Isn't a low carb diet terribly expensive?

The answer is: As compared to what? There's no question that steak costs more per pound than generic pasta, and that fresh fish is more pricey than bulk-purchased potatoes. However, I have a number of thoughts about this (which is why we're combining the two sections this week!)

First, I will say that I consider the refined carbs -- white flour, white bread (or even most "wheat" bread, which is mostly white flour laced with corn syrup), white rice, sugar, corn syrup, etc. -- to be so incredibly detrimental to health, even for those who are not carb intolerant, that even if they were given away free they would be too expensive. These are anti-food. Yep, since the micronutrients needed to metabolize them have been removed, (Yeah, I know they "enrich" it. Know what that means? It means that they take out at least 35 nutrients that we've identified so far, plus all the fiber, and they put back -- are you ready? -- five nutrients. Four vitamins and a mineral, recently increased from three vitamins and a mineral. "Enriched" is a lie, nothing less.) they actually go into your body and suck nutrition out. They also rack up those dental bills, and I don't know about your dentist, but mine makes something like $500/hr. Cheap, refined, junk carbs are not, and have never been, cheap.

As for the unrefined, concentrated carbs -- potatoes, whole grains, legumes, etc. -- they certainly contain far more nutritional value, and are less detrimental to the body, than the refined, highly processed stuff. But if you're carb intolerant, they're still expensive. Why? Because they'll make you sick, and being sick is expensive. They'll make you tired, and that's expensive too. For that matter, they'll make you hungry. What on earth could be cheap about food that actually makes you crave more!? You may want to serve some of these things to your family, if they don't share your carb intolerance, but for you, they are not cheap.

Also, let me assert here that many of the most frequently eaten carb foods (at least here in the USA) are not low priced. Cold cereal is unbelievably pricey for what it actually is. I sometimes think it's a conspiracy to get people to pay $4 for 15c worth of grain. Buying potatoes as potato chips means that you pay $2-3 a pound and up, and I can get meat for that price! Packaged side dishes are steep, too, as are frozen, prepared potatoes. And microwave popcorn is so much more expensive than the bulk kind that even when I was a low fat/high carb type, I refused to buy it.

So you need to realize that carbohydrate foods aren't necessarily as cheap as everyone thinks.

Now, let's look at the cost of low carb foods.

The most important thing to remember when you're on a budget is that the more actual cooking you're willing to do yourself, the cheaper your food's going to be. (This, by the way, is true of carb foods as well. Scratch biscuits are cheaper than the whack'em-on-the-counter kind.) If you insist on being helpless about food, you're going to pay for it. I'll try to help you be less helpless!

The second thing to remember is that your body doesn't much care whether you get your protein from $7/lb lamb chops or 99c/lb sale hamburger; from $12/lb lobster or 59c/can tuna. I certainly am not rich! (Now, if you'd all tell your friends to run out and buy my book... ;-D) My freezer is full of that 99c hamburger, along with 49c/lb chicken leg-and-thigh quarters, 99c sale pork chops, "irregular" bacon (funny shaped strips for 79c/lb), and the like. I have a few steaks and lamb chops in there as well -- all of them purchased when they'd been marked down a day or two before the "sell-by" date. ( I also rely heavily on eggs, although I confess I buy $2 a dozen local small farm eggs -- I just think the quality is hugely better. But around here, I can find grocery store eggs for about 89c/dozen, which is darned cheap.) A freezer is one of the most money-saving things you can own, by the way. I rarely pay anything but sale prices for meat; I just buy a ton while it's on sale and freeze it. I do this with basic frozen vegetables like green beans and broccoli, too. When they drop to 69c a bag a couple of times a year, I load up.

Which brings us to low carb vegetables, which also run the gamut in price. Asparagus and cabbage are both low carb veggies, but only one of them is cheap! Seasonal veggies will always be cheaper, of course -- this time of year I buy fewer peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes, and more cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, and celery.

Also, I find that around here ("Here" being Bloomington, IN) the price for vegetables varies a lot from store to store -- I've seen cauliflower as high as $3.89 and as low as $1.29 in the same week! So shop around. (I love those stores where everything is the store brand -- around here we have Aldi and Save-a-Lot. Not only do they have great prices, but there's very few decisions to make, and the store isn't so big it's intimidating. I hate the new, HUGE, grocery stores.)

So the key to eating low carb on a budget is threefold: One, choose the most economical low carb foods, two, do a bit more cooking and three, have some fairly easy low carb recipes so that you don't get overwhelmed and go back to eating expensive, prepared stuff! To this end, I'll be focusing on low carb budget recipes for the next few weeks. And if you have a cheap, easy, low carb staple, hey, do us all a favor and share, will ya?

One last thought on the subject: I can think of no better investment than good food. It is what you use to create yourself on a day-to-day basis; yes, you and all those you love. The quality of your life can never rise much above the quality of your diet; you are utterly dependent on it, both body and mind -- your brain is, after all, a part of your body. If you have to choose between driving a new car or eating good food, buy a used car and eat decent food. If you have to choose between new clothes and eating good food, shop at the Goodwill -- and don't think I don't buy used clothes! -- and feed yourself right; you'll look better for it. If you have to choose between adding onto the house or basic good nutrition, double up the kids in the bedrooms and buy them the food they need to be strong, healthy and happy.

Food is the stuff of life. Hold it dear and give it the respect it deserves. I promise you that you will be well rewarded.