Tight budget? Science says it still makes sense to buy pricier, natural foods

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Eating Healthy on a Budget

As more workers fight for a "livable" minimum wage of $15, the problem of how to afford groceries is terrifyingly real for millions of Americans. But you need to reconsider reaching for most of what's sold for cheap. Most of the time, that includes processed and highly refined foods ranging from cookies and snack cakes to white rice. Instead, consider reaching for "whole foods"--that is, foods that haven't been refined or enhanced with additive substances, such as natural fruits and vegetables. Here are some research-backed reasons why your body will thank you.

1. Processed foods typically won't fill you up.

Both soluble and insoluble forms of fiber benefit digestive health, but soluble fiber absorbs water and turns gel-like. It slows down how fast foods leave the stomach and, as it expands, triggers nerve impulses that tell the brain you're full. Similarly, protein increases the hormone PYY, which also tells the brain to stop eating. It boosts levels of the intestinal hormone CCK, as well, which contributes to feelings of fullness.

The end result is that you feel satisfied faster and can go longer before you feel hungry again. That can matter big time when meals are scarce. Processed foods generally are low in fiber and protein and aren't very satiating, so you can end up eating a whole pack of what you buy and still feel ravenous not long after you're done.

2. Non-whole foods are nutritional deserts.

Processing often strips away or destroys many food nutrients. It also routinely involves the addition of sugar, fat, salt or other preservatives. If you favor processed foods because they cost less, everything from your sleep to moods could go haywire.

3. Cheaper options pack a calorie punch.

Many inexpensive, processed foods are high in sugar and fat, so they're high in calories. Unfortunately, foods with fat don't contribute to satiety as well as those with protein and fiber, so it's easy to overeat, blow your calorie allowance and gain weight.

Today's businesspeople don't have as much money for food and their hectic schedules promote grabbing processed meals. Science, however, says you're better off selecting whole or minimally processed options. Since you'll probably feel full on less and eat less often, you won't necessarily pay more, and you'll get what your body needs.

RELATED: 12 ways to slash your grocery bill

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12 ways to slash your grocery bill
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12 ways to slash your grocery bill

Buy in bulk
Even if you don't think you need a bulk amount of an item, you can always find a way to use it, especially if it's a dry good or item you can store for a long time. It'll save you down the road.

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Memorize rock bottom prices
You may have to jot down the prices you pay for certain items a few times before you can gauge the maximum price you should pay every time you shop for that item.Eventually, you'll commit it to memory.

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Research specific stores' policies
Certain grocery stores will price match or honor deals from other grocery stores, while some might have certain designated deals on different items on certain days of the week. Research before you shop.

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Buy a mix of name brand and generic brand products
For dry goods and condiments, stick to generic brand. For products like meat and dairy, stick to a brand you trust.

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Skip out on anything prepared, pre-packaged or pre-sliced
It's almost always more expensive than buying bulk ingredients and using them to prepare on your own. 

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Leave the kids at home (if possible)
"How did eight boxes of fruit snacks get into the cart?"

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Don't buy boneless chicken or meat
It will cost you the price of the meat plus the cost of preparation. Buy with bone-in and prep the meat yourself.

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Take advantage of "buy one, get one" deals
Especially if they're items like meat or bread, which can be frozen and stored for quite a while.

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Plan meals around when things go on sale
Instead of planning out your meals for the week and shopping for the appropriate ingredients, figure out when certain items go on sale, buy them and plan your meals around those ingredients.

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Look at the unit price
It's possible, for example, that buying two boxes of 10 granola bars is cheaper than buying one box of 20, based on the price per unit.

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Look up, then look down
Grocery stores tend to stock their most expensive items at eye-level. Look at the top and bottom rows for cheaper items.

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Skip out on personal care items
Your best bet for these kinds of items is drugstores.

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