10 Surprisingly Cheap Health Foods

10 Surprisingly Cheap Health Foods

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“Of course, I’d love to eat healthy food, if only they weren’t so darn expensive.”

It’s something we’ve all told ourselves from time to time. It actually seems logical. But is it really true? Have you ever considered the real costs of your food?

Consider this: a can of diet soda costs around 37 cents, less than an apple. It also has fewer calories. Seems like the better choice from an economic standpoint, right?


Soda has no nutritional value. So you’re paying for nothing. Actually it’s worse than that. The artificial sweeteners in diet soda may be carcinogous, the sweet flavor has been shown to increase appetite, and even the carbonation may make you hungrier. That means you might actually pile on the pounds instead of losing weight by popping open a can and guzzling it down in place of that apple.

While one soda probably won’t kill you, who drinks only one? If you think about the cumulative damage you’re doing to your body every time you have a soft drink, you start seeing a very different picture. The long-term health costs aren’t worth the immediate savings.

The truth is, we’ve been lied to by advertisers, Big Food, and the media about the real costs of our food.

So today I’m going to pull back the curtain and share the real truth about the cost of your food and share 10 tips that will make a nutritional economy expert.

The Real Reason Health Food Seems More Expensive

10 Surprisingly Cheap Health FoodsThere’s a very high demand for cheap junk food. Compared to that, the demand for healthy food is miniscule.

The result? Food manufacturers produce more of the cheap junk food and less of the highly nutritious stuff.

But then again . . .

According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), foods that are low in calories per given weight (such as vegetables and fruits) tend to have higher prices when their price is measured per calorie. Conversely, foods that are high in saturated fat and/or added sugars are high in calories and tend have lower prices when their price is measured per calorie.

However, when foods are measured based on edible weight or average portion size, foods like vegetables and fruit are less expensive than most dairy products, protein and other high fat foods.

That’s why you must consider the entire cost of your diet, because cheap foods that provide fewer nutrients may actually be more expensive in the long run from the nutritional economy perspective.

USDA researchers compared the prices of more than 4,000 foods commonly available in supermarkets around the country based on their price per edible weight, average portion, and number of calories. What they found out is revealing.

Healthy foods like toasted oats, vegetables, fruits, milk and plain yogurt are more affordable than most sources of protein such as lean meat or chicken breast and other less healthful foods (those that contain large amounts of saturated fat, sugar, and/or salt).

Consider the entire cost of your diet, because cheap foods that provide fewer nutrients may actually be more expensive in the long run.

When price per calorie was used to compare foods, they found that healthful fruits and vegetables may cost more than less healthy foods such as ice cream, chocolate candy, or tortilla chips.

Researchers also showed that although whole grains are more expensive than refined grains, and fresh dark green vegetables cost more than starchy vegetables, other healthful items such as skim milk and 1 percent milk are less expensive than whole milk and two percent milk.

Furthermore, bottled water also tends to be cheaper than carbonated drinks.

And what’s more, consider the cost of medicine you might need to improve your health after suffering from the potential consequences of being overweight and developing diabetes or other diet related disease.

So if you are wondering what healthy foods you can afford to buy the next time you go to the grocery store, consider these 10 surprisingly cheap health foods. This list will help you learn to discriminate which foods are just rich in calories compared to those that are high in nutritional value.

1.     Fruits and Vegetables in Season

Fruits and vegetables in season are cheaper.

In general, fruits and vegetables are known to contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are high in antioxidants, which help the body fight free radicals, but are low in calories, so experts recommend eating  five – nine servings of these daily.

The best way to enjoy fruits and vegetables is to buy only those that are in season. The supply of fruits and veggies that are in season tends to be very high and cheap, since these foods are very perishable. The USDA provides a comprehensive guide on what produce are plentiful during every season. Here are a few examples:

  • Summer: cherries, corn, blueberries
  • Fall: carrots, cranberries, apples
  • Spring: broccoli, cabbage, apricots
  • Winter: grapefruit, potatoes, bananas

Another way to save is to buy fresh produce in local farmers markets. Although some people prefer to buy raw, organic foods to avoid exposure to pesticides, fertilizers, and other toxic chemicals, the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides lists the “Clean 15” produce with the lowest levels of pesticides. To save your money, it recommends buying the conventional varieties of these:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet corn
  • Sweet peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon

2.     Surprisingly Healthy Packaged Foods

This may sound counterintuitive but another way to save on produce is to buy it frozen rather than fresh. Buying frozen products allows you enjoy produce them in or out of season, and at much lower prices. Frozen vegetables often come in 12 to 24-ounce bags that may contain 6-8 servings and cost about $2/bag. A 1-cup serving of frozen mixed vegetables has about 82 calories, six grams of fiber, four grams of protein, vitamin A (115% of the Daily Value), vitamin C (8% DV), and potassium (7% DV).

To make sure that you are getting the maximum amount of vitamins and minerals from the vegetables, use them within a few weeks.

Steam or microwave the veggies rather than boil them to avoid losing water-soluble vitamins. Use frozen berries for your shakes or smoothies, but avoid adding sugar or using whole milk to reduce calorie content.

Other healthy, but inexpensive packaged foods include canned fruits and vegetables such as beans, canned soups, and granola bars. However, not all canned or packaged foods are healthy. Learn to read nutrition labels to find out if the product contains a lot of fat, salt or sugar. For canned soup, a non-condensed, organic soup containing real vegetables is the healthiest option. Choose granola bars that contain oats, dried fruits, nuts and whey, but less sugar and saturated fats. Canned beans are good for burritos, nachos, enchiladas, dips, or other quick side dishes. They provide a good source of protein, calcium, iron, and fiber.

3.     Eggs

Eggs are cheap and rich in protein.

If you want a cheap but protein-rich food, buy eggs, which cost only a few cents apiece. A single egg contains about 6 grams of high-quality protein, choline (a B-vitamin that is essential for brain development), and many other essential vitamins and minerals, and healthy unsaturated fats. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are potent antioxidants known to enhance eye health.

One egg gives you just 75 calories. Although the yolk contains about 213mg of cholesterol, eating a whole egg a few times a week is considered heart-healthy if other sources of dietary cholesterol (meat, dairy products, and poultry) are limited. New research from the USDA shows that eggs contain 14 percent less cholesterol and 64 percent more vitamin D than they did a decade ago. If you want to avoid cholesterol, you can eat egg whites only as a healthy source of protein. However, most of the vitamin and minerals in egg are stored in the yolk. A healthy option is to eat them boiled or poached instead of fried. Hard boiled eggs make a quick and healthy snack.

4.     Canned Fish

tuna fish isolated on white

Danish researchers have found that high-protein dieters lose more weight as well as abdominal fat compared with low-protein eaters. Fish is a great alternative to meats and dairy products as a protein source. In fact, experts recommend eating a minimum of two servings of fish every week to get enough omega-3 fatty acids. Fresh or frozen fish can be expensive, but canned fish is very affordable. Canned tuna, salmon, sardines or albacore provides you with a rich source of iron, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Tuna is also rich in vitamin B6, which supports your nervous system and immune system, and vitamin B12, which promotes balance and healthy reflexes.

At a cost of only up to $1 per serving, these foods can help boost brain power and fight heart disease. A 6-ounce can of fish contains around two servings. These are great for casseroles, salads, sandwiches and crackers. Look for tuna canned in water instead of oil to avoid added fat. Salmon is also a good choice because it has more omega-3 fats than other varieties.

However, due to the presence of mercury detected in canned tuna, FDA recommends that women who are trying to become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children must limit their intake to no more than six ounces per week.

5.     Milk

It’s one of the cheapest sources of protein, calcium, and vitamins and minerals. One 8-ounce glass of milk contains nine essential nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, which helps build bones, heart-healthy potassium, vitamins A, B12 and riboflavin, protein, and phosphorus. You can drink it straight-up, use it for your lattes, smoothies, or hot cocoa. You can also use it for your breakfast cereals, puddings, and other recipes.

One glass of milk contains about 8 grams of protein and is rich in amino acids like leucine, which is important for repairing muscle. However, be careful not to take more than you need (just one to two glasses/day) because some products may contain a high amount of sugar.

6.     Yogurt

Young happy asian woman eating fresh yogurt

Yogurt is great for quick snacks, either alone or combined with fruit and granola, or as an ingredient for your smoothies. One serving (6 to 8 ounces) provides you with about 34 percent of your daily intake of calcium and protein (about 14 grams) for less than $1. You can also boost your metabolism with yogurt, which has been shown to help reduce fat absorption from other foods. Plus, yogurt contains probiotics (friendly bacteria), which helps your digestive system function properly.

You can also opt for nonfat Greek yogurt, which contains less sugar (5 to 8 grams per serving versus 13 to 17 grams), but more protein (15 to 20 grams). Individual servings are sold in 6- to 8-ounce containers, which cost about 90 cents each, but sometimes less when on sale. You also save more if you buy them in the 32-ounce containers.

7.     Tea

Tea costs only about 5 cents per tea bag and it has long been considered a superfood. There are various types of teas, which include black, green, white, or oolong – all of which come from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Many studies have looked into the health benefits of tea and there is some compelling evidence showing that it may help reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Tea contains phytochemicals called catechins, which are disease-fighting antioxidants also found in vegetables, fruits, and red wine. To obtain a healthy dose of flavonoids, drink strong, hot, steeped tea, which contains more of the healthy extracts that tea contains. Bottled teas have low levels of antioxidants, which tend to lose their potency over time. Also, decaffeinated tea contains about 10 percent fewer phytochemicals than regular tea.

Some studies suggest that drinking three cups of tea each day can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Some research shows that drinking tea is as healthy as having one serving of vegetables or fruit, but without the calories, and is much better than drinking soft drinks. Add sugar sparingly and use low- fat-or non-fat milk if you want in order not to turn it into a high-calorie beverage.

8.     Oatmeal/Dry Oats

Uncooked oats

There is a wide range of costly grains that are considered superfoods, but there is one inexpensive item you can always buy cheap – simple rolled oats or oatmeal. This breakfast favorite is packed with thiamin (a B-vitamin), essential minerals like zinc, iron, phosphorous, manganese, and magnesium as well as antioxidants (flavonoids) that have been shown to reduce inflammation and disease.

Oats are also one of the best sources of soluble-fiber, which can help sweep cholesterol out of your body and help keep blood sugar levels in check. Add fruit and non-fat/low-fat milk to plain oatmeal for a delicious breakfast that costs less than $2 per serving. You can also add oats to recipes like granola, muffins, cookies and other desserts.

One serving (half a cup of dry oats) provides about 4 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and 150 calories. Choose old-fashioned oats over instant oatmeal or quick oats to ensure you are getting the most amount of fiber without added sugar and salt.

9.     Brown Rice

Brown rice is not only versatile, but it may also be the healthiest grain. It is rich in fiber, B vitamins and protein, which can keep you feeling satisfied. It has also been found to help lower your risk of diabetes as well as high blood pressure.

One-half cup of brown rice, which is equivalent to one serving, provides you with 2-3 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 170 calories. One serving costs only about 18 cents, and less than $2 for one pound of uncooked rice, which contains about 10 servings. Brown rice may be served with various dishes, rice salads, casseroles, soups, and stews, or may be used in fried rice.

10.Dried Beans/Lentils

Dry beans and peas

Beans of any variety are loaded with protein – half a cup of beans contain about as much protein as an ounce of meat, but with fewer calories. According to the American Diabetes Association, when eaten with grains, they are considered to be a complete protein. Beans are also loaded with fiber, which helps protects the heart. People who want to follow a high-fiber, high-protein diet must include beans in their menu.

Dried beans are quite cheap (about $1 per pound), but it takes some time to rehydrate them. Alternatively, you can get canned beans, which are also cheap and nutritious. Just be sure to rinse them before using to reduce their salt content. Beans are great for casseroles, soups, stews, salads, and more. Lentils are easiest to prepare because they cook quickly, even without pre-soaking. One-fourth cup of dried lentils (one serving) costs only about 10 cents and contains 10 grams of protein, 11 grams fiber, and 120 calories.

As you can see, you can eat healthy foods without overspending.

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