Eighteen months ago, Lisa Sadie decided to try going vegetarian for 30 days. Both her weight and her grocery bill decreased, and she never looked back.

Eighteen months ago, Lisa Sadie decided to try going vegetarian for 30 days. Both her weight and her grocery bill decreased, and she never looked back. Sadie, of Tuscarawas Township, Ohio, is passionate about "the power of food" to prevent chronic conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity. Kristi Bradley of Jackson Township, Ohio, credits eliminating processed food and switching to organic with solving her heart problems. Eating well, she says, "saves you money, because you're going to eliminate a lot of health issues like high blood pressure." Bradley and Sadie are among a growing number of people taking steps in the kitchen to protect their health, and thus their finances. "I'd rather spend time at the stove cooking instead of time in line at the pharmacy for blood pressure or cholesterol medicine," said Sadie, a research nurse. "I have friends who are diabetic who have $400 monthly pharmacy bills." Experts agree that improving your health now can save you money later: - An Ohio State University study found that as a person's body mass index increases, his or her net worth decreases. - In her latest book, "Money Rules," personal finance coach Jean Chatzky writes, "The biggest threat to your financial security is your health. Medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S." - In "How To Retire The Cheapskate Way" (due out in December), Jeff Yeager says the single most-important piece of financial advice you'll ever hear is, "If you aren't healthy, work to get healthier. And if you are healthy, work to stay that way." Did you get that? The biggest risk to your finances and future retirement is not stock market volatility, but health care costs. So how can we reduce the chance that health care costs will eat up all our hard-earned, carefully saved dollars? Experts agree on the basics: Stop smoking, increase exercise, reduce alcohol consumption, lose weight and eat healthfully. Based on obesity statistics, Americans aren't doing too well with several of those basics. Sadie, a registered nurse who worked on an obesity study for four years, says lessons learned while working with bariatric nurses and patients were part of the reason she switched to a meat-free, dairy-free, processed food-free diet. She reads exhaustively on the topic and shares her passion with others, even when on the receiving end of eye rolling. "I'm evangelical about it," she admitted. "In nursing, we're taught to teach patients how to care for themselves, that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Bradley spreads the word to her customers at the K Capelli Salon in Canton, Ohio, and sells organic products on the side. "Almost everything I make is homemade, not processed food, and one thing I really believe in is to use grapeseed oil, which is endorsed by the (American) Heart Association," Bradley said. "I sell it at the salon because I care about my clients, and want them to be healthy." When people tell Sadie that eating healthfully is too expensive, she does a little eye rolling herself. "Pound for pound, fresh fruits and vegetables are cheaper than most things in the store," said Sadie, whose grocery bills actually went down when she switched to a vegetarian diet. "If you don't hit the meat counter at $6-8 a pound, that leaves a lot to spend." What about those who say they don't have time to cook? Bradley shares her go-to 10-minute meal. "Heat a flavored grapeseed oil, like garlic flavored, in a pan. Slice chicken into strips and cook it, then put it on top of lettuce and vegetables. Simple," she said. Sadie recommends a fix-it-and-forget-it meal of beans cooked in a slow cooker or risotto with veggies made in a pressure cooker. "A pressure cooker makes risotto in four minutes," she said. "It's cheap, it's nutritious, it's quick, and it's one pot to clean." Sadie says many convenience items, such as commercially made bread, salad dressing and pasta sauce are loaded with chemicals and are expensive, yet are easily made at home. (See her list of nine no-nos on B-1.) "Salad dressing - it's just vinegar and oil and seasoning. So easy," she said. "Store-bought bread? It has a long list of ingredients - chemicals - you can't even pronounce. My recipe is flour, honey, salt, oil and yeast." Canned broth earns a snort of derision from Sadie, as well as Linda Watson, author of "Wildly Affordable Organic." Watson says to save and cool the water used to boil pasta or vegetables, then pour into a "broth jar" you keep in the refrigerator. "Voila! Free vegetable broth," Watson said. "You'll never pay 10 cents or more an ounce for store-bought organic vegetable broth again." An easy first step toward more healthful eating, Sadie said, is to try going vegetarian a couple times a week. "We need to educate ourselves. I think it's wise for all of us to be aware of the cost of being unhealthy - prescriptions, procedures, loss of work, and frequent doctor visits to deal with conditions that are likely preventable," Sadie said. "It's a matter of thinking about your future. It's an investment."