Economical Eating In Korea- Be Healthy Without Being Bankrupt


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 5 huge bags of popcorn, or two boxes of choco pies for that 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.

Renee Comet Wikimedia Commons
Renee Comet Wikimedia Commons

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, but 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, enochi mushrooms and spinach.

My main lifesaver, however, is I Herb. 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 E Mart 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. What does this mean? That I Herb makes healthy eating easy, and doable on a budget.

There are hundreds of thousands of products on the website, but here are some of the best things which I’ve found:

  • Healthy Bread- Rye bread, Flaxseed bread, Multi-grain bread from $3.30 for 500 grams
  • Quinoa- $5.60 for 400 grams (compared to 10,000 won in Homeplus)
  • Grains- Buckwheat, Amaranth, Bulgar, Rye, Couscous from $3.60
  • Oats- $3 for 500 grams
  • Crackers- Ryvita, Crispbreads, Multi-seed, Multi-grain, the list is endless. From $2
  • Stevia- My saviour. Amazing to add to drinks, oatmeal, cereal, baking. And the liquid type doesn’t have any strange after-taste. From $4
  • Teas- Every type of tea you can imagine. And, cheaper than in Korean Marts- from $1.95
  • Coconut Oil- from $8
  • Herbs and Spices- from $2.60
  • Cereal- Hot cereal from $2.80, Muesli from $3.50, Granola from $4, and so many other types for the same price/ cheaper than in Korea. Including Weetabix- 24 biscuits for $5
  • Nuts- from about $8 for 450 grams
  • Seeds- from about $3 for 400 grams.
Luigi Chiesa Wikimedia Commons
Luigi Chiesa Wikimedia Commons

You can spend hours searching on 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.

Miia Ranta Wikimedia Commons
Miia Ranta Wikimedia Commons

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 barely 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 tinned salmon and tuna.

This leads me onto my next point- buying tinned 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 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!

25 thoughts on “Economical Eating In Korea- Be Healthy Without Being Bankrupt

  1. Oats were my biggest problem too! I had been eating them almost everyday at home and was crushed when I found out how much they cost in Korea. Imagine how excited I was when family sent me a ton from home!

    I never used IHerb because while they are cheap compared to chain stores, they still provided a dent in the wallet. Since I was on a pretty tight budget because I traveled within Korea many weekends, I chose to do what I could in the stores. I ate a ton of eggs and yogurt, as you mentioned. Buying vegetables in season is also pretty important as you mentioned. I would keep an eye out for when tomatoes became cheap and would snag em’ up!

    Nice summary!


    1. I totally agree about tomatoes! They change price by about 2,000 won within a week!
      I actually found oats in E Mart the other day- 1,800 won for 50 grams, so only small sachets, but still, maybe there’s hope that they’re catching on in Korea!


  2. I love to shop on iHerb but I usually only buy things I really can’t find like coconut oil & coconut sugar. I buy my oats off gmarket…while they are a bit more expensive I find iherb costing me more money at once because I usually buy so many things at one time. I also like to shop at the markets and buy whatever is in season…although I still pay a small fortune plus my right arm to buy avocados!


  3. Great post! If you do it right it’s definitely possible to eat healthy and cheap here. It does take work though. I’ve been wanting to do a series about this actually. One thing I know it’s hard to adjust to is eating seasonally. We just don’t do it in America and everything is available to us year round. So when someone complains bout the price of apples here, I usually say well they’re not in season!! Eat what the Koreans eat is my philosophy. Whatever food my coworkers bring in is usually what is in season.


  4. I agree that eating healthy in Korea can be difficult, but you gave some great tips on how to do it. In addition to buying from local marts, I also buy from the ajummas that sit on the side of the streets selling their goods. Usually, whatever they can’t sell on the streets they sell to the marts who jack up the price. A for iHerb, there’s a facebook group called Seoul Healthy Eats (I think?) and they’ve recently been reporting a lot of issues with iHerb and Korean customs opening their goods, package and food. Otherwise, people I’ve known personally haven’t had a problem with iHerb. Just something to be mindful of I suppose. Anyway, great post and thanks for sharing! 🙂


  5. Thanks for the comment! I agree about buying from the Ajummas, something I forgot to include! I’ve had some great bargains from them in the past 🙂
    I have seen online a few negative things about I Herb, but as you say, no-one I actually know has had bad experiences…just have to hope they carry on the good service for me! Haha


  6. It was definitely an adjustment getting used to the new foods. My diet has completely changed here and to be honest, it’s probably for the best! I eat so much more fruit and veg (it’s very cheap where I live, not sure exactly why?). I hardly eat any pasta or bread anymore – although I do splurge occasionally, it’s mostly rice and noodles for me. I love shopping at the markets when I can, much cheaper and the people are so lovely!


    1. I totally agree! I am a lot healthier in Korea, partly because the food is healthier, and partly because there isn’t as much temptation as back home! The markets are amazing, and I go when I can- you’re right, the people are also so nice! And such good deals!


  7. We started doing a CSA through Gachi and paid 186k for a month. That’s weekly deliveries of veggies, eggs, and tons of delicious bread (real bread too). Iherb is also good though and supplies us with coconut oil, pancake mix, and things I really can’t get locally. For meat, I go to the local butcher and buy from them. I know that emart and the others might be less expensive but I really don’t feel like standing in line there and battling the crowds.


  8. I’ve read about Gachi, but never done it, because from what I saw you couldn’t select products, you just got given a random selection? Glad that it’s good though, I’ll have to have another look!


  9. Sweet! I have heard of iHerb but I haven’t done any exploring of it…until now! I am going to get myself some stuff! I have only been here for 2 months so far and we have found ourselves so excited from going out to eat and not having that break the bank ($10 for dinner for 2 people) that we eat out all the time! It is time to start cooking more, and I miss it! Its important to eat what is in season no matter where you are, cheaper and healthier. Good tips!


  10. Thanks a lot! Hope you find some good stuff on I Herb, there’s so much when you start looking it always takes me ages to do a shop! I agree that eating out is so much easier and cheaper here, but it’s good to cook too 🙂 hope you’re enjoying Korea so far!


  11. These are some amazing options. When my co-workers told me about iHerb, I was really expecting to be breaking the bank to have food items shipped all the way from California, but it’s actually WAY more affordable than buying specific things locally here in SK. I recently bought protein bars, whey powder, chia seeds, hemp seeds, steel cut oats, organic shampoo, etc. on there. These will last me ages and the prices are no different than I would see in-store at home. You cannot beat $4 international shipping (I don’t even understand how that’s possible!)

    Another good thing to look out for are the days where produce goes on sale in your local supermarket. Sunday is the day I go produce shopping, as I’ll find full heads of broccoli that are normally 1.7-2 thousand won for 750-900 won. Amazing deals on even out-of-season produce… except peppers, that are ALWAYS expensive.


    1. Thanks for the comment!
      I was so surprised by I Herb too, as you said it’s so cheap, and a lot of things are the same price/ cheaper than back home- I’ll still do orders on protein bars etc when I’m back in England.
      Thanks for the tip about supermarket sales, I’ve never really noticed when things go on sale (apart from if you go really late). I’ll have to try and find out which days are best to go shopping 🙂


  12. I absolutely LOVE iherb! When I lived in Ulsan last year, the local shops never had what I was looking for and Homeplus was a bit too far to do casual shopping. My favorite is buying from the ajummas on the street – they’d sell a HUGE bowl of eggs for around 3,000!


  13. We have the same problem with Home Plus here- it’s a bit further to get to, and I always end up buying things I don’t need haha. I do like buying from the ajummas at the market too, and I love the bargains! Never bought eggs from them though, will have to keep an eye out next time 🙂


  14. to be honest, we usually just opt to eat a little less healthy and stay cheap. buying the shitty white bread at the mart for 2000 won, cans of tuna definitely, powdered soup packets, and of course, ramen. we make salads sometimes, but stick to cheap ingredients. all in all, we eat for pretty cheap every day. but man oh man do i miss avocados. definitely gonna check out this I Herb and see what they’ve got!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow, some great tips there! While Tasmania (where we live) has a lot more variety than Korea, we still find ourselves needing to buy in the odd product we can’t get in the shops. Might have to look into iHerb!


  16. Yes, when I learned of iherb, I was completely sold on buying from them. Another option I rely on more heavily these days is the local HanaMart. I can get all of my produce from them for less that 20,000 won per week. And while they don’t carry anything organic, I’m perfectly satisfied with the local produce I get from them.

    Is there a local HanaMart in your neighborhood? I’d suggest you check them out too. 🙂


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