly it’s just out of the question for most food budgets.
Make Your Organic Dollars Count
Thankfully, if your grocery budget is tight, you don’t have to take an all or nothing approach to organics, at least when it comes to the many delicious plant foods, which should make up the bulk (if not all) of any gut healthy diet. If you do eat animal products, it’s best for your body to choose foods that are organically fed; wild, free-range, or grass fed; and not treated with antibiotics and other growth hormones. When livestock animals consume pesticide-treated plants, these chemicals become much more concentrated in their meat, milk, and eggs than they were in the original plant foods they consumed—and that gets passed on to you.
With plant foods you’ve got more leeway to help you stretch your budget. Every year the Environmental Working Group publishes what they’ve labeled The Dirty Dozen, a list of the 12 fruits or vegetables with the highest pesticide concentrations. These are the plant foods that are most important to buy organic—because spending that extra cash will have the largest impact on your health:
The Dirty Dozen
• Sweet bell peppers
For this list, if organic isn’t an option, make sure to peel the skins off, as it’ll reduce your pesticide exposure.
The EWG also publishes their Clean 15 annually. This is a list of conventionally grown produce that contains the lowest amounts of pesticides. When money is an issue, here’s where you can safely save a few bucks by purchasing non-organic:
The Clean 15
• Sweet corn
• Frozen sweet peas
• Honeydew melon
Be aware though, that there’s a chance the sweet corn and mangoes on your local supermarket shelves may be genetically modified. If you’re concerned, choosing organic corn and mangoes ensures these foods were grown from non-GMO seeds.
Price-Wise Produce Strategies
Those trendy superfoods that are always in the news may look tempting, but they can also be really expensive—and it’s honestly not necessary to include every single superfood in your weekly grocery basket for glowing wellness. According to the USDA, all these simple gut-healthy foods are among the least expensive fruits and vegetables available:
You’ll save even more by buying produce in season. During the cooler months, look for deals on items including mushrooms, cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables, apples, and squash. The warmer months are when you’ll find the best values on berries, peaches, asparagus, peas, watermelon, corn, zucchini, green beans, and more. You can even stock up on affordable seasonal produce and freeze what you don’t eat immediately to enjoy year round.
By purchasing mostly lower priced and seasonal produce—and then rotating in one or two “luxury” fruits and vegetables each week, you’ll be able to enjoy a wide selection of nutritious foods while keeping costs in check.
The Bulk Aisle Is Your Friend
Shopping for dry goods like nuts, oats, rice, flax, and chia in the bulk aisle of your supermarket is another effective way to bring down food costs without compromising health. Not only will bulk foods typically cost less per pound than when you buy pre-packaged, you only have to pay for the amount you actually want, which reduces the chance of spoilage and waste. If you have a big family, buying in bulk is a great way to feed the army. The added bonus? Bringing your own containers and buying whole, healthy dry foods in bulk quantities means you’re not only being kind to your gut and your wallet—you’re caring for the planet as well.
More Ways to Save on Gut-Healthy Fare
Here are a few additional shopping strategies that may help you get the biggest bang for your healthy food buck:
• There’s no reason to avoid frozen produce. As long as these affordable foods don’t contain added salt, sugar, preservatives, or additives, frozen fruits and vegetables are nutritious—and work perfectly in soups and smoothies.
• Planting some of your own vegetables and herbs can slash weekly grocery expenses, be fun for the family, and even give your gut a healthy dose of nature.
• Learning to make your own cultured and fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut is easy and fun—and it’s much less expensive than buying these foods pre-made.
• Joining a local CSA, food co-op, or farm delivery plan is a great way to get the freshest produce in the most natural state possible at very reasonable prices.
• Buying store-brand frozen and dry foods also lowers overall food costs.
• Creating weekly meal plans and shopping lists helps reduce impulse purchases and food waste—just try to stay flexible enough to take advantage of unexpected sales!
• During the warmer months, local farmers’ markets offer great value. Today’s big box stores like BJ’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club carry lots of reasonably priced organic produce.
• Ethnic markets often have very low prices, in addition to delicious exotic produce and dry goods to broaden your food horizons.
• Focusing your shopping time around the store’s perimeter, where most of the whole, natural foods are located, helps you stick to your budget and your gut-healthy meal plans.
There’s an old saying that when it comes to health, you’ve got only one choice: Pay the grocer or pay the doctor. But with a little education and planning, nourishing your gut for a lifetime of wellness doesn’t have to drain your bank account. Happy shopping—and happy eating!
1. Blanton, L. V., Charbonneau, M. R., Salih, T., Barratt, M. J., Venkatesh, S., Ilkaveya, O., . . . Gordon, J. I. (2016). Gut bacteria that prevent growth impairments transmitted by microbiota from malnourished children. Science, 351(6275).
2. Schwarzer, M., Makki, K., Storelli, G., Machuca-Gayet, I., Srutkova, D., Hermanova, P., . . . Leulier, F. (2016). Lactobacillus plantarum strain maintains growth of infant mice during chronic undernutrition. Science, 351(6275), 854-857.
3. David, L. A., Maurice, C. F., Carmody, R. N., Gootenberg, D. B., Button, J. E., Wolfe, B. E., . . . Turnbaugh, P. J. (2013). Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature, 505(7484), 559-563.
4. Shehata, A. A., Schrödl, W., Aldin, A. A., Hafez, H. M., & Krüger, M. (2012). The Effect of Glyphosate on Potential Pathogens and Beneficial Members of Poultry Microbiota In Vitro. Current Microbiology, 66(4), 350-358.
5. Stanaway, I. B., Wallace, J. C., Shojaie, A., Griffith, W. C., Hong, S., Wilder, C. S., … Faustman, E. M. (2016). Human Oral Buccal Microbiomes Are Associated with Farmworker Status and Azinphos-Methyl Agricultural Pesticide Exposure. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 83(2), e02149-16. doi:10.1128/aem.02149-16
Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.