If you’ve been paying more for groceries lately, you’re not alone. Food prices have been on the rise in the U.S. and around the world. U.S consumers paid 7.4 percent more for groceries in January 2022 than they did just a year earlier. What’s more, prices are expected to continue increasing through the remainder of the year. This is partly due to disruptions in the global supply chain fueled by the COVID pandemic, adverse weather, and rising energy prices.
Living with a chronic disease like psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis already comes with its own costs, including expensive medications and missed work opportunities. And while diet can be an important tool in managing inflammatory disease, higher grocery prices can make it especially hard to afford nutritious foods that may play a role in managing your condition.
Here are some smart strategies to keep costs down while staying stocked up on arthritis-friendly, anti-inflammatory foods:
Make a meal plan
When you’re on a food budget, there’s no more important strategy than planning ahead. “You can work across recipes to use up leftover ingredients from meals scheduled earlier in the week,” says Amanda Kirpitch, MA, RDN, CDCES, CDN, a private-practice dietitian in Jersey City, New Jersey. Meal planning can also cut back on your kitchen workload, since you can build in leftovers and stretch the work of one meal into two or even more.
A few more tips for meal planning:
- Check specials and sales at the supermarket.
- Take an inventory — of what you already have on hand in your pantry and freezer as well as any leftovers.
- Jot down some family favorite recipes.
- Avoid recipes with too many (or specialized) ingredients.
Favor frozen produce
Fruits and veggies are key for providing many of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants your body needs — but fresh produce is not your only option. “Buying frozen produce is a cost-effective way to eat more vegetables,” says Su-Nui Escobar, DCN, RDN, FAND, a nutrition professor at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
Besides being less expensive than fresh produce, frozen fruit and veggies stay good until you defrost them, which means you’ll avoid wasting food (and money). Nutrition-wise, they’re just as good for you as fresh produce. And the best part — they’re already cleaned and cut, which saves you valuable energy and time in the kitchen.
Consider canned fish
“Fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as tuna, salmon, and sardines have been shown to decrease markers of inflammation,” says Kirpitch. Unfortunately, they can also be a pricey addition to your grocery cart. For the same health benefits at a lower price point, try canned fish.
Buying fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines in shelf-stable cans means you can add a dose of omega-3s to your meal whenever you please (rather than fresh fish, which needs to be purchased and cooked). Use canned fish in salads, to turn into burgers, or mix into pasta.
Shop at a discount store
Grocery stores like Aldi and Lidl are newer options for lower-cost foods. Both stores sell high-quality foods at a discount, with a focus on store brand private label items. Like any grocery store, you can find chips, cookies, and other less-nutritious items.
But you can also get great deals on anti-inflammatory foods like fresh and frozen produce, nut butters, nuts, hummus, applesauce, whole-grain pasta, zucchini noodles, beans, and more.
Make beans your main protein
Some of the biggest increases in food costs have been seen in the meat category. Swapping meat for beans — a nutrient-packed source of plant-based protein — can save you money and help counter inflammation. Research shows that people who eat more red meat have higher levels of inflammatory markers in their blood. “Plant-based proteins can easily lower the cost of your meals,” says Escobar.
You can save money and support your health by cutting meat altogether, going meat-free for some meals, or just by trading out a portion of your meal, like making a chili recipe with mostly beans and a little meat, she says.
Sign up for a salvage grocery delivery
Some fruits and vegetables are rejected from stores because they’re not “perfect” looking, or there’s just too much of them. Companies like Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market offer this produce to consumers at a fraction of the cost, which is good for consumers and the environment. “It prevents waste by using all available goods, and makes produce and other nutrient-dense items affordable to the customer,” says Kirpitch.
An added bonus: You sign up for these services online and the food is delivered straight to your door, saving you the time and energy of grocery shopping and carrying heavy bags to and from the car.
Get creative with oats
Swapping refined grains for whole grains can be a strategy for lowering inflammation in the body. However, whole grains and foods made from whole grains (like breads, cereals, pastas, and more) can cost more than their refined counterparts. An oft-better value and underused option is to use oats. Steel cut, rolled, or old-fashioned oats like you may buy for a hot breakfast cereal have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects. “You can use oats to make pancakes or waffles instead of buying more expensive frozen items or ready-to-make pancake mix,” says Escobar. They can also be used as the base of a savory risotto (“ris-oat-to”), or as a binder in veggie- or meat-based burgers.
Buy dried herbs
Not only are herbs like oregano, basil, and thyme good sources of health-boosting antioxidants, they can also enhance any meal or recipe with a burst of flavor. But buying fresh herbs can be pricey, and they often go bad before you can use them since most recipes only require a small quantity. Instead, stock up on dried herbs. They offer the same benefits at a lower price point. “Dried herbs should be substituted in recipes for ½ the portion of their fresh counterparts,” says Kirpitch.
The bottom line: Every bit adds up — the more you swap, the more you save!
Participate in Arthritis Research — From Your Smartphone
If you are diagnosed with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, we encourage you to participate in future studies by joining CreakyJoints’ patient research registry, ArthritisPower. ArthritisPower is the first-ever patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. Learn more and sign up here.
Harriman C. American Association of Cereal Chemists International. Shrinking the Price Gap for Whole Grains. https://www.cerealsgrains.org/publications/plexus/cfwplexus/library/books/Documents/WholeGrainsSummit2012/CPLEX-2013-1001-17B.pdf.
Hayes T, et al. Chronic Disease in the United States: A Worsening Health and Economic Crisis. https://www.americanactionforum.org/research/chronic-disease-in-the-united-states-a-worsening-health-and-economic-crisis/.
Interview with Amanda Kirpitch, MA, RDN, CDCES, CDN, a private-practice dietitian in Jersey City, NJ
Interview with Su-Nui Escobar, DCN, RDN, FAND, a nutrition professor at Nova Southeastern University in Florida
Kim S, et al. “Effects of Oats (Avena Sativa L.) on Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Frontiers in Nutrition. August 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.722866.
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Sang S, et al. “Emerging Science on Whole Grain Intake and Inflammation.” Nutrition Reviews. August 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuz079.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Summary Findings: Food Price Outlook, 2022. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/.
U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index – January 2022. February 2022. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cpi.pdf.