Eating healthily on a budget in Korea
Being on the far side of the Pacific Rim bodes little well for healthy imports. Coupled with limited land for farming and a long winter, what’s the seeker of reasonably-priced healthy foods to do?
Eating healthily on a budget is sometimes difficult –why buy a huge bag of apples for 5000 won (at the very least) when you can buy five huge bags of popcorn, or two boxes of choco pies for the same price? Tempting indeed.
It seems that all the staples of a healthy diet- meat, fish, vegetables, fruit- are the most expensive things to buy, which is very annoying when you’re trying to live healthily. This is a problem for everyone, and is even worse for expats, who have to get used to seeing something which was cheap in their home country being triple the price in Korea.
My biggest upset: oats. A 500 gram bag in the UK is only about 40 pence (about 700 won). In Korea, they’re pretty much non-existent, and if you do find them (thank you Costco) they are ridiculously pricey. So, adjustments to diet have to be made- I’d never eaten pumpkin before living in Korea but it’s now a central part of my diet, along with tofu, persimmon, enoki mushrooms and spinach.
My main lifesaver, however, is IHerb.com. I’m probably completely jinxing myself, but I’ve always had perfect customer service and deliveries from America within a week, which is amazing. Plus, delivery only costs $4- the same it would cost me to get to EMart and back in a taxi. So it’s pretty much the perfect option.
And the other benefit? It’s not too expensive- “I Herb is The Best Overall Value in the World for Natural Products”, according to their twitter, and from my experience I wouldn’t doubt that. Most products are the same price that they’d cost you in a Korean Mart, or cheaper. Plus there is so much which isn’t readily available in Korea.
You can spend hours browsing the website and there are tons of other healthy goodies: cereal bars, dried fruit and vegetables, soup mixes, healthy butters, baking goods, healthy crisps and popcorn, protein powder and protein bars (Quest Nutrition bars are so much cheaper on I Herb than anywhere else, and CarbRite Bars are so yummy). It’s such a good option for getting good-value healthy foods. It’s so popular that there are literally deliveries every week to teachers at our school.
Ok, before I start sounding like an I Herb advertisement…
What About Local Options?
As for buying foods on a budget from Korean shops- it can be done. One of the best things is that rice is everywhere, and a nice, healthy staple to add to your diet. To get top healthy points, choose brown/multi-seed/ add barley to your rice. Then you’re instantly making your meals healthier. Cheap, quick and easy- what could be better?
A few other things which I have added to my diet because they’re healthy, cheap and easy to find in Korea are: tofu (especially Pulmone Half & Half which is so good), eggs, greek yoghurts (you can find these from 2000 won), vegetables (things like cabbage, carrots, spinach, and lettuce, which don’t change much in price despite the season), and canned salmon and tuna.
This leads me onto my next point- buying canned food is a good option for things which are so expensive otherwise. As long as you don’t buy the flavoured options (like chilli tuna or salmon which are more artificial and contain more sugar), this is a good way to eat healthy fish without spending too much.
The same goes for buying frozen things- why spend 6000 won on 100 grams of fresh blueberries when you can buy over 1 kilo of frozen blueberries for 9000 won? The same goes for mango, pineapple, strawberries, etc- go frozen, and you can enjoy all the healthy benefits of delicious fruit for a fraction of the price. I also freeze meat- buy bigger portions of fresh chicken as they’re much better value and then freeze them separately, another easy way to spend less but still be able to afford clean, healthy food.
I’ve also noticed how important it is when buying fruit and vegetables to only buy what’s in season; recently, the price of tomatoes went up by 2000 won in about 2 weeks and broccoli doubled in price- if you take notice of the price changes and only buy what’s in season, it’s much cheaper. This is especially true with fruit; there are a few weeks in summer when watermelon is actually affordable (yay!) and the same goes for peaches and nectarines. At other times during the year, they’re just too expensive.
The thing I find which makes the biggest difference for fruit and veg is going to a local shop, rather than a chain. In my local vegetable shop I can buy carrots for 1000 won, a big bag of eggplant for 1000 won, a huge bag of spinach for under 2000 won, and a bag of 8 apples for 5000 won. Pretty good, when at the big marts everything is often double the price!
I hope that’s given you some ideas on how to eat healthily for less. I manage to eat fresh, healthy food without going bankrupt, so it’s definitely doable. Still, if Korea decided to start selling oats for a reasonable price, that would make my life so much easier… Here’s hoping!