I don’t usually write posts on the how of doing ketogenic diets. But for this topic, I will make an exception. It is one of the main fears I hear from clients considering switching to a ketogenic diet for the treatment of their mental illness, and it deserves adequate discussion.

Introduction

Many individuals are nervous about switching to a ketogenic diet for fear of hunger. Sometimes this is about fearing not having carbohydrates and believing you will be hungry as a result (this doesn’t happen, but I validate the fear). But for many people on very restrictive budgets, such as disability payments or very constrained retirement incomes, the concern of moving to a well-formulated, whole foods ketogenic diet is about cost. You need ideas for how to do keto on a budget and how to come up with the lowest possible cost. Guidance on how to shop for keto and create a keto on a budget shopping list that works.

Lower Cost Keto Food Options

So this blog post will go into some ideas that will help you find ways to purchase food and eat a well-formulated, whole foods ketogenic diet that will help you treat your mental illness. The below suggestions focus primarily on minimally processed, whole foods with the highest nutrient density and lowest cost ratios for accomplishing keto on a budget.

  • Purchase store-brand blocks of cheese you can slice at home.
  • Purchase higher-fat lunch meat options like bologna or hot dogs.
  • Make low carb condiments like ketchup, mayonaise and salad dressings
  • Tinned seafood such as sardines, mussels and oysters are inexpensive nutritional power houses. You may not be into them today but you very may acquire a taste for them later in your journey. They are often very inexpensive. Look for ones in water or with health oils (like olive oil).
  • Tuna can be a good option, but only if it is on sale.
  • Drug stores can have amazing deals on things like canned asparagus, olives and other low carb odds and ends you would never think to look for in such a store. Read ingredients carefully.
  • Precooked breakfast sausage is often a low-cost option.
  • Purchase low-fat lunch meats like turkey or chicken, or ham and pair with higher fat condiments or cheese. These can be made into deli roll-ups and taken to work or had on hand in the refrigerator.
  • Tofu is very inexpensive, and if you are attempting a plant-based form of a ketogenic diet, it is very important. However, be careful with this as it can have anti-nutrients that make it difficult to absorb minerals crucial to mental health. Choose a fermented option whenever possible. It can be baked or sauteed with low-carb vegetables. Low-carb stir fry sauces can be made ahead and kept in the fridge for use during the week.
  • Avocados can be found at low prices when they are about to go bad. Speak to the produce person at your local store and ask them when a good time to come in might be to find at a discount. These can be frozen into chunks and defrosted as needed for salads, ice creams, or a side of guacamole.
  • Eggs can be an important staple of your diet. Don’t fuss about them not being pasture-raised. They are still very healing and nutrient-rich even if you buy conventional. Look for the big boxes of 5 dozen eggs at your local store if your refrigerator can store the bulk. They are often cheaper purchased this way.
  • Heavy cream, used in your coffee or sauces, can be an inexpensive way to get fat to turn into ketones.
  • Large rolls of ground beef as your budget will allow. Look for those marked down for quick sale. You can cut it up into 1 or 2 lb sections to freeze for later use. Again, do not fuss that it is not grass-fed beef. Conventionally raise beef is still more nutritionally bioavailable and dense than any highly processed food you would have eaten off the shelf at the grocery store.
  • Ground beef is very versatile, fast, and easy to cook on a weeknight.
  • Purchase ground turkey or chicken, and it is often lower in price than beef. And you can always add healthy fats to them when cooking to improve flavor and fat intake as needed.
  • Purchase whole chickens and roast one for dinner or the week
  • Find bone-in skin-on chicken thighs or chicken drumsticks. They tend to be very inexpensive, and you can make wonderful low-carb curries and tajines
  • Frozen vegetables are often inexpensive. As a very smart Reddit person pointed out, there is no pressure of eating them quickly for fear they will go bad fast. Money saved through zero food waste.
  • Cottage cheese, especially higher fat varieties, can be inexpensive and a good source of protein.
  • Different stores have different deals on keto staples. For example, my local Trader Joe’s has great deals on full-fat coconut milk and/or coconut cream that I use for sauces or to make ice cream. There will be good deals on what you need at different stores near you, and you may have to explore a bit.
  • Packages of string cheese can be inexpensive and provide portable snacks
  • Learn to make your low-carb tortillas, or begin to learn to not need them and eat your goodies as “bowls.”
  • You can purchase plain, canned tomato sauce and make bulk marinara that can be used in your meals throughout the week.
  • If you need a treat, buy frozen berries instead of fresh ones, as they are less expensive.
  • Look for sales on low-carb condiments such as pickles, salsa, canned olives, jarred jalapenos, banana peppers, kimchi, sauerkraut, etc.

Conclusion

I am well aware, that if you are used to a highly processed food diet, the above options for keto on a budget may not sound good to you. Don’t worry. I promise that your taste buds are going to radically change in the first few weeks of your use of the ketogenic diet.

One reason is your gut microbiome will change drastically and you will have less of the “bad” bacteria trying to give you carbohydrate cravings. I am not making this part up. Those little “bad” inflammation-promoting bacteria feed on sugar and carbohydrates, and when you start to starve them out, they literally communicate through your big vagus nerve. This vagus nerve travels up from your digestive tract to your brain and allows those gut bacteria to try to tell you what to eat.

Additional factors, other than cost that you may want to consider when making your decision have to do with how hunger signals change when eating a ketogenic diet.

The reality is that you will be less hungry on a ketogenic diet than when you were consuming higher amounts of carbohydrates, as long as you are eating adequate protein. I know this is hard to believe, but there are actually two reasons for will happen.

First, as your insulin resistance heals, you will become more leptin sensitive. As you become more sensitive again to the hormone leptin, you will start to be able to feel full, and you will begin to not be hungry all the time.

Secondly, if you have any excess body fat and as you become more adapted to the diet, you will more easily be able to access those body fat stores to burn as ketones. You will find you are less hungry less often, and you may even begin to naturally intermittent fast. Being less hungry will directly affect your food budget because it means you will probably skip at least an entire meal a day or replace it with a healthy fat-enriched coffee (aka Keto Coffee).

Fewer meals can mean fewer food costs. Skipping a meal on a ketogenic diet happens naturally and results from natural biochemistry and physiology. It does not mean that you have developed an eating disorder.

If you are using a ketogenic diet for mental illness, beware of working with a mental health professional that is not ketogenic informed. Or, you can be willing to help teach them. It is important you find a ketogenic informed mental health professional, or they may inappropriately diagnose you with an eating disorder simply because your diet restricts carbohydrates or because you skip meals from time to time. You can read more about why that is important here.

Additional resources

Figuring out how to afford higher quality food is an important first step in using keto on a budget to treat your mental illness. You may also enjoy other blog posts that discuss other obstacles you may encounter in making this big, but doable, lifestyle change.

I hope you have found this blog post helpful. Attempting to do healthy keto on a budget, particularly a low-income one is challenging. But with time may get easier as you find staple meals that you can afford.

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