Self-care and Healthy Living on a Budget

As an elder living self-sufficiently, sensibly and sustainably, my approach to health care is self-care first and when help is needed search out more than one discipline. My information is gathered from many published scientific sources available at my local library and online, as well as my own wisdom and decades of personal experience. I'm not a scientist nor have I studied medicine, but my years of research and healthy lifestyle have prevented me from having any of the common, chronic diseases of the 20th century. I am, however, self-healing from environmental illness, the newest chronic disease of the 21st century. My healing journey has garnered me a great storehouse of practical information about healthy living on a budget.

Most of the health care in this country is very costly. The average person in the US spends over $7000 per year on health care compared to less than $3000 in other developed countries1, yet statistics show that the US is not doing so well. A generation ago this country ranked in the top 10 in worldwide life expectancy; today, we are 40th on the list or lower, depending upon your source. This should be a wake-up call.


Toxic build-up causes chronic pain as well as most of our 20th century health conditions. After all, it was after World War II that they introduced chemicals as crop fertilizers made from all the left over bomb ingredients. (Sounds healthy, doesn't it?) With the introduction of petroleum-based products to the general public, the rest is history. Remember the advertisement, "Better Living Through Chemistry?" Our bodies don't know what to do with these new chemicals found in medications, foods, cleaning and personal care products, fabrics, furnishings, walls, ceilings, floors, cars. Some inventors have learned how to run their cars on vegetable oil. We all can learn to use vegetable oil-based products instead of petroleum in our cleaning and body care products. We're encapsulated in our homes and offices as well, and surrounded by the out-gassing of toxins from our toxic building materials.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Our diet undersupplies nutrients and overloads it with chemicals that turn off the right genes and turn on the wrong ones. This imbalance results in chronic problems like acid reflux, allergies, asthma, pain and bone loss and chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Our population's biggest underlying health care problem is vitamin D deficiency. Tests are available for vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. Once these deficiencies are corrected – without side effects and costing only pennies a day – we can see improvement in mood, mental sharpness, memory and ability to focus, more energy, weight loss, depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, autism, ADHD, mood swings, Parkinson's and more.

The following are two examples of nutrient deficiencies in our modern diet.

Omega-3 oils

Omega-3 oils have slowly been replaced by omega-6 oils in our diet. The omega-6 oils were introduced to prevent rancidity and are found primarily in the soy, corn and safflower oils that are now 80% of our fats. Major diseases of aging and inflammation are directly associated with this change in diet. Today, the only real sources of omega-3 fats are wild fish and game, seaweed, algae, eggs from chickens fed only on flax seed and fish meal, as well as grass-fed beef. The types of oils we eat determine the integrity of our cell membranes that are constantly replicating themselves; unhealthy oils lead to unhealthy cells that lead to disease.


Up to one half of Americans are deficient in this mineral and don't know it, accounting for a long list of symptoms and diseases that are easily helped and often cured by adding this nutrient. Magnesium is a powerful relaxation mineral found in sea vegetables, nuts, greens and beans. There are more than 35,000 medical references on magnesium deficiency.


Nutrition dictates health quality for all living beings. In 1988, the Surgeon General concluded that 15 out of 21 deaths involve nutritional deficiencies.2 One quarter of Americans eat at fast food restaurants every day. Because the fast food products are not real food, the body perceives them as allergens and allergic reactions occur within the body. These reactions may not be noticeable, but occurring on a regular basis cause fatigue, digestive problems and other health issues. Changing to a healthier diet is very challenging because Americans are exposed to such an abundance of unhealthy foods that are enticing. It's best not to feel guilty about eating these unhealthy foods, but to ignore the marketing and enticement as much as possible.

Foods no longer provide all nutrients the body needs because:

soils are depleted of nutrients

artificial fertilizers don't provide enough balances and cause further soil depletion

plants treated with pesticides diminish nutrient levels

factory farms keep animals cooped up without sunlight and eating a diet of processed foods, resulting in the need for antibiotics to prevent severe health conditions

Crop Nutrient Density

The history of growing food is first recorded in the Fertile Crescent valley of Mesopotamia. As the world population increased, the demand for food increased. Various cultures developed natural organic farming methods, some which gradually degraded soil more than others. In the 1940s, manufactured fertilizers gave a boost to crop farming, but over time it caused more rapid soil degradation. At this same time, intentional organic farming methods were evolving at the Rodale Farms in Pennsylvania, which stayed dedicated to organic farming and nutritive plant values, going against the profitable new trend in farming.

The term "nutrient density" refers to the amount of nutrition a plant produces. Doesn't it make sense that nutrient dense foods for humans and animals will help them thrive? According to the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) winter 2010 publication The Natural Farmer: Special Supplement on Crop Nutrient Density, since the early 1900s, the US Department of Agriculture has tested 23 fruits and vegetables for 13 vitamins and minerals every ten years. From 1960 to now, the nutrient levels in crops have fallen 40-65%3.

It has been found that unhealthy, mineral-depleted soil is the cause of inferior crops. A healthy plant will not attract pests and disease much like the way healthy animals and people will not attract disease. Increasing organic matter levels and mineral balancing are the most critical steps in maintaining healthy soil. Although the evaluation and set up to establish soil to be sustainable can be quite complex, eventually there will be less overall plant maintenance. Learning about crop nutrient density farming techniques is giving me more hope not only for better foods in my own garden, but also around the world. Arden Anderson, PhD, DO, whose books include Science in Agriculture and Real Medicine, Real Health and Dan Kittredge's website that reaches out to farmers here in the northeast, are helping people grow healthy crops. A more technical guide for farmers is The Biological Farm: A Complete Guide to the Sustainable and Profitable System of Farming by Gary Zimmer.


1. National Geographic Magazine, December 2009.

2. Surgeon General's Report, 1988.

3. NOFA, Winter 2009, The Natural Farmer.

Mary Shaffer is a freelance writer and can be reached at 413-339-4342.