Updated 13th March 2023

How to eat well on a budget

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    Living costs have risen dramatically. With energy prices doubling and food prices skyrocketing, the weekly grocery bill can be overwhelming.

    Food is among the biggest expenses for many of us, and to save money, people are opting for cheaper ingredients and meals.

    Is healthy food now an unaffordable luxury? Or is it possible to eat healthily while keeping costs down?

    In today’s episode of the podcast, Jonathan speaks with Dr. Rupy Aujla and Tim Spector to better understand how to eat healthier while spending less.

    • Dr. Rupy Aujla is a medical doctor who, since 2015, has been teaching people to cook their way to health. He’s the founder of The Doctor’s Kitchen and has recently turned his efforts to healthy cooking on a tight budget.

    • Tim Spector is a co-founder of ZOE and one of the world's top 100 most cited scientists.

    If you want to uncover the right foods for your body, head to joinZOE.com/podcast and get 10% off your personalized nutrition program.

    Episode transcripts are available here.

    Buy Rupy’s book here.

    Find delicious recipe ideas here.

    Follow Rupy on Instagram.

    Follow Tim on Instagram.

    Follow ZOE on Instagram.

    Have an idea for a podcast? Contact Fascinate Productions to bring it to life.


    [00:00:00] Jonathan Wolf: Welcome to ZOE Science & Nutrition, where world-leading scientists explain how their research can improve your health.

    Unless you've been living under a rock, you will have noticed that the cost of living has soared. Energy prices have doubled. The cost of food has gone up enormously, with some staples like eggs doubling or even tripling over the last year. As a result, the bill for the weekly shop can be shocking. For some of us, this is merely an inconvenience, but many others face the awful choice between heating their home and eating their normal diet.

    For most of us, food sits alongside our rental mortgage and household bills as our biggest expenditure. To cut costs, many of us are throwing cheaper ingredients into our shopping baskets. So does this mean eating healthily is an indulgence that needs to be dropped in favor of cheap ultra-processed food? Or is it possible to eat healthily on a budget?

    Today's guest has been thinking long and hard about this. Rupy Aujla is a medical doctor who since 2015, has been teaching people to cook their way to health as the founder of the Doctor's Kitchen. Recently, he's turned his efforts to doing so on a tight budget, and in today's episode, we find out how.

    After you've listened to the show you can download Rupy's seven-day budget meal plan. It's packed with cheap and healthy meal ideas to keep your taste buds, gut health, and wallet happy for the week. He also has a new book out Rupy Cooks features a hundred easy recipes that put flavor and nutrition first. I have it here and the pictures alone are enough to make me hungry.

    You'll find links to both of these in the show notes. Regular Tim Spector also joins me today. He's one of the world's top 100 most cited scientists and my co-founder here at ZOE, he shares his tips to keep your gut healthy on a budget.

    Rupy and Tim, thank you for joining me today and I think this is really topical. Why don't we start, as we always do with a quickfire round of questions from our listeners and Rupy, there are some very simple rules. You need to give us a yes or a no or a one-sentence answer, but you're not allowed more than that, which is hard for scientists and I think also quite hard for doctors.

    So are you ready to give it a go?

    [00:02:33] Rupy Aujla: Yeah, I am. 

    [00:02:35] Jonathan Wolf: Brilliant. All right, so we'll start with Rupy. Is it possible to eat highly nutritious food on a budget? 

    [00:02:42] Rupy Aujla: Yes. 

    [00:02:43] Jonathan Wolf: Good. Good strong start for this podcast, I think. All right. The second one is where there are quite a few questions along these lines. If I'm cooking for one, are there microwave-ready meals that can be healthy?

    [00:02:55] Rupy Aujla: Yes.

    [00:02:56] Jonathan Wolf: And Rupy pulled a bit of a face, so we'll come back to that one. I can see there was some real thought. 

    [00:03:00] Tim Spector: It was a slightly iffy yes. Wasn't it? 

    [00:03:04] Jonathan Wolf: It was. So that would be interesting to come back to. 

    [00:03:07] Tim Spector: You had to think really hard about something.

    [00:03:09] Jonathan Wolf: I certainly think there are things you can heat in the microwave that are healthy, that is quite a big part of my lunch now, but I think that'd be very interesting to go into.

    And last one, Rupy, are organic fruits and vegetables worth the extra money? 

    [00:03:22] Rupy Aujla: Kind of. Kind of, I would say, yeah. It really depends on the budget you have. That's what I would say. 

    [00:03:30] Jonathan Wolf: Brilliant. And I think we'll come back to that course as well. Tim, should we pay up for fresh fruit and vegetables instead of tinned ones?

    [00:03:38] Tim Spector: It depends. There's no overall one size fits all answer. 

    [00:03:43] Jonathan Wolf: Is it possible to have a diet that's high in plant diversity if you're on a budget? 

    [00:03:48] Tim Spector: Absolutely. 

    [00:03:49] Jonathan Wolf: And finally, we had a lot of questions about this from listeners. Do our listeners need to worry about getting enough protein if they're cutting back on meat because of the costs?

    [00:03:59] Tim Spector: No, not if they listen to this podcast. 

    [00:04:02] Jonathan Wolf: All right, well look, I think that's a brilliant start. So Rupy, what's one swap you can make today if you're trying to eat well for less? 

    [00:04:10] Rupy Aujla: I would say swap your processed snacks for whole food snacks. Really, really easy to do. You could go for cashews, you could add pumpkin seeds instead of grabbing one of those nut bars from the convenience store. It's a really easy and cheap way and something that could definitely save you some money as well. 

    [00:04:29] Jonathan Wolf: Brilliant. And Tim, what's one swap that you can make today if you're trying to eat well, for less? 

    [00:04:35] Tim Spector: I'd use more canned products. People think that because it's in a can, it's highly processed and unhealthy. But for the vast majority of these products, that's not true. So canned tomatoes have actually more nutrients in them than most of the tomatoes you get from supermarkets. And there are plenty of fantastically nutrient-rich things like beans and legumes and chickpeas, et cetera, which are all ready to go, and hardly need any cooking. Don't use, you know, much electricity and they're great for you. 

    [00:05:06] Jonathan Wolf: Brilliant, Dr. Rupy. It's pretty tough out there at the moment. Many of our listeners are really feeling the increased costs of living right now, and with energy costs and food costs so much higher. The food budget is obviously a real focus for many who've asked a lot of questions.

    You've been thinking about this at the moment and looking at some solutions. , can you tell us what you've been up to? 

    [00:05:28] Rupy Aujla: So I've been up to quite a few things. I've been creating a budget meal planner. I've been working with BBC Food to look at the cost of living crisis in the UK and monitoring the prices of different ingredients. And then coming up with recipes that will serve people for less than £1.50 a serving all the while maintaining plant diversity, fiber, and at least three portions of fruits or vegetables per person as well, which is a bit of a challenge, but it is possible. So that's why I can speak with confidence.

    I've been around the country speaking to a few different charities and seeing how they're dealing with the increase in demand for their services. And for the last couple of years, I've been speaking with different organizations like FareShare, and Shelter, and they've been on my podcast. They've been trying to promote their work about their work within food banks and looking at how we can support families really at the point of the breadline.

    So it is pretty unsettling to see what's happening, and I don't want to shy away from that. But I think there's also an opportunity to think about food in a way that will put everyone in a good state going forward because there's so much we can do with our ingredients. There are so many different ways in which we can utilize this situation to learn to cook.

    And there are many different ways in which we can cook using ingredients like frozen food, tin food, and jarred food that we've sort of traditionally sidelined as less nutritious when it turns out they're actually pretty darn good for us. 

    [00:06:58] Jonathan Wolf: Let's get into this. You know, maybe if you just start us off, like what is the situation? What do you think people can do about it? 

    [00:07:05] Rupy Aujla: Yeah, I think the first thing to be cognizant of is it is a really tough situation and it's constantly changing. So the last couple of months I've been doing a bit of work with BBC Food and their food team, just monitoring the prices of common ingredients people tend to buy at their local supermarkets.

    And the fluctuation is huge, on a week-by-week basis. So it is constantly moving. The good thing I think is that some classic methods of cooking are sort of coming back into fashion. So the slow cookers, the batch cooking, the reimagining of like how we can use our freezers to, you know, maintain a healthy eating habit.

    I think some of the lessons we're going to learn from this period in time where we're experiencing a literal cost of living crisis is actually going to be, hopefully, something that we can maintain the learnings from going forward. So yeah, I think there's definitely a lot that we can learn from this situation and hopefully, we can teach a few people a few tricks on this podcast as well.

    [00:08:10] Jonathan Wolf: I do want to maybe introduce maybe a few of what you see because I know you've been doing this with a number of different organizations. People are saying I'm struggling the way that I was probably cooking in the past. Like, it's too expensive. What are the options that are open to people if they don't want to switch to maybe sort of the cheapest ultra-processed food that's available, which often seems like the cheapest way to feed your family week?

    [00:08:34] Rupy Aujla: Yeah, I would reimagine the ingredients that are often the cheapest on the shelf. So the starchy vegetables, parsnips, swedes, turnips. Right now looking at what's seasonal as well, that tends to be a lot cheaper. And again, that would be reflected in the price that you see in both supermarkets and in local markets.

    There's a fantastic organization called the Alexandra Rose charity that is actually doing a trial right now with food vouchers where they're giving them to certain members of the population in different boroughs in London. And you can only use those vouchers at local food markets where you tend to get cheap vegetables.

    So there are a few things that we can think about and also, such as batch cooking and getting comfortable with substituting ingredients that you tend to use more often, but perhaps have gone up in price. Things like meat and actually substituting that for pulses is a really great ways of increasing fiber, increasing protein whilst being better on the wallet.

    [00:09:31] Jonathan Wolf: I think I immediately want to start to ask a bit more about batch cooking. Like what does that really mean? Sounds very industrial to me. Help us understand what you're suggesting. 

    [00:09:41] Rupy Aujla: Yeah. When I say batch cook, I'm really talking about like serving sizes of six or more. So a typical batch cook meal might be a red lentil curry, something that I and my partner make most weeks, where you just sweat down some onions.

    You add your spy base, it might be mustard seeds and fennel. You add the red lentil-dried pulses that you've washed, and then you add canned tomatoes, you'd add some frozen spinach to that, for example. You might add whatever other ingredients that you can find that are starch ingredients, like even carrots for example.

    You stew that down for about 20, or 25 minutes, and then you've made enough for six plus servings. You freeze two-thirds of that, and you eat like two servings worth at that current mealtime, so that way you've already got enough for, you know, the next couple days, or you can even have it in a couple of weeks' time, and you just keep that in the freezer.

    So that's an example. Batch cooking, there are a number of benefits of that. A, you've saved yourself time. If you know, come back from work, it's 8:00 PM, and you can't really be bothered to cook something fresh from scratch. You've got something in the freezer, and B, you're cooking a large amount once and with the energy prices going up, it means that overall you're not going to be expending as much energy and you can quickly warm that up either on the hob or in a microwave.

    [00:10:57] Tim Spector: Yeah. And I do a similar thing with soups. Take the leftover veg at the bottom of the week, you know, and make it into, vegetable soup. And in exactly the same amount of work doing a, you know, one or two portions or six. And so it's a really efficient way and you've always got, you know, some soup for lunch or your evening meal as well.

    So all you just need is a freezer and if you don't add dairy to it, it actually lasts longer as well. So that's the other sort of option to think about when you're reheating and things. 

    [00:11:30] Rupy Aujla: That's a really good point because sometimes we might just do the first set of ingredients and then as we get fresh ingredients during the week, then we'll just add them when we're preparing that meal.

    So, for example, if I've got like, you know, the red onion and ginger and garlic in the base of my red lentil stew, and I won't use any fresh vegetables when it comes to in the week, I can warm that up on the hob and then I'll just throw in chopped red peppers or whatever green leaves I've got. I could add some salad leaves and rockets to that.

    And that way I've got the benefits of having that fresh vegetable in it. The difference in taste, so everything's not just stewed down and you feel like as if like, you know, cooking something from scratch, but you've got a bit of a headstart. 

    [00:12:13] Jonathan Wolf: I was about to say that what you described sounded delicious.

    And are you gonna share the recipe so we can link to it in the show notes? 

    Yeah, yeah, of course. There's plenty. Definitely. 

    Excellent. Because I think a lot of people have been listening to this and are like me, which is they would like to eat variety. They've sort of bought into this idea that sorting more plants is, are healthier for them and they're not very confident in the kitchen.

    And a lot of the questions again are, you know, I need to make a change, but I think, I'm not as confident as Rupy or indeed as Tim, who I know has been on a cooking tour of discovery over the last decade. And so how hard is this to adopt? So, you know, if you've been doing batch cooking all your life, then it seems obvious if this is a really big change, like how much skill and capability is required to start to think about your eating like this?

    [00:13:00] Rupy Aujla: I think the best advice I'd give to anyone, whether that's starting a healthy eating habit or getting involved in like more thrifty cooking, is to master one recipe at a time. Because when you have a master recipe, whether it's that lentil curry that I just described, or maybe it's a stew-like a winter stew right now would be perfect. I mean, it's, you know, autumnal and we've got all these different spices that are warming and delicious, focus on that sort of base and the foundational level of like how you build that recipe and you can sub in different ingredients. And so whenever I do recipes, I tend to add swaps into the recipe structure.

    So if I'm using a recipe and it's using turnips or radish or sweet or wherever it might be, I'll say, okay, if you don't have this, you can also add sweet potato or you can add a parsnip instead, or whatever that the swap might be. If I'm using an allion vegetable in that stew, this mythical stew that I'm talking about, you know, you can use-

    [00:14:01] Tim Spector: That's a garlic or an onion.

    [00:14:03] Rupy Aujla: Yes, exactly. You could use a spring onion, you could use a shallot, you could use a red onion or white onion, whatever onion you can find, you can swap that in or fennel, for example, something like that, that has the same flavor profile and the same length of cooking as well when you're using it in a recipe.

    So my advice is always to start with just one, because it can be quite overwhelming if you're like trying to learn air fryer recipes and slow cooker recipes and you know, it can be quite overwhelming. Just start with one. 

    [00:14:31] Tim Spector: I also agree, and I think when I was teaching myself how to cook 10 years ago, I did the same route and actually started with more a sort of Italian vegetable base, which starts with, you know, onions and then a bit of celery, a bit of garlic, lots of olive oil, and then you slowly build on that and then you add your tomatoes and then you've got your herbs, and then you've got some base that can go in a number of directions, and it's good enough to eat on its own, but you can add in lentils and make it a curry. You can add in beans, some chilies and make it a, a chili, as Rupy says, starting with a base that you're comfortable with, you can sort of do blindfold eventually, I think is really important for everybody who's trying to do this, and in Mediterranean countries and Asia, every kid has sort of taught this. 

    [00:15:17] Rupy Aujla: Yeah. 

    [00:15:17] Tim Spector: We've lost the knack in this country.

    [00:15:19] Rupy Aujla: Yeah, definitely. So, when you look at different recipes from different cultures, whether it's from the Mediterranean like my wife's from Italy, you know, her base is a sofrito. If you look at Indian culture, it's always like, you know, ginger and onions and mustard seed or fennel or cumin seed to flavor the oil and then you add whatever base you're adding to that. A type of lentil or a type of bean. If you go to different countries in the wider sort of continent of Asia, you find sort of similar patterns in terms of that flavor profile at the start and then building on top.

    And then once you sort of understand that, then you can start to play around. 

    [00:15:56] Jonathan Wolf: And Rupy. I think some people will be listening to us and saying It sounds delicious. In fact, I already want to eat your curry for sure. I didn't realize I needed to eat more before I started this podcast because I'm already hungry and we're not that far into it.

    But I think they're also going to be saying, isn't that all quite expensive? They sound like quite fancy ingredients and we are having this discussion here about eating on a budget. So aren't you now like talking about really fancy and expensive food? 

    [00:16:21] Rupy Aujla: No, not really. I'm actually talking about the cheapest food.

    So when you go to your supermarket, your local market, if you're lucky to have a farmer's market near you, you'll find that those vegetables, whether it be whatever's in season or whether it's the onions or ginger, those tend to be very, very cheap. And one slight tip I always have to people is always thinking about your produce in price per kilo.

    Or price per two pounds or whatever it might be for the Americans because that way you have sort of a flat grading system, a way of thinking, conceptualizing about how much produce you're actually getting for your pound or dollar spent. And so whenever I go into the supermarket, I'm always looking at, okay, what are the carrots and aubergines and how much you know, mushroom can I get for that?

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    And you realize which vegetables are actually more expensive than others. So just looking at the supermarkets that we have in the UK, mushrooms tend to be a lot more expensive in terms of how much you can get per kilo than let's say carrots or even brussels sprouts at the moment because it's in season.

    So that way you are always sort of judging what I can get for the amount of money I can spend. And particularly when you start swapping animal products for mostly plant-based products, particularly pulses, you're getting good amounts of fiber and protein from a much cheaper price point as well.

    So actually this way of cooking that adds more diversity into your weekly diet is actually going to be better for you and, and cheaper. 

    [00:17:49] Tim Spector: Just to add on that means there are lots of recipes where you can substitute all or part of the meat, for pulses, lentils, or mushrooms, and you get virtually the same umami flavors, but actually it's cheaper and healthier for you.

    And I think it brings back to this point that people shouldn't be so obsessed with following a recipe absolutely to the letter. If getting broccoli at that season is the most expensive thing they can do need to be confident to make these sorts of swaps for some similar ones. And I think that's what Rupy was alluding to, but many people do think the only way they can do a recipe is to follow it 100% and it's not going to be good if they deviate by one, you know, teaspoon. 

    [00:18:35] Jonathan Wolf: I think we're a bit like that at home. My wife's a doctor and I like to think it's part of the medical training. Although Rupy and Tim, you all seem quite different so I don't know if that's true, you know? But you're supposed to do something just right because after all if you do it wrong, you might kill somebody.

    So, you know, when she has a list of instructions, her go-to places to do it just exactly right. And I think as someone where, we've been cooking a lot more, particularly since Justine did ZOE and suddenly has been getting all of these recipes every week. But I think she definitely approaches it as, okay, I need to do that exactly right.

    In part, I think, to be fair, because neither of us has the confidence that, you know, if you go off the recipe, you won't suddenly go for something really nice to something completely disgusting. And I think part of your message here is that we should be less nervous about this, that actually a lot of these recipes are more tolerant to just swapping, you know, one plant for another. Is that right?

    [00:19:33] Rupy Aujla: Yeah, I think certainly the recipes that you want to try master if you are new to this whole world of cooking and batch cooking and, thrifty cooking is to look for those that have a bit of flex in the actual ingredients that you can utilize. So, for example, you know, a lot of the budget recipes that I've been formulating over the past couple of months include frozen foods and frozen vegetables, and so it would be a very easy swap to add frozen peas instead of frozen mixed vegetables or frozen broccoli heads, for example. And so that amount of flex that you can have in stews, casserole, stir-fries, curries, it's definitely there you can definitely find those kinds of recipes that allow that flexibility. If you're a nervous cook or you're nervous to go off-piste.

    [00:20:19] Jonathan Wolf: And what about all the people who are saying, you know, it sounds great. You're cooking for like a family or at least a couple, but actually, I'm living on my own and we had lots of questions around this saying. 

    [00:20:30] Rupy Aujla: Mm-hmm. 

    [00:20:30] Jonathan Wolf: It just feels like a lot more challenging to cook well, if you're eating on your own, and this is where some of these questions were about, you know, just a ready meal.

    So, I mean, you've mentioned batch cooking, so I guess that's one possible answer, but is there anything else that you could advise people as they're saying that, you know, just feels like this is all like sort of harder for me. 

    [00:20:50] Rupy Aujla: Yeah, I, I think certainly for people cooking on their own, I always like to think about those £1 meals for one, because that's largely how I sort of taught myself to cook when I was at med school and also working as a junior doctor.

    And so literally throwing everything into one pan and just letting the heat and the pan itself do the work is just exactly how I like to think about what my end-of-work meal was like. And so it can be a case of adding some tinned beans that you've drained and rinsed, adding it to the pan, adding a spice mix, adding some lit green leaf to that, and then maybe even adding like a sauce that you can make up in no time at all.

    And that just makes a very quick beans stew for one. You've got enough for dinner, you've got enough for the next day and lunch. So I always like to think about not only, okay, how quick can I make it and how can I minimize the washing up? But also I've sorted out my lunch for tomorrow, which means I've halved the amount of cook time that I need to do every single day.

    So that's sort of the way I like to frame it for meals, for one, because it's like the effort and also from an emotional point of view, thinking about the act of cooking as an act of self-compassion, an act of sort of self-love. Something that you enjoy doing cause you want to nourish yourself.

    I think that's an important sort of frame of mind to get into as well. 

    [00:22:08] Tim Spector: I've spent quite a lot of time on my own writing books. I'm in such a bad mood, no one wants to be near me- 

    [00:22:12] Jonathan Wolf: And I've spoken to Tim's wife and I can validate that statement, but keep going. 

    [00:22:19] Tim Spector: So, you know, cooking for myself, you know, time poor, I want to get on with a book, et cetera, as we sort of discussed, sort of doing batch cooking, but in a way, thinking about, I can use this meal for two or three other ones.

    [00:22:31] Rupy Aujla: Mm-hmm. 

    [00:22:31] Tim Spector: Particularly if they're vegetarian, there's no meat, it's not gonna go off and it's fine to store it. You start with either a curry base or a, you know, tomato-y Italian base, and each day you make it something different so you don't have to start from scratch every time. And I found that you know, through trial and error, a very useful way.

    So you do the same base and then you've got three evening meals that are very different, as I said, a chili, a curry, an Italian arrabbiata, you know, these things with different grains, et cetera. So as you get more experience, you get to learn how to do this to minimize the work and maximize it. And of course, I think we've got to get used to all of us, having leftovers again, like I did when I was young, you know, the leftovers were actually a proper meal, you know, always on Monday you'd have the leftovers from the Sunday join. That was traditional. And thinking ahead to say, okay, well I'm going to have a small amount of this the next day and maybe take it into work with you rather than going to the, you know, unhealthy sandwich shop or canteen, I think is just a mindset we all need to get used to because actually, it's much better for us. We can control what we eat much better at home than we can when we're out. 

    [00:23:48] Jonathan Wolf: And can I ask a little bit about how long the food lasts? Because I think it feels like a natural follow-on. And I know a lot of people are anxious. You know, in the same way, we're anxious that the food arrives and has a used-by date. I find it extremely hard to convince my wife to touch anything after the used-by date. We're seeing some shift, Tim because you keep talking about this, but how should we think about this because you're making this food yourself and so suddenly, you know, you haven't got an official stamp around it.

    How rapidly do we need to get rid of this food after we are making it if we're doing batch cooking or you know, cooking for multiple days?

    [00:24:23] Tim Spector: Basically, if you're not using meat or dairy, you've got really long times. If it's kept in the fridge, it's going to vary depending on its state of it. So you have to use your senses and look at them.

    And it's more looking and smelling than it is on actually using a timer in my view. So if I haven't put cheese or yogurt or anything in it, I'm happy for that to stay there for four or five days, really before I've got any worries about it. I don't want you to think Rupy on that. 

    [00:24:54] Rupy Aujla: Yeah, I agree. My sort of rule of thumb is around four days for plant-based ingredients.

    As long as you haven't used dairy or any other meat products in it. If you're freezing it, Straight away and it's cold rapidly, then it can, you know, stay in the freezer for months, and making sure that you are reheating it so it's piping hot before consumption, which is again, one of the benefits of freezing.

    [00:25:16] Jonathan Wolf: I'd love to come onto something that came up at, right at the beginning, which was talking about how you can get nutrition from foods that you might not think were nutritious, and you were mentioning tinned foods and frozen foods. I was definitely brought up to believe that clearly, they were going to be much worse for you than something you know, in the fresh food aisle.

    After all, that's why it was like the fresh food aisle. How should we think about that? 

    [00:25:40] Rupy Aujla: I think there can be a real addition to a healthy diet and sometimes in certain cases better as well. So particularly view in products out of season. I'm thinking of frozen berries, frozen sweet corn, and certain frozen greens as well.

    Peas, that I always have. I must be a prolific user of frozen peas. I literally throw into everything just to add a little bit of color to my meal, and because they're frozen at source, they lock in a lot of their nutrients. It's very easy to transport. There's a minimal waste because you can just put them back into your freezer. They take minutes to cook, whether you're sautéing them or adding them to a casserole, for example. And in some cases with canned products like canned sweet corn, you can actually have more vitamin C as well. So I think everyone understandably would scoff that tinned and canned and jarred foods as being less nutritious. But actually, I think they're fantastic. Always looking at the labels. Certain cam products are better than others. So the ones that I go for are generally ones with just water and no seasoning added to them because you can always season yourself. And we did, a bit of work looking at the cheapest tinned, legumes-

    [00:26:52] Jonathan Wolf: And Rupy just helps people to understand what a legume is.

    [00:26:56] Rupy Aujla: Sorry. Yeah, so it's your beans, lentils, pulses those raw classes, legumes because they're, they're grown in pods and those that tend to be super nutritious and very, very cheap sources of protein and fiber. So chickpeas, adzuki beans in the states, they've got navy and pinto beans, which are very popular over here.

    We have haricot, which is basically what you find in, Heinz beans, no sponsorship here. Um. And you have a lot of different sorts of varieties there. They're super cheap and the cheapest tend to be chickpeas. They range from around 40 to 60 p a can. So it just shows you just how cheap they can be.

    [00:27:39] Jonathan Wolf: Which is like 50 to 70 cents, right? So incredibly cheap. 

    [00:27:43] Rupy Aujla: Super cheap. Exactly. And it's even cheaper if you have the time and the inclination to prepare them from scratch. So I grew up in an Indian household and like I vividly remember my mom and our extended family getting massive vats of lentils and picking out sort of the stones on a Saturday morning and then that would go into a big vat. Cook that, and then we'd, you know, partition it out and use it in various recipes throughout the week. That's, you know, a really even cheaper way of cooking it because you pay for the convenience of having it in a can or a jar. Yeah.

    [00:28:19] Jonathan Wolf: Lots and lots of people, listeners also on social saying they're really worried about getting enough protein. with the cost of food going up. And so for example, here in the UK, the price of chicken has increased by 17% in the last year, right? So there's an enormous rise and maybe Tim, starting with you. Do people need to worry so much about this if as a consequence of this, they're reducing the meat that maybe they've traditionally been eating?

    [00:28:44] Tim Spector: The brief answer is no. There's a sort of a misnomer that we are permanently on the edge of protein deprivation in this country and actually, you know, the recommended dietary estimates for protein are way over the top when you actually look at what the real figures show. So we're perfectly replete in protein, even if you are vegetarian or vegan, for the vast majority of people, the only group that I think we don't know for sure that's the case are probably, you know, the very elderly.

    The over 80s. Where there might be different protein needs and there hasn't been enough study done looking at them, but for the vast majority of the population, we certainly don't need protein supplements. We don't need protein bars. It adds absolutely nothing to us. We can't store spare protein, and so it literally just gets peed out really.

    So this is a marketing exercise by the big food again to try and tell us that we need to have these things. And you know, the idea that if you eat lots of protein, you are going to get lots of muscles is simply not true. You know, there's a sort of limit to how much humans can eat in terms of protein. So I think as people are transitioning from a totally meat-based diet to a plant-based diet, I do think it's important that people do realize that which are the plants that do have high protein levels and you can be perfectly strong and super healthy and get all the protein you need from this range of plants as long as you have a balanced, varied, and diverse plant diet. If you are just living off ultra-processed foods and carbs, the very poorest of society, then you might be in trouble.

    But for most people listening, switching from meat to vegetarian is not going to cause you any protein restrictions at all. But as Rupy said, you know, focus on those plants that do give you enormous protein levels and people forget that things like corn or your quinoa, you know, have really high protein levels and this is an important source of all our protein.

    It's not just with, you know, that roast beef or eggs that you know, we've been accustomed to. You don't have to. So that's my view. I don't know if you agree, Rupy. 

    [00:31:09] Rupy Aujla: Yeah, no, I totally agree. I think, again, we've sort of been conditioned to think about protein in terms of protein animal products. And that's sort of the quick heuristic we make, whereas, you know, in reality, I didn't grow up in a household that was vegetarian, but we had a largely vegetarian diet.

    And actually, I mean, if you just look at India, a place with over a billion people, over 30% of that population are vegetarian, which is why it's actually really cool to get inspiration from all these different cultures and their cuisines and the combination of different ingredients will ensure that you get the full plethora of different types of amino acids that you need in a protein-rich diet or a protein adequate diet.

    And I agree. I think it's sort of like this fear of being protein deficient that is spread amongst people. And actually what we need to be talking about is how fiber deficient we are, how our diet is actually quite lacking in diversity, and how we need to get more plants into our diet. That's actually the bigger issue, rather than protein deficiency in the UK and the US as well.

    [00:32:14] Tim Spector: There's no money in it, is there? Well, there's, there's lots of money in pushing protein and protein bars and protein supplements.

    [00:32:20] Rupy Aujla: Yeah. 

    [00:32:21] Tim Spector: And processed foods with, you know, extra soy protein added and things like this. So, yeah, so I think we agree. It's basically nonsense or, you know, apart from, if you've got some illness or you are particularly frail or whatever, then you know, you might need to seek some particular advice.

    But for the vast majority of people, protein is not their problem. There are plenty of other problems. 

    [00:32:45] Rupy Aujla: I know lots, lots of people ask questions about how I get protein on a budget. I'd probably say, well, let's separate out that protein element. Let's just look at like, how do I maintain nutritional adequacy on a budget.

    That's really the way we should be framing how we think about these things. If we are diving into protein-rich plant-based ingredients, some of which we've already described, like quinoa, for example, so on the higher end of the spend in terms of the different types of grains, or technically it's a pseudo-grain, but you know, most people think about as a grain.

    But then there's, there are also different types of seeds. So shelled hemp seeds, for example, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, all those different types of seeds. They're, you know, fantastic and nuts as well, like peanuts and walnuts. But then you also have them from the pulses that I always love talking about.

    Those beans, chickpeas, those lentils, those are really, really, high protein. And when you combine that with, you know, a diet with all different types of grains and plants themselves, like dark green leafy vegetables, you're definitely going to be protein adequate. It's certainly something that we need to be focusing more on rather than animal proteins.

    [00:33:52] Jonathan Wolf: And I'd say it's definitely been a sort of journey of discovery, you know, for me over the last few years. So, you know, personal story, Tim actually came round to my house for dinner last night, which was lots of fun. And he helped me to cook my ZOE recipe for today. So I get every week these updated recipes. And actually, my wife was sick, so she wasn't there. And she'd normally like push me away and basically, Jonathan, you're completely incompetent in the kitchen, so you know, get away. But luckily Tim was there to help me and a big part of the dinner was a tin of butter beans. And I'll be honest, I don't think I knew what a butter bean was, you know, 12 months ago.

    But it's like a sort of whitish, fairly large bean. And what's fascinating is, you know, when you look at the back, firstly it's incredibly cheap. So it's like a dollar for this can of butter beans. Like if you ate the whole can of butter beans like you're not going to eat anything else.

    So there's an enormous amount of calories in it. Like, so if you think about that price versus, you know, any of these sorts of ultra-processed, it is extraordinarily good value. But what's interesting in just, you know, to make that concrete, there's an enormous amount of protein in it. There's an enormous amount of fiber in it, and then when you put it in with a bunch of other vegetables, and in this case, we had salmon because I don't only eat a plant-based diet. Like it's incredibly filling and not something that I would ever have thought about until I started getting all of these recipes that were swapped out, you know, a lot of the starchy food that was really bad for my health before. And obviously, that's not the same for everybody, but in my case, a lot of this was health-related.

    And I think it is a really good example though of also just how convenient it is because it just sits in the cupboard, right? For, months and months and months, we now have all of these different beans, most of which I'd never heard of before. They're all really cheap and they all taste really different.

    So this is like a whole, it's been like a sort of, a bit of a new adventure and Tim is looking at me as if like, it's all really obvious, but you know, for me, I think coming from maybe very traditional cuisine I didn't grow up with like some amazing Indian, you know, cuisine. My mother's a good cook but in a much more traditional way.

    This has been really exciting. And so I think often when I see these comments, particularly about the protein, it feels like there's been a lot of marketing. 

    [00:36:17] Rupy Aujla: Mm. 

    [00:36:17] Jonathan Wolf: Perhaps to make you feel like, you know, the only way you can get this is through the meat. And it feels like you're saying, you know, honestly, this is not something you really need to worry about if you are eating, you know the sorts of plants that do have lots of protein in them? 

    [00:36:33] Rupy Aujla: Yeah, I would agree. And it's interesting, that recipe you described, is almost similar to how I formulate recipes. I'm always thinking about where I'm putting the legume, the bean, or the lentil.

    So let's say someone's listening to this and they can just make spag bol, a spaghetti bolognese, you know, you're in the US or the UK, everyone kind of knows how to make a spag bol. Well, a great way of adding diversity and fiber to that is if you still wanna keep the meat, that's fine, but take away half of the meat, save that, put that in the freezer, and you can use that in another recipe.

    Maybe it's, a shepherd's pie or lasagna or whatever it might be. And then replace that with green lentils or pure lentils. Or if you are lucky, you can use something called beluga lentils, which are beautiful, nutty, and delicious. And you add that to your spag bol and then you know, you add some frozen spinach, which I think is one of the best things in the supermarket, frozen spinach because they're collapsed into little briquettes.

    And if you think about like a bag of spinach, everyone's had that experience, you put a bag of spinach into your saucepan and it just whittles away to nothing. Well, in a frozen bag of spinach, you're getting that, like 10 of those. So the value for money is just incredible. So if you're adding that to your spag bol, you've got greens in there, you've got lentils in there, you've got a bit of your meat if you still eat meat and that way you're increasing fiber, you're reducing your cost, and you're adding diversity as well.

    So it's like a win-win to think of these recipes in ways you can add little elements to them to improve diversity and your overall health. 

    [00:38:09] Tim Spector: Mushroom is the other thing you can add in as well as a substitute for meat very easily. 

    [00:38:14] Rupy Aujla: Yeah. 

    [00:38:14] Tim Spector: Works brilliantly. They're a super powerhouse, you know, nutrient wise that we are not really eating enough of. And very seasonal of course, but particularly good, a brilliant source of everything really. Even vitamin D, if you put them in the sun.

    [00:38:27] Jonathan Wolf: I'd like to sort of wrap up with one final question, which we also had quite a lot, which is if you're economizing, you're also maybe thinking like, what's the one food that you would still spend, you know, more money on?

    You wouldn't be looking for sort of the lowest price option. So I'd like to ask each of you, maybe start with Tim this time. What's the one food that you'd say, actually no, I would spend a bit more money on? 

    [00:38:54] Tim Spector: For me, it'd be cheese just because I love cheese. And I think, you know, even when you're going through hard times, it's important to have something that you keep, that you really love and you enjoy.

    And you know, you might make economies elsewhere, but you don't deprive yourself of one of your favorite foods. So cheese, you know, used to be maligned as unhealthy and full of fats. We now know that's not true. And if it's not out of a packet and it looks like a real artisan cheese, it's going to be probiotic and healthy for you.

    So, you know, if I was down on my luck and thrown at my house, you know, I'd do everything to make sure I got some cheese every week. 

    [00:39:36] Rupy Aujla: That's a great answer. This is really hard and I think it really comes down to the individual. So for me, in my household, I think the answer would be extra virgin olive oil, because my wife's Italian, I love Italian food, and there are just so many uses for extra virgin olive oil. We do cook with it. We dress in it. You know, and it's just such a wonderful ingredient and I love the bitter notes of it and stuff. It's a real love for us. We probably go through a bottle of a week, just us two. It really depends on what you love. Like for Tim, it's cheese. For certain people it might be animal products, it might be really good quality eggs, for example. That's probably the other thing. If I had three different things, it would be extra virgin olive oil. It would be really good quality eggs that I know have had, you know, free range and they've had a happy life and they've got beautiful orange yolks.

    And the third thing would be dark chocolate. Because I'm a massive chocolate fiend and I love dark chocolate. I know it's a very foodie thing to say, but those bitter notes. The lovely flavor profiles, and again, it's a luxury. I love to have like a square after dinner and that's sort of like my treat.

    That's usually my dessert. And the rest of it you can make yourself like, you know, quick kimchis and sauerkrauts and fermented pickles and all that kind of stuff. Like I could swap the convenience of buying those in a store for making it at home just by putting a little bit of time and effort in so that I can live without, cause I know I could probably make it myself far cheaper and I should probably do that more often anyway.

    [00:41:12] Tim Spector: Yeah, I'm not sure. I'd buy my chocolate from you and you probably wouldn't buy your cheese from me either.

    [00:41:22] Jonathan Wolf: Brilliant. This has been so much fun. Thank you both. I know we could keep going for hours. I'm going to try and do a quick summary and keep me honest, Rupy and Tim if I got anything wrong. We started by talking about, you know, how can you make sure that you're still having a good diet while really trying to cut back the cost of what we're doing.

    And we talked a lot about batch cooking. We talked about the fact that food will probably keep a lot longer than we think. That in terms of trying to keep up nutrition, I think there was a big push to look at the food that is already tinned or frozen at the point that we buy it. And then I think at the end we talked about protein.

    So I think overall a very positive message that it really is possible to continue to eat healthily and maybe even eat more healthily than before because some of this pressure if it means that you're reducing, you know, some of these meats or some of these other highly processed foods for things that you're doing a little bit more with, but which are more whole foods.

    So maybe I just leave with that question. Is it possible that you could end up actually having a healthier diet as a consequence of thinking about reducing your spending? 

    [00:42:31] Rupy Aujla: I would definitely say so. I think the challenge of looking at different ingredients by their cost of them and whilst you're still trying to introduce diversity and fiber is something that as a home cook, I love the challenge of, I think it's a lot harder for other people and that's where hopefully, you know, the recipes that we've talked about today, the recipes that I've been pushing out there, will inspire people that they can do it and actually have an overall saving. So it definitely can be done but it does take a little bit of lateral thinking. 

    [00:43:05] Jonathan Wolf: I think it's a brilliant message. And of course, we will have the links to those recipes in the show notes and to Rupy's new book. And maybe we'll get one of Tim's special recipes as well. Well, we'll work on Tim to see if we can add that as well. 

    [00:43:15] Tim Spector: Looking forward to it. 

    [00:43:17] Rupy Aujla: Epic.

    [00:43:18] Jonathan Wolf: Thank you both so much.

    [00:43:19] Rupy Aujla: My pleasure. 

    [00:43:20] Tim Spector: Thanks. Bye. 

    [00:43:23] Jonathan Wolf: I hope you found today's episode as fascinating as I did. If you did, please be sure to subscribe and leave us a review. We do read all of them. If this episode left you with any questions, please send them in on Instagram or Facebook and we will try to answer them in the future.

    At ZOE, we want to improve your health with personalized nutrition. By understanding how your body responds to food, we can build a personalized program to improve your health and manage your weight.

    Every ZOE membership starts with an at-home test. And then we compare you with participants in the world's largest nutrition science study and deliver this program to personalize your unique biology. If you're interested in learning more about ZOE, you can head to joinZOE.com/podcast and get 10% off your personalized nutrition program.

    As always, I'm your host, Jonathan Wolf. ZOE Science & Nutrition is produced by Fascinate Productions with support from Sharon Feder, Yella Hewings-Martin, and Alex Jones here at ZOE.

    See you next time.

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