My husband and I were unemployed when we started GAPS, and as the cook in our home, I quickly realized our inability to afford it. However, we were really sick, and I knew we needed to change our diet significantly and focus on nutrition-based medicine if we wanted a chance at healing. So I had to get creative quick and find ways to get more for less so we could afford to heal. At the time, I was unable to work due to my health challenges, so I knew that getting to a point where I could work again and make money meant we had to spend money getting better. This is challenging to do when you are living off limited savings, but we were kind of backed into it... My husband got a retail job after a couple months into GAPS, and if you know retail, you know that's not much to live on, but we made it work. Shortly after that, I had already seen some improvement on GAPS, and I found a part-time nursing job that allowed me to mostly work from home for the first few months. This was a blessing from God and was just what we needed at that time. I say all this to show that I do realize the challenge of affording food-based nutritional therapy; and also to say that it can be done, even in difficult circumstances.
Changing Your "Food-View"
The first thing you need to realize going into such a big lifestyle change is that it requires a food worldview ("food-view") change. In the modern Western world, especially in the United States, we have been raised to believe that food grows on grocery store shelves (I've actually talked to people who didn't know that you really could make bread at home!), that spending more than 10-15% of our income on food is unreasonable, and that spending more than 30 minutes per day in food prep is a waste of time. But these beliefs are truly a modern invention, arising with the food industry boom in the last half of the twentieth century. And all these beliefs have to change if you are going to commit to a lifestyle of nutrition-based medicine. And good nutrition is (and always has been!) a lifestyle, meaning that it significantly impacts the way you live, what you spend your money on, and how you spend your time. A "real food" diet, such as GAPS, is going to be more expensive. Period. Eating quality food has always taken more time and money, and it always will. In 1901, Americans spent about forty percent of their income on food. By 2002, this had decreased to only thirteen percent (Daniel Wesley, 2015). I am not suggesting that you need to spend forty percent of your income to do the GAPS diet. But you should probably expect to spend more like twenty to twenty-five percent of your income on groceries to eat right (assuming you have a low-average income level). We spend right around 22% of our income on our grocery budget currently (this includes our toilettries and whole-food supplements excepting probiotics). Good food was always expensive. But with the rise of the corn crop (especially GMO corn), government-funding farm subsidies for corn farmers, and the growth of the food industry, cheaper versions of processed "foods" were created. Meat animal CAFO's (concentrated animal feeding operations) didn't always exist. Thousands-of-acres mono-cultural crop corn and soy farms didn't always exist. PepsiCo, Dole, General Mills, Nestle, and Kraft were not always America's food giants. Obviously, American food values changed significantly during the past 100 years. It would take more time than I have here to explain all the health disadvantages driven by the current American food system. However, if you don't know anything about the history of food in America, I would highly recommend you learn something about it before you start GAPS. It will provide you with a powerful motivator. There are a number of good documentaries that have been made on this subject including: King Corn, Food, Inc., and Food Matters.
You have to believe that the benefit of a real food lifestyle outweighs the cons if you are going to stick with it. Learn to view it as a part of your medical budget. In the long run, you are saving yourself hospital bills, pharmaceutical bills, and more expensive insurance plans. This takes discipline, because you don't always see the immediate benefits of the time and money you are investing. Real healing, like real food, takes time. Speaking of real food taking time - you will need to change your idea of what is "reasonable" food prep time. I spend about 20 hours per week cooking. Cooking real food has always taken that much time - in fact, in generations past, it took the good portion of your day. Hauling wood and water, cooking over a fire or wood stove, slaughtering and cutting up the chicken before you could cook it... Thank goodness I don't have to do all that! Twenty hours seems very reasonable when I consider how much time modern convenience has saved me! I actually grew up in rural Mongolia, where we didn't have electricity or running water and had to cook on a wood stove. So I have the benefit of my own prior experience to compare myself to when I feel like I'm spending too much time in the kitchen! Also, there are ways to minimize your time in the kitchen - like batch-cooking once or twice a week and batch-shopping once a month - but, still, you will have to plan to spend some time cooking, plain and simple.
Money-Saving Strategies on GAPS
But back to money-saving strategies... Below I will share what I have done to save our budget, and where I have found to be the cheapest sources of real food.
One of the best ways to afford GAPS is to find a few families to join you and form a "bulk buying club." This will allow you to buy more variety for cheaper, because you can get it in bulk. If you want help getting started, I can share how I organize it with you. It takes about 4-5 hrs of my time per month (but remember I don't have to shop as much because I do my shopping only once per month and get the rest through my buying club), so it saves me time there. And it is worth the savings in money and the freshness and quality of the produce we get. Plus we get to support local and/or sustainable farms and businesses. I highly recommend this strategy. Wondering where you will store your bulk foods? We currently have a family of two, so one medium sized fridge and a stand-alone freezer is sufficient for us, and would probably be enough even if we had a couple kids. I found our used commercial freezer on our local Craigslist for $75, which allows us to buy our grass-fed meat in bulk. I also store some bulk dried goods in a couple RubberMaid containers in our garage, because our current apartment does not have sufficient cupboard storage space.
For fresh, organic produce, I found a local bulk organic produce supplier and bought in bulk directly from them for wholesale prices once a month. I did this with my buying club. This makes for a busy day once a month, as some of the produce must be cleaned and chopped and frozen so it will last. But, remember, because the produce is local and fresh, it also lasts longer. When you buy produce at the grocery store, it is already a couple weeks old. When you buy it fresh, it will often last 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator. If you have multiple families in your buying club, you will need to split up the produce and weight it out for each family. However, after this one day of chaos, buying this way saves time with shopping and food prep for the rest of the month... I was able to get my produce 30-50% cheaper this way (On the East Coast, most bulk organic produce bought this way averages around $1.00-1.50/lb as opposed to $2.00-4.00/lb at Whole Foods or through a CSA). Where we currently live, I buy in bulk from a local farm called Landisdale Farm. In our previous city, DC, I found a bulk produce co-operative (Tuscarora Organic Growers) of farmers that supplied organic produce to our city and sold wholesale to restaurants, stores, and buying clubs like me. I found this by doing a simple google search for bulk wholesale organic distributors in the area. If you live in California or the West Coast, there are better produce options. We used to live in LA and used Abundant Harvest Organics, a regional farm-to-consumer produce supplier. We were highly satisfied with their service.
In my case, I can also get my pastured, soy-free, GMO-free eggs from my local produce farm for $3.30-$4.00/doz (instead of $6.00-$7.00/doz at Whole Foods). I buy a case of 15 dozen at a time and either split them up with my buying club or just use them over a couple months. Because they are so fresh, they will last about 10 weeks no problem.
My current local farmer also raises 100% grass-fed beef and free-range antibiotic-free hogs, and buying a 1/4 cow and a hog from them a couple times per year is cheaper than buying grass-fed beef anywhere else. It ends up about $5.00/lb for all cuts, including ground meat, steaks, roasts, tender cuts, sausages, bacon, organ meats and bones. You won't find organic or grass-fed meat anywhere cheaper than that.
I buy organic raw almonds and cashews from Food to Live on Amazon currently. They sell in bulk for descent prices, but bulk raw almonds will still be about $11/lb. I have also bought raw almonds from Living Nutz in the past, and they were always gracious to give me a 5% discount when I bought 20 lbs bulk - I just called and asked if they could offer me any discount for ordering such a large amount. Costco recently started carrying organic walnuts ($10/lb) and pine nuts ($14/lb) and occasionally cashews ($6.50/lb). When they have them, they are always cheaper than I can find anywhere else. I store my bulk nuts in the freezer.
Herbs, Teas, and Spices:
I get most of my bulk herbs, teas, and spices through Amazon's Subscribe & Save program from either Frontier, Starwest Botanicals, or Davidson's Teas. I order five items at a time and save 15% on the order. I have not found any way to buy my herbs and spices cheaper, even if I bought directly from the company in bulk. I can also get raw vitamin D3 5,000 i.u. from Garden of Life via my Subscribe & Save for only about $16.00/60 caps.
Currently, I get my local, raw honey from Swarmbustin' Honey in bulk. I buy it by two gallons at a time, which turns out at about $15.50 per quart, a great deal for raw local honey. They also have great pollen that they sell by the pound.
I get my seaweeds in bulk from Maine Coast Sea Vegetables. They are in the atlantic, so far from any radiation contamination in the Pacific. They are organic and they harvest sustainably. I've been very pleased with their products. They will also sell to you wholesale if you buy in bulk for a buying club. Their prices can't be beat. I highly recommend their seaweeds for iodine and minerals supplementation.
I buy my gelatin directly from Great Lakes Gelatin in bulk. They derive their bovine gelatin from grass-fed cattle and I've been very pleased with their unflavored gelatin and collagen hydrolysate. Their bulk prices are good.
Cod Liver Oil:
I buy my cod liver oil from Green Pastures in bulk about once per year during their back to school sale in August or their Christmas/New Year's sale in December. Their fermented cod liver oil can cost up to $60.00/bottle in the retail store, but I get them for $28.00/bottle during the sale. Each bottle lasts one person three months, so that is a steal. It is great if you have a bulk buying club to purchase larger orders with you to get the best discounts.
There has been some recent controversy over the safety of fermented cod liver oil. I have followed that debate extensively and will only say that I am more confident than ever of the safety and quality of Green Pastures' products and their integrity as a company. I highly recommend them. They are one of the only ones out there doing CLO the right way.
Unfortunately, I have not found a good source for buying Udo's Oil (an omega 3-6-9 seed oil blend in the ideal 2:1:1 ratio) in bulk. I currently buy it on Amazon for between $37-40/32oz bottle, which is significantly cheaper than Whole Foods. This is one of the oils that Dr. Natasha recommends to take like 4 oz (1/2 cup) of daily on the GAPS intro diet. Needless to say, we could not afford to take these amounts when we started GAPS. Still can't. But I have found that even 1-2 tablespoons per day had great results for me. It was especially helpful for my hormonal function. I still take it every day.
For all the other items that I can't get from my local farmer or by buying in bulk with my buying club, I find at Costco Wholesale. I have found that my Costco membership pays for itself many times over throughout one year. Things I buy at Costco:
- I buy organic chicken there ($2.49/lb for whole chicken, $4.79/lb for boneless thighs, $1.99/lb for drumsticks) because I just can't afford to buy pastured chicken from my local farmers.
- Leg of lamb for $4.99/lb. Sourced in New Zealand or Australia, so most likely grass-fed as it is the cheapest way to raise lamb in those countries. Also because I can't afford this from my local farmer.
- Wild Alaskan Salmon for $10/lb in frozen 3-lb bags. Cheapest source I can find for this healthy fish.
- Wild caught sustainably harvested sardines, canned in BPA-free cans. I don't like to eat from cans much, but these are nice for snacks to-go. Salmon and sardines are really the only safe fish to eat these days, as their growth cycle is short and so toxic accumulations are minimal. But they must be wild-caught.
- Avocados for $5-6/6-count bag. Sometimes they have them organic, sometimes not. But avocados are one of the low-pesticide fruits, so it is not so important to buy them organic.
- Organic carrots for $7.00/10-lb bag. Cheapest I can find anywhere.
- Organic frozen broccoli for $7/4-lb bag. One of the foods that remain nutritious frozen. As long as you don't microwave them!
- Organic nuts sometimes - mentioned above
- Organic cold-pressed virgin coconut oil for $15-18/54-oz container. This is about $0.30 per ounce, which is even cheaper than buying it in 5-gallon pails from Tropical Traditions. The quality is great, I love this oil and use a ton of it.
- Organic cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil for $15/2-qt bottle. Also a killer deal and good quality.
- Organic dried fruit - occasionally I buy some dates or figs or raisins to use as a sugar substitute in baking. However, we still don't eat much dried fruit even after 3 years on GAPS, as it is so sweet.
- Organic frozen fruit - blueberries or mixed berries or cherries, about $10-14/3-lb bag.
- Organic bananas, apples, or other fresh fruit when available - I still don't eat much fruit as I have difficulty tolerating it. However, when they have it, Costco's organic fruit is usually good quality.
- Epsom salts (for bath soaks - good for magnesium and sulfur) for $8/12-lb box.
- Organic baby greens for salads or cooking for $6/1.5-lb large bag.
- In California, Costco has a much more extensive organic selection than on the East Coast. Also, in California, the raw honey that Costco carries is locally/regionally produced.
I know this is a lot of information, but I hope it is helpful for those of you just getting started. My suggestion is to start with just one thing at a time and build on it. Work into it. You don't need to jump into the GAPS diet all at once. It took me time to find out all the best ways to get my real food for the best possible prices that we could afford. Remember, I have been doing this on a low income for most of our time on GAPS. For a time, our income was so low, we even qualified for our state's medical assistance! But we were able to maintain our GAPS diet through it all. I have a budget spreadsheet that I use to keep track of what I spend in each category every month - I account for every bottle of cod liver oil and jar of honey. I know approximately how much honey we can eat every month to stay within our budget. We have to set limits for ourselves because we can't afford to eat as much of everything as we want. I buy in bulk, but we don't eat in bulk. I ration our bulk orders out over a certain number of months so I can keep within our budget. Having said that, we never go hungry by any means! We always have plenty of food and it is good food. We just can't afford to be extravagant about our eating. We can't have a GAPS dessert every night. We space the special things out as we can afford them...
If you find that even after all your rationing and planning and budgeting you still can't afford it, then try doing it with conventional produce instead of organic. If even that is too much, then do conventional meat as well. You do what you can with what you have. I promise you, even conventional meat and produce is better than eating processed food off the grocery store shelves. Dr. Natasha said she has known people to have success with GAPS even on a conventionally produced diet. If you need to do conventional produce to save money, take a look at EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. They have a list of "dirty dozen" - the twelve fruits and vegetables most likely to be heavily contaminated with pesticides. Also, they have a list of the "clean fifteen" - the fifteen that are least contaminated. Tools like these are helpful.
How have you afforded a real food diet? I would love to hear your own comments and ideas below.