How To Meet Your Nutritional Needs On A Budget
Our bodies are made up of complex systems that require an array of non-negotiable nutrients in order to function optimally. As always, organic sources are ideal but buying the very best food you can afford is a good rule of thumb. This can get pretty expensive pretty quickly so I thought you might find it useful to have a comprehensive list of the most important - and cheapest - foods to focus on and how best to get the most out of them.
Offal: love them or hate them, organ meats (as they are also known) are by far the most nutrient-dense foods you will ever eat. Fat soluble vitamins A and D, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals are just some of the many nutrients to be gained from these ultra-nourishing foods. They are also so cheap that sourcing them from exclusively grass-fed and outdoor-reared organic animals would still cost a lot less than meat from animals reared in exactly the same way. Disguise them if you must and make them as pretty and palatable as you can by seeking out recipes to guide you. Aim for one or two 85g servings a week and your body and wallet will thank you profusely for it.
Odd bits: fatty, gelatinous cuts of meat - and everything else between the nose and tail of animals - are the hallmark of traditional diets. This is in sharp contrast to the high (and almost exclusive) consumption of muscle meat in the modern diet. In addition to being far more expensive, muscle meat is higher in homocysteine-elevating methionine. Slow- or pressure-cooked oxtail and brisket are delicious and rich in glycine which enables the detoxification of excess methionine, thus reducing the body's demand for homocysteine-lowering nutrients (B6, B9, B12, choline and betaine). It is important to note that there is absolutely no need to restrict glycine-rich meat or to keep a tally of calories eaten. I encourage you to eat these nourishing cuts as your appetite dictates. If this all sounds rather daunting, you can try one of the following suggestions - depending on how squeamish you feel:
Find inspiration in cookbooks like Jennifer McLagan's brilliant Odd Bits: How To Cook The Rest Of The Animal.
Sip gently warmed bone broth (see below) seasoned with a little Pink Himalayan Salt with or between meals.
Bones: poultry, lamb and beef bones are now widely used to make soothing broths. The age-old practice of cooking with fish bones and heads is well worth reviving, however. Many fishmongers may be willing to give fish bones - and heads - away for free as they are usually discarded. All bones are rich in glycine but fish heads provide important minerals (like iodine and selenium) and impart a wonderful flavour to broths and soups. Non-oily fish are the best sources for this purpose. Enjoy 120-240ml of your favourite broth a day.
Eggs: contrary to conventional wisdom, these will not elevate cholesterol. They are, however, high in homocysteine-elevating methionine. Context is, as always, of paramount importance here. A nutrient-dense diet that mirrors that of our ancestors would include a wide range of foods - many of which are mentioned in this article. A range of combinations/recipes and a certain hierarchy or frequency of consumption would also be observed, which I have attempted to emulate in this list of foods. Egg drop soup and Avgolemono combine eggs and bone broth to make hearty meals that just so happen to balance methionine intake beautifully. Egg yolks contain healthy fat and are the highest source of choline so eat a minimum of four to five a week. Of course, the higher the quality, the more superior the nutrient profile will be.
Seaweed: these are so packed with minerals that a small amount is often all that is required to meet one's recommended daily intake. Kelp is especially high in iodine. It is available to buy as a powder and its salty flavour makes it a discreet addition to eggs, soups or stews.
Home-grown vegetables and herbs: these are my personal preference to the Clean Fifteen or Dirty Dozen as I explained in a previous article. If you are unsure of whether or not pesticides were previously used in your garden, this is easily remedied by using raised beds and/or growing in containers with organic compost. This means that you can eat local, seasonal and ultra-fresh produce all year round. Better still, ferment them for greater digestibility, vitamin K2 and a greater proliferation of beneficial gut bacteria. Use unheated as an accompaniment to meals twice a day.
Traditional, healthy fats: these are essential for brain development in children, cognitive health, energy, immune function, radiant skin and lustrous hair. Generally speaking, fats are still regarded as one of the most feared foods today - a mindset that is, sadly, eroding the health of many. I recommend beef and lamb tallow for cooking, particularly when cooking at high temperatures. Ghee (or clarified butter) - a time-honoured Ayurvedic healing food - is also well-suited to high-temperature cooking but it can be expensive if bought ready-made. It is, fortunately, very easy to make. Lard and duck fat are also great economical options, especially as they can be reserved from roasts (cooked at low temperatures) for future use. Being mindful of the smoke points of the fats you choose to cook with is of the utmost importance. Each fat has an ideal cooking temperature beyond which it loses its nutritional value and begins to oxidise, making it detrimental to health. I have created a guide to fats, their smoke points and how best to use them and you can find it here. Full fat dairy - providing it is raw/unpasteurised and well-tolerated - is another excellent source of healthy fats.
Tips for success:
Buy ingredients rather than ready-made products: it is tempting to buy ready-made products in a bid to save time but such items tend to cost a lot more than it would cost you to make them at home. It is also the best way to ensure that your meals are as wholesome and additive-free as possible. Here are a few ideas:
Make your own condiments: aside from being cheap, homemade mayonnaise is fresher and far more nutritious than anything you can buy in the supermarket. It can also be made in as little as 20 seconds, customised to suit your taste and turned into numerous dips and dressings.
Render your own fat (and churn your own butter): leaf fat from outdoor-reared pigs and unpasteurized cream (from cows reared exclusively on grass) are cheap and can be couriered from a farm to your doorstep for a very small fee - or none at all, depending on how much you spend. Rendering fat requires very little hands on time and making butter is so simple and rewarding that children would need little persuasion to get involved.
Make soups: these are easily made in batches - once you have batch-cooked some bone broth, of course. Simply cook vegetables, herbs and spices of your choice in the bone broth and purée using a hand blender until smooth. They can then be frozen and ready to defrost for quick nourishing meals, especially in the autumn and winter months.
Get creative with leftovers: try adding leftover meat or fish to salads and soups. Roasted vegetables can be beaten into eggs with herbs and baked in muffin cases for a portable lunch or snack.
Buy in bulk: invest in a chest freezer, look out for special offers and stock up. You will soon have a wide range of nutrient powerhouses that can be defrosted and turned into delicious meals.
Buy a pressure cooker: this will make short work of glycine-rich, gelatinous cuts of meat and bone broth, both of which typically require hours of cooking on a hob or in a slow cooker. A resulting deeper and richer flavour is a welcome added bonus.