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How to Be Healthy Even If You're Broke

Cheap Health


Cheap Health

You can approach from either direction: you want to save money, or you want to be healthy. Or both. This is shooting from the hip: here is a simple, safe, cheap and effective plan for eradicating most sickness in our lifetime. 

Follow an unauthorized but NEW AND IMPROVED "Four Food Groups": 

Eat primarily GRAINS, LEGUMES (peas, beans, lentils), FRUITS and VEGETABLES.

Physicians for Responsible Medicine, along with pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock, support this near vegetarian diet, where all other foods (including meat and milk) are considered to be condiments for flavoring. Whole grains (wheat, oats, barley, rice, etc.) and legumes are CHEAP. They are LOW FAT. They are GOOD SOURCES OF FIBER. They are GOOD SOURCES OF VITAMINS AND MINERALS. They TASTE GOOD. They are EASY TO PREPARE. They will virtually put the food processing, pharmaceutical, and medical industries OUT OF BUSINESS. This diet will AUTOMATICALLY PROVIDE REAL HEALTH CARE REFORM FOR EVERYONE WITHOUT GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE OR TAXATION. (After all, there is not [yet] a tax on lentils.) 

Fruits and vegetables do all of the above as well. To save money on your vegetable bill, start a garden. A few yards of soil and a couple of dollars for seed produces more veggies than you can eat. The average gardener puts less than $40 into a vegetable garden. The average return is way over $500 in fresh produce. 

The money you save in not buying meat, milk and medicines will buy a lot of fruit. Want to save even more? You do not have to live in a warm climate to grow fruit. Trust me: I live in upstate New York, right off of Lake Ontario. Just across the lake is Canada. To one side, Buffalo, NY. To the other side, Rochester and then Syracuse, NY. Does the word "cold" mean anything to you? When you hear the words "lake effect snow" or "blizzard," think of me. And even I grow my own fruit. 

Homeowners, remember that fruit trees give food as well as shade and beauty. In the cooler climates, try apple, plum and cherry trees. You can buy specially tolerant fruit trees that will even grow in Montana or Maine. As a boy, I remember all the plums and cherries and apples that we got from nearly wild trees near our home (and occasionally, I confess, from neighbor's trees that hung over their fences.) I never once saw any of those trees get sprayed. You plant, you water, you wait, you get fruit. I've planted apple trees from seed and we now have a tree that produces well. Cost?  Nothing. If a botanical moron such as myself can do this (I got a "C" in Plant Sciences 201, and was lucky at that), then you certainly can expect success. No excuses! 

Apartment dwellers, it's your turn (and homeowners can still read, too.) "Fruit" does not necessarily mean "big trees, in a yard the size of Tara."  Tomatoes are a fruit. So are green peppers and beans, cucumbers and zucchini. (A "fruit" is any seed-bearing structure that develops from a flower.) Tomato, bean, pepper and squash plants need very little space. If there is any spare corner, try to grow one of these really hardy food sources. If yard work is out of the question, try a window box. If that is impossible (and it rarely is), you can grow sprouted seeds and sprouted beans in jars by your kitchen sink. OK, so sprouts aren't fruits (although I have a German medical article describing sprouts as "grain fruits"). Still, the twin goals of cheap fresh food and good health food are fully met. Sprouted wheat, lentils, alfalfa and other sprouts are loaded with many fruit benefits, such as fiber, minerals, and vitamin C. 

During World War II, rationing made Victory Gardens popular and necessary. We need them again, now. Today we are at war with two great enemies: ignorance and disease. To paraphrase Dickens, beware more of ignorance, for it is all too often the source of disease.  We need neighborhood Victory Gardens to overcome sickness and degrading poverty. Once again, you can come at this for either reason: rich people still get sick, so they stand to gain the one. The poor, both. 

Let's take this argument to the wall, or rather, behind walls. I taught college courses inside state prisons (no, not as an inmate). You want to know what you see the most? Sick prisoners, processed food, and big open yards behind fences. Am I missing something, or is there an answer here?  Those HIV and TB infected inmates (that now make up nearly half of the prison population) need FRESH, RAW food.  All inmates need FRESH AIR, especially with crowded double-decker bunking. They need to WORK to build their future, their self-respect, and to gain parole.  There is all that OPEN SPACE, behind escape-proof, deer-proof, woodchuck-proof fences. WHAT A TERRIFIC PLACE FOR A GARDEN!  In the prisons, I saw flower gardens, trees and lawns. I did not see ANY attempt at gardening or farming for inmates' food. This costs taxpayers their money. It costs inmates their health. Again, approach the issue from either direction and you win: you either save money, save health, or both. 

Don't tell me that the state or federal governments cannot start prison gardens. They can, and it would SAVE money.  Don't tell me that your neighborhood cannot put aside some land for a community garden. Hey, for the taxes YOU pay? Sure they can. 

And you have some space by that kitchen sink for some sprouting jars. 

Following this approach to healthful, economical eating will reduce everyone's food bills, doctor bills, undertaker bills, and tax bills. Simple eating saves DOLLAR bills, and lots of them. And who can measure the value of being healthy? We've been told, for too long, that the more money you throw at a problem, the better it will get. Look at what somebody (you) is spending on our prisons, our hospitals, our taxes, our prescriptions. If you feel that you've not gotten your money's worth, then SPEND LESS. After all, it is about the only approach we have NOT tried. 


First, I'd like to interest you in becoming a budget behemoth through weight training. 

In case you otherwise normal folks are starting to page-surf at this point, may I quickly assert that I am six-feet-four, 195 pounds, and do not in any way resemble a circus strong man? Gentlemen, I am no power lifter. Ladies, you do not need to look anorexic or muscle bound to be fit with weights. This is all you need to do: 

 1. Put up about $60 and buy the cheapest set of CAST IRON weights you can. Back in 1993, I bought a 100 pound set, including a five-foot bar, for $29.95 at a discount store. It still works. You can even go cheaper, with sand-filled vinyl weights, but cast iron doesn't break. (Ever see a "broken" cast iron skillet?) 

 2. Take an old pair of leather gloves and cut the fingers off. There, you have weight-lifting gloves (or you can buy a pair for under ten bucks). 

 3. For lifting advice, watch one of those fitness programs on TV, or borrow a video from your library. High school and college P.E. teachers are wonderful (and often no-charge) sources of lifting information. Me? I ask my brother, and my son.  (Talk about cheap!) 

 4. Here is their advice, condensed: 

A. Start with a really small, almost ridiculously easy amount of weight. 

B. Do ten to twenty repetitions ("reps," if you're cool) each of curls and squats. 

 CURLS are a bit like drawing both yer six shooters from their holsters at once. Hold the weight bar in front of you, knuckles out.  The palms can be up or down; try some each way. Draw the bar up near your shoulders, slowly, and then let it slowly down. 

SQUATS, my brother's favorite, involve putting the bar on your shoulders, behind your neck. Keeping your back straight, bend your knees and go down. Then push back up. It is best to have a "spotter" (stand-by helper) for assistance in lifting the bar off when you are done. My brother was the puniest adolescent you've ever seen. Now, after decades of squats, he can lift enough weight to noticeably bend the iron weight bar (and he uses a rather thick bar). 

C. Increase your weight only when you hardly notice the increase at all. Gradually increase the number of reps, and slowly add weight week by week. Rest between sets of each exercise. These steps help eliminate any chance of injury. 

D. Do your workout every OTHER day. "Off" days reduce strain and soreness that might come from overtraining. We've got time, so take your time. Life is not a race; you do not win by finishing first! 

E. It is beneficial to STRETCH before your workout. Put on some music, too. Whether it is The Rolling Stones or Bach (both work for me), you will get a good beat, and you will appreciate how quickly the workout time passes. 

F. You can do some PUSH-UPS and some CRUNCHES (abbreviated sit-ups) every day. Any of the other calisthenics you learned in 6th grade gym class are good, too. For these exercises, I recommend music by The Who.

G. WALK, SWIM, DO YOGA to add to your total fitness. 

What is the best all-around exercise program? The one you will regularly DO. I have heard a lot of excuses for NOT exercising, and I don't care about any of them.  There is only one reason to work out, and that is this: you want to feel (and look) better. Two; two reasons. Feel better, look better, and lose a few pounds. Three; three reasons... 

It is wise to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Your doctor will probably be very pleased that you are willing to work at your health by working out. 

And eating right. You will save a lot of money doing both. 

Once I saw a bumper sticker that said: 
"Ignore your health and it will go away." 

Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )
Copyright 2007 and previous years by Andrew W. Saul. 


Andrew W. Saul


AN IMPORTANT NOTE:  This page is not in any way offered as prescription, diagnosis nor treatment for any disease, illness, infirmity or physical condition.  Any form of self-treatment or alternative health program necessarily must involve an individual's acceptance of some risk, and no one should assume otherwise.  Persons needing medical care should obtain it from a physician.  Consult your doctor before making any health decision. 

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