There is a belief that eating a healthy diet costs a fortune. On top of that, many people think it is way too difficult to avoid unhealthy foods and to center one's diet around fresh fruits and vegetables. Is that true? Spoiler alert: no.

If I knew years ago what I know now, I wouldn't have thought twice before starting to make and implement healthier food choices, because now I know it's so damn simple and practically effortless.

Many people come from a belief that eating healthily is hard, that it takes a lot of effort and planning, and that it is expensive. Especially when they think about eating a 100% whole-foods plant-based diet. How am I supposed to be consistent and not fall for that piece of cheese my friend just offered me? How can I afford goji berries and fancy nuts, avocados and quinoa every single day? Those are the foods I'm supposed to eat to be healthy, the "super-foods", right? Wrong, but before getting into the specific foods, let me tell you one thing.

Eating healthy is an investment which has unquantifiable value for yourself, your future and the future of the planet. It is a responsibility which, as people living in developed countries with the privilege of choice, we should all aim for and try to make our best to accept it and act on it.

Is it expensive?

Expensive, by definition, is something that involves high cost and sacrifice. Start thinking about this: how much do you value your own health? Does it have a price and if so, what's its price? Is it worth fueling your body with cheaper foods today and spend the rest of the money on medications tomorrow? What's the return-on-investment of this practice? Is it really convenient in the long run?

If you value your health as much as you should, you already know the answers to those questions. Health is wealth, they say, and it's true. Whenever you choose to eat something you can either enrich yourself or become more poor. It goes without saying that I'm not talking about money here, because yes, fresh fruits and vegetables, plant-milks and nut butters can often be more expensive than a piece of meat, a can of cow's milk, a package of eggs or a BigMac. However, this is true only if we look at the cost-per-calorie, not the cost-per-nutrition.

That's a great lesson I've learned from Dr. Michael Greger, which in his book How Not To Die explains this concept very clearly: "An average serving of vegetables may cost roughly four times more than the avarage serving of junk food, but those veggies have been calculated to average twenty-four times more nutrition. So on a cost-per-nutrition basis, vegetables offer six times more nutrition per pound compared to highly processed foods". Good quality meat (I mean the one which is supposedly not filled with antibiotics) is also expensive (in addition to being bad for you anyway). Following the same logic, in this meat-vs-vegetables scenario, veggies give you even more nutritional value, about "forty-eight times more nutrition per pound than meat".

Approaching the "it is expensive!" issue from this perspective changes everything, but there is more good news. The most caloric healthy, plant-based foods are also the cheapest. Think about potatoes, rice, oats, pasta, beans, lentils. Those are the cheapest foods in the planet and they can (should) be the base for all your healthy dishes. This way you can get the calories you need from foods that not only will not be threatening your health, but will also give you an incredible amount of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Then, you can top them or mix them with the slightly more expensive (on a cost-per-pound basis) fruits and vegetables (kale, spinach, berries, bananas, mangos, etc.) to create dishes that, while being equally if not more delicious, will nourish you and will prevent you from getting sick.

Another important point is that you don't need the so-called "superfoods" to give a boost to your health. Forget all those expensive goji or acai berries, vitamin or protein supplements, there are much cheaper and equally tasty options out there that will give you exactly the same amount of anti-oxidants and phytonutrients. In the end, it all comes to one simple thing: don't let marketing drive your food choices, let science do this.

Is it difficult?

You might think that a diet consisting only of whole plant foods will be boring, but it is proven that your taste buds quickly adapt to the taste of fresh, non-processed fruits and vegetables. It takes just a couple of weeks to get used to less salt, less artificial sweeteners, less oils and unhealthy fats (which are the things that keep you hooked to junk food, meat and dairy products). After this short period of adaptation, that peach will taste literally like pure sugar, and a ripe banana is all you'll need to satisfy your sweet cravings after lunch.

Last, but not least, if you choose to eat a healthier whole-foods vegan diet, it doesn't mean that you'll not be able to eat the foods you love anymore. As a vegan, I still enjoy pizza and burgers. The only difference is that now I'm aware of what is good and bad for my body, and I can choose accordingly. I'll skip the cheese in pizza (healthier choice) or use a vegan cheese instead (less healthy but hey, I gotta treat myself sometimes!) and choose the chickpea burger instead of the hamburger (much tastier, trust me).

The fact that I'm driven by an ethical motivation helps me a lot in keeping my diet as clean as possible, so even though I know that eating some mozzarella once every few months wouldn't cause me cancer, I still skip it all the times and refuse if somebody offers it to me. For me, this is the approach that works and makes me feel best, but you can do differently. If you really can't live without that sausage and eggs, this doesn't mean you have to give it up forever or use the excuse that "no, I can't give it up!" to keep eating it day in and day out. You can still have a full English breakfast a few times a year and you won't die, your body knows very well how to recover from a punch in the face, as long as it doesn't happen every day. What matters is what you eat the rest of the time.

There is a problem with this approach though. As humans, we tend to become addicted to things. If you know you have a potentially addictive personality (like, you smoke a few cigarettes and quickly become addicted to nicotine, for example), then maybe you should try to avoid those foods always, even if your mom cooked them for you. It takes a lot of will power to do this, it's not easy, but definitely doable. Especially if you remember that each of those unhealthy foods comes with a price, not only for your health and the planet (it takes 15500 liters of water to produce 1 kg of beef), but most of the times for the animals that were exploited and killed to produce it.

Italian, (plant)based in Poland, passionate about nutrition and avid oatmeal eater.

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