Does Wheat Belly Eating Always Cost More?

An intriguing comment from reader Sally:

Not only is [the Wheat Belly diet] going to make Meatless Mondays a challenge, it's going to make laughably cheap recipes challenging. In fact, I think it pretty much negates the idea that one can eat well cheaply. It does make it expensive to eat well.

This is an insightful statement. Admittedly, it's a generalization, but it sounds "generally" right, doesn't it? Think about it: a Wheat Belly-style diet cuts out gluten and significantly reduces carbs and starchy foods. Which means low-cost staples like rice and pasta--foods central to many of Casual Kitchen's best laughably cheap recipes--will need to be replaced. 

And clearly, if you replace these low-cost staple foods with expensive steaks, Boar's Head brand deli meats, pork loin, high-end cheeses, etc., you could easily send your food costs through the roof.

On the other hand, there are exceptions to even the most ironclad of generalizations. We all know, for example, that the widely-held generalization "healthy food costs more" is true in certain instances, but there's such an infinity of counter-examples that I was able to build an entire food blog around the idea of disproving it.

I'm betting the statement "the Wheat Belly diet makes it expensive to eat well" has its own exceptions too.

Readers, that's where you come in. By far the best resource here at Casual Kitchen is my readers' collective brainpower. Today, I want to ask what foods you would choose to meet the demands of a lower-carb diet without breaking the bank. Feel free to refer back to my post on how to follow a Wheat Belly diet, and share whatever examples you can come up with of lower-cost ways to do it.

I'll go first: by switching to eggs at breakfast, the cost of my breakfasts actually went down. A lot. I'm eating breakfast now for one-third of what I would have spent on more traditional breakfast of cereal, fruit and juice, yet I'm getting the same number of calories and I'm full for hours longer. It's a simple but striking example.

So readers: what do you think? How would you find exceptions and contra-examples to this reader's comment, and how would you eat a lower-carb diet without busting your wallet?

Share your thoughts!

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Anonymous said...

The cost I save from NOT buying Prilosec and antacids would need to be added into the equation. Health costs down the line as well. At first, yes, it seems expensive but you have to look at all factors when ultimately determining the "cost" of the diet change.

How iChow said...

I've been wheat-free since January of this year and my food costs haven't increased any more than they would anyways as a result of price increases. I've been purchasing whole foods- fruits and veggies (buying in-season produce will help cost-wise!) and whatever meats are on sale. When steaks go on sale, I'll buy several pounds. Just this past Friday, Whole Foods had an amazing sale on grass-fed, local ground beef at $5/lb! Saving money on groceries is a challenge for anyone anymore, regardless of dietary requirements or preferences. You just have to be an informed, aware shopper and take advantage of good deals when you can!

Anonymous said...

We buy beef in bulk. Roughly every six to eight months I buy a 1/4 cow. Produce from a CSA can also help lower costs. Frozen veggies are another way I lower the cost in our grocery budget. My (and my family's) health is worth it.

Anonymous said...

Basically we eat the same as we always have, it's just not on top of a bed of rice or pasta. Instead of chopping up cauliflower into a stir fry or veggie side side, it gets riced, or pureed for mashed potatoes.
Once we got used to not having to pig out, we actually eat less than we used to. I recall eating two, often three platefuls of spagetti and meat sauce, now I am totally content after a bowl of it(like stew). Or if we make it with spaghetti squash, it fills me up right away, one helping. No toast, no spaghetti, no rice, no without all these side dishes is so much easier. Less dishes, less time, less crap clogging up the cupboards....

Jen K said...

I agree that low-carb eating can be done on a budget. My husband and I find that planning our meals for the week and buying only the essentials needed dramatically cuts cost. We budget $100 per week for groceries, but also bring our lunch. We usually go out to eat once on the weekend, but we have money set aside for this purpose. I find a lot of good recipes through pinterest and I specifically look for paleo or low-carb blogs. Some good ones include: & I'm not a super fancy cook, so if the recipe isn't easy or requires a lot of ingredients, I don't attempt.

trueblue said...

I don't go out for dinner as often or pick up take-out. I prepare my healthy meals at home and that right there is quite a savings.

Anonymous said...

Make the quality foods you buy last longer. Buy local now and freeze.
And stop throwing lettuce away:

Unknown said...

The extra I spend on quality food is more than offset by the fact that there are virtually NO restaurants in my city that are friendly to my diet-lifestyle AND that I no longer have to take any medications. I am vegetarian in addition to eschewing wheat, rice, corn, potato products.

Unknown said...

We went cold turkey more than 6 months ago with the Wheat Belly diet. When we stopped buying processed foods, diary except for cream and products containing wheat our grocery budget stayed about the same. We buy chicken, beef and pork on sale, portion it out for meals for 2 and freeze it. We also shop at Asian and Latin American grocery stores for meat,veggies, spices and oils. Jicama is half the price at the local Mexican market. The same for goat, lamb and other meats. Fresh herbs are also a great deal. The Wheat Belly diet has been fantastic for helping control my blood glucose(T2 diabetic). No going back for us

Charla said...

I agree with all the comments above. I had been on a low-carb diet off and on (off because of still having cravings), but when I eliminated wheat, ALL food cravings stopped. Not only that, but I am much less hungry so I've cut out most snacks, AND consume less at each meal. I'm eating much less food than even on the Atkins diet, and yet I am much more full and satisfied. My grocery bill is lower than it has been in years. No going back for me either! Now even the thought of ingesting bread effects me about the same as the thought of drinking dish soap...ICK! Thank you Dr. Davis!

Anonymous said...

I've been on wheat free diet and high fat/low carb plan since Jan 1 this year. Have dropped 70 lbs., feel great and allergies have disappeared. It may cost more to stock up on almond flour, coconut flour, coconut oils, cheeses, meats and fresh veges----but it is so worth it. Be creative! search the internet, there are many recipes posted that are great food and satisfy some of the cravings you might have. It is also so easy to shop: buy fresh produce, meats and dairy, and you don't have to walk through the frozen food area or the middle of the store---the stuff you want is on the perimeter.
Last, I dusted off the stove and re-discovered the joy of cooking again. Had fallen into that "pick something up" habit for too long. The best way to eat healthy is to cook it yourself.
My best to everyone that goes wheat-free. It is worth the effort!

Selah Townsend said...

People who complain that good food "costs too much" often have satellite TV, high speed internet, Iphones, and many other recreation expenses that could be amended. Good health is priceless. Being pain free-having all my mobility back-erasure of CFS, Fibromyalgia, and endometriosis-losing 25 lbs to take the stress off of my defective heart-these things are worth more and it costs less to eat well and be healthy than to eat poorly and be sick.

Linda R said...

So many good ideas here already. I, too, have been a LCHF follower since July of 28 and have no desire to go back.
Someone mentioned a couple of sites for recipes and I definitely want to add another that I use constantly.
This person uses ingredients that are easy to find, she is a "down to earth" cook, someone who has lost a lot of weight and KEPT it off. Her recipes are tested, nutritional information is provided, along with lovely photographs and honest opinions of the finished product. It's a great source.

Linda R said...

That would be July of 2008!

Amber said...

I just started a week ago, and my concern also was the potential cost. What I was delighted to discover, is that I am not all that hungry! I buy what's on sale and I no longer spend money on foods that only keep me full for an hour or two. I am amazed.

Anonymous said...

I found that almond flour could be very expensive at $10.99 per lb. In looking at the bulk section at Sprouts I found Almond meal for $3.99 lb. Almond meal is courser than almond flour but the taste is the same when you're baking and the food tends to be a little more granular in texture. Yummy. Try using the gluten-free almond flour cookbook.

shortymac said...

The trick is to focus on lowstarch/carb veggies like cauliflower, squashes, and maybe beans.

Oh and a lot of freezer space to stock up on sales and a Costco membership.

Cook everything on sunday.

Stews and soups also help.

KatDesigns said...

My food bill has been reduced because I don't pick up fast food or go out to eat as much as I did. I take my lunch every day, saving more. Buy greens to replace those cheap starches of bread & noodles. On your plate I have salad or cooked greens in the spot I would have placed the starch like pasta, potatoes or rice.

Diane said...

I don't really buy into the whole no-carbs thing, as I think it's a fad.

But I can tell you there are plenty of no-starch things to eat cheaply. Off the top of my head: Ma-po tofu (maybe 1/4 lb of meat and 1 lb of tofu serves several); Many different kind of dals - I like spinach dal, which has a lot of nutrition (I eat with whole-grain rice, but eat without rice if you like); Salmon "burgers" made with canned fish (I never eat these with a bun, just sriracha sauce); Tofu/chicken meatballs in a dashi broth (not much meat, and super-cheap); Frittatas; Egg curries; Squid or cuttlefish adobo, or thoren, or stir-fried with chile and lime, or any other tupe of preparation (here squid is $3.50/lb unfrozen, or about $3/lb frozen); liver & onions; liver curry; roasted chicken (you can chicken on sale here for around $2.50/lb); stir-fried chive blossoms and mushrooms with a small amount if protein of your choice (tofu, chicken, beef - whatever is on sale and that you like).

And so on...

You just have to shop smart, not buy processed foods, and keep your eye out for bargains. And look to food traditions from places that cook this way naturally. I happen to like rice a lot, and eat it at almost every meal, but you can leave it out OK and still eat many South Asian and SE ASian dishes very cheaply.

Anonymous said...

Rice would not fit into my low carb lifestyle. I have a menu with the same thing every other spagetti squash spagetti,chili night, "swedish meatballs",cooked (canned) salmon, tuna salad night, cauli pizza, etc. and then I add a salad or some fruit, gr. beans, or sw. pot. fries. We go out just once a month and no longer pick up "happy" meals for 7.00 or buy pizza for $20.00. About $100 a week for a family of four. We take our lunches too and buy food from the local farmer's market (buy in bulk and share costs with a neighbor). This doesn't have to be expensive. It beats the $50+ dollars I would spend every two weeks on crackers, cookies, boxed meals, bread, pasta, etc. No more! Life is good!

Trish said...

By eating a healthy real-food-sans-wheat-diet, you might paying more for those foods but you are saving overall because you are NOT buying all of the junk...cereals, candy, cookies, cake, bread, jelly, chips, soda, etc.

Diane said...

@Trish: "By eating a healthy real-food-sans-wheat-diet, you might paying more for those foods but you are saving overall because you are NOT buying all of the junk...cereals, candy, cookies, cake, bread, jelly, chips, soda, etc."

This is really mixing apples and oranges. There's wheat, and then there's junk. I eat wheat. I eat rice. I don't try and avoid carbs at all really. But I don't eat the things you list. Or at least rarely. Once every 2-3 weeks I'll bake for my reading group - a cake or something. But I don't eat "cereals, candy, cookies, cake, bread, jelly, chips, soda, etc" in my day to day life, and many of those I haven't had in my house in decades. It simply doesn't match the way I eat, which is South Asian and SE Asian.

So, yeah - it's cheaper and healthier to avoid those things, but they are not "wheat" per se.

Rose1957 said...

We started WN back in Feb. Us to on eating much much less and staying full much much longer! I don't buy pasta's, rice, soda crackers, canned veggies, snack crackers, cereals, and romaine noodles, breads, etc. and that list could go on and on. I even notice when I do buy groceries they last me longer than they used to since we're not eating as much as we used to. We are also saving on not eating out as much as we did. We're also saving on acid reflux meds that hubby used to have to take a bunch of every other night. Also we're saving on our drug bill since I am no longer taking 1 of my blood pressure meds and now also not taking diabetes meds. We eat frozen and fresh veggies now instead of canned ones.

Lauren said...

One of the things a lot of people shifting to this kind of eating start to focus on is nutrient density. Fortunately that dovetails nicely with meat offcuts (slow-stewed meats with lots of collagen) and offal (often free from the farmer or butcher when you buy said offcuts). Bone broth is also laughably cheap and very easy once you get in the habit, and forms a nutritious and flavourful base that replaces instant hot chocolate and scary-fake soup mixes.
I'd be interested to know if anyone has actually done the math on buying half a cow to save on meat costs and thus needing to buy and run a deep freeze.

Sally said...

Since Daniel quoted something I wrote, I'll respond to the comments.

There seems to be a belief that the only reason one couldn't afford to follow WB (or probably any low-carb way of eating) is because one is eating out frequently and loading up on processed and junk foods!

I stopped using most processed foods about 6 years ago. Initially my goal was to do the opposite of Sandra Lee and use 70% real food and 30% processed. In practice, it's always been at least 80/20 and is now about 95/5. I cook from scratch at home and eat out 0-2 times monthly.

While I don't use a CSA, I do shop at the farmer's market (and around here, that's equally or more expensive than shopping at the most expensive grocery). I buy most of my food from animal sources there and since they are more expensive, I eat less of them.

In short, I buy and eat very good quality food. My diet, however, is more starch-based. My way of eating is quite similar to Mark Bittman's "vegan before six", except that I'm more vegetarian until six and I was doing it long before he was. I also don't worry if I have more animal foods before the evening meal -- or if I don't have any at the evening meal.

I eat one serving of whatever I'm having at meals and rarely feel a need to snack. My health (and lab values) is great. I have no food allergies and am sensitive only to soy products.

Selah suggests that people who can't afford a low-carb way of life probably have all the conveniences and toys of modern life. I drive a 12 year old car, don't have cable or satellite TV, don't have an iPod, iPad, or iPhone. In fact, my phone isn't very "smart" at all; I joke that I have a dumb phone. I have the least expensive internet service I could find. I've never needed medication for acid reflux, though due to CHF (caused from physical damage to my heart) I do take medication for hypertension to keep my BP as low as I can tolerate it. That will never change no matter how or what I eat. Having said that, I notice that my BP goes up with the consumption of processed foods.

In fact, my cardiologist told me he didn't care what I ate as long as I avoided processed foods.

Like Diane, I don't buy into the no-carbs or even low-carbs. I can't help but wonder if a lot of the improvements in health and well-being aren't from limiting or eliminating processed and junk foods rather than wheat or other carbs or other foods/food groups. I've read identical statements from those who have switched to a vegan diet. Greatly improved health, eliminating the need for various medications and so on. The one thing they have in common is the absence of processed and junk foods.

I think experts and lay persons alike are looking for a dietary culprit -- the one thing that is at the root of the problems of obesity and poor health. I think it exists, but it's not a food or group of foods that have been consumed for millennia. It's processed foods and our increased consumption of them correlates to our problems with obesity and increased rates of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, various cancers and so on.

Eleni said...

Sorry, are these all new CK readers? I agree with the commenter above: I already cook from scratch every day, I eat out probably four or five times a YEAR, I already bring my own lunch to work, I already only buy meat on sale, I already buy everything else in bulk, etc, etc...this is exactly what CK has been championing all along and that's why I love this site. But you're telling me that cutting out rice (probably the basis for four out of my seven dinners every week) and replacing it with more fresh produce isn't going to cost me more? I'm sorry but I just don't see how that adds up!

Daniel said...

This was a great discussion and I'm grateful for all the input.

Sally, your point (and Diane's point too) on processed foods is very well-taken. To a person eating a lot of processed food, a low-carb/no-gluten diet is probably going to be quite a bit cheaper, but that doesn't mean it will be cheaper for people already eating very little processed foods.

Eating out, also, is sort of a red herring, although I can understand Kelli McLerran's comment that she can't really find food that meets her needs in restaurants. Thus this diet caused her to not eat out as much as she did before. So if she compares HER personal before and after experiences, she can eat for less.

What really matters for any given reader is a fair and accurate comparison of their diets before and after. I think in some cases it can be cheaper--and I think it doesn't HAVE to be more expensive--but there clearly will be diminishing returns if you're already eating for very little money.


Daniel said...

Eleni, I hear you! Don't worry, Casual Kitchen is always going to be writing about how to eat healthy and easy to cook meals for a minimal cost.

This series was just what it was: an exploration of the ideas behind the book Wheat Belly, and it's only fitting that I spent some time looking into the cost of eating this way--that's why I was grateful for Sally's comment in the first place.

Clearly this diet isn't going to meet the needs of every reader, and I think for many readers it will present some challenges--particularly on the cost front.

However, let me say it again: there are exceptions to even the most ironclad of generalizations, and there are TON of great ideas here in the comments on how to eat a low-carb/no-gluten diet without breaking the bank--assuming, of course, you choose to go this route.

A final caveat: there are many readers here who simply don't experience problems eating carbs and gluten (heck, including us, which is why we aren't planning to 100% adopt this diet either--we're just applying some of the ideas to some of our meals). For those readers, feel free to continue eating the way you do.


PS: On Tuesday we'll return to our regularly scheduled programming, where I'll challenge one of the most costly sacred cows in food. Stay tuned!

Owlhaven said...

Here's a great post sharing all sorts of affordable gluten free foods.
I think one key is buying single ingredients just as is shown in the post above rather than prepackaged, ready-made stuff. And then cook.