Organic food – Eating healthy is a great thing to be doing. We all know this. Whether we’re tight on cash, lazy to cook (we all have those nights – nothing to be ashamed of), or just can’t find the time – this list is for you. It’s not the cheapest, but it should be in our diets on a regular basis. Let’s face it, if we’re strapped for cash (and who isn’t these days), healthy food can break the bank. Most of the foods on this list can be eaten as snacks throughout the day, so even if you find yourself waiting at the drive through at the nearest fast food joint (I don’t really consider them “restaurants,” do you?) hopefully you’ll be able to get some nutrients. And this list is packed with nutrient dense powerhouses.
1 – Sweet Potatoes, the nutritional All-Star and extremely cheap healthy food staple. They’re loaded with beta-carotene (that’s why the vibrant orange-yellow color), vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6 (great for your metabolism) and fiber. Did I mention they’re fat-free and relatively low in calories? Thought you’d look twice.
2 – Garlic, a powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral agent, is also high in vitamins C and B6. I see it for around 25 cents a head, so it definitely won’t make you go over budget. Help fight common colds and flus while protecting yourself against cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. And no matter how you have it, raw, cooked, or granulated, it has cholesterol fighting power.
3 – Broccoli, truly a superfood, is packed with the anti-oxidant beta-carotene, carotenoids, potassium, fiber, phytonutrients and folic acid. It’s also a great source of vitamin A and C – antioxidants that will help protect your body’s cells from damage. Raw with dip, stir-fried with Asian flavors, or steamed with cheese – you’ll be helping to prevent heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
4 – Spinach, or Kale, is high in vitamin A and a wonderful source of calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, riboflavin and vitamins B6 and C. Spinach can help boost your immune system and help prevent certain types of cancer. Do you want healthy hair, skin, eyes, bones, and teeth? Try a Spinach Salad, add some spinach to your soups, or instead of lettuce in your sandwiches. Studies have shown spinach to help combat against prostate cancer, protect vision and reinforce cardiovascular health.
5 – Bananas, and no I didn’t mean Apples, contain three natural sugars – sucrose, fructose, and glucose combined with fiber. Expect an instant, sustained, and substantial boost of energy (great for working out). They are also capable of adjusting your mood; tryptophan (a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin) to help you relax and feel happy and B6 if you’re PMSing (also you can help avoid morning sickness with bananas between meals). This potassium-packed fruit can also help students be more alert and boost brain power. Hungover from last night? Make a banana milkshake sweetened with honey to calm your stomach, build your blood sugar levels, and re-hydrate you. Bananas can also help you fight high blood pressure, heartburn, ulcers, strokes, and fight the stubborn effects of quitting smoking. Comparing a banana to an apple, it has four times the protein, twice the carbohydrates, three times the phosphorus, five times both vitamon A and iron, and twice of the other vitamins and minerals. Now, don’t you think the expression should really be “a banana a day keeps the doctor away?”
6 – Oats, such as Quinoa, can help reduce cholesterol and a surprising amount of protein. Quinoa has more protein than any other grain. They are reasonably priced and a great place to add other foods on this list, like bananas. Or go off the list and add raisins or apples, they’re still good for you.
7 – Tomatoes, full of a powerful antioxidant lycopene (one of the strongest carotenoids). Drizzle freshly cut slices with a little olive oil, lycopene is easier for the body to absorb when eaten with a little fat. Rich in fiber and high in vitamin C and A. This fruit is one of the secrets to the Mediterranean diet.
8 – Lentils, great for lunches and full of isoflavones and fiber. Isoflavones hold up through processing, so soups are okay. These are always available in the bulk bins where I shop at inexpensive prices.
9 – Beans, like small red, pinto and dark red kidney varieties, are an excellent low cost source of antioxidants, protein, fiber and copper (helps your body to heal). They also have iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and thiamin. Their easy to toss in a salad or in a burrito and great in soups. Some might consider these little guys the ultimate healthy food (and their easy on the wallet too).
10 – Olive Oil, rich in antioxidants and great tasting. Ever wonder why Mediterraneans have a lower rish of heart attacks, diabetes and colon cancers? Well now you know their secret.
Now, those are the healthiest foods that I’ve found to be the least expensive. There are some wonderful healthy foods that I’ll mention if you want to splurge every now and then, or you get that promotion.
Salmon, full of Omega-3 fatty acids (which can help prevent heart disease), is a a fatty fish high in protein that’s surprisingly low in saturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that can make your blood less likely to form clots, thus might help prevent heart attacks. It’s best if you choose “Wild Salmon” because it’s less likely to contain unwanted chemicals like mercury. That’s where the splurge comes in, recently I’ve seen it hover around $20 per pound around here. Now if you’re in Alaskan and can fish them yourselves, it wouldn’t be a splurge (and I’m a little jealous).
Almonds, like most nuts, are packed with nutrients and contain mostly unsaturated, or good, fats. Almonds are full of fiber, riboflavin, magnesium, iron, calcium (more than any other nut) and vitamin E. Heart healthy and a great plant source of protein, but sad to say I’ve never seen large quantities for cheap. Usually I run into 1/2 pound packages for over $5. They are easy to eat and go fast, but are great for snacking and a wonderful pick me up in the afternoon.
Berries, all kinds – but more specifically blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and blackberries. I’m sure you’re not surprised by this being in the “splurge” section at $5 for a small container. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants (expect a boost in your immune system), fiber and phytonutrients while low in calories. Blueberries might even improve short-term memory, help fight cancer and promote healthy aging. Cranberries, and blueberries, can help prevent and treat bladder infections (they make it hard for bacteria to stick to the urinary tract walls). Raspberries have fiber, vitamin C, ellagic acid and anthocyanins. Last but not least, blackberries are full of fiber – 10g in a single cup to be exact.
Avocados, creamy and sinfully rich in taste, are nutrient packed. Add chopped to salads or mash for a fresh guacamole, either way you are benefitting from the monounsaturated fat, fiber, potassium, copper, and vitamins C, K, E, and B6. I’m in Southern California and these are borderline splurge buys. If you have a neighbor or friend with an avocado tree then you’re in luck. Otherwise, try to buy these succulent beauties when in season, especially if you don’t live in California like I do.
A simple and inexpensive recipe to combine a few of these healthy foods is this Pasta recipe. You can choose whatever pasta you like, I find spaghetti or linguine to work well, and simply cook per directions. Heat some olive oil over medium heat. When heated add flaked red pepper flakes, amount is up to your preference – just watch out for the heat. Then about 5 minutes before the pasta is done, add the garlic to the olive oil. Drain pasta and add to the olive oil mixture, then add parmesan cheese and enjoy. You can pair this quick and easy recipe with a spinach salad, sliced tomatoes, and some nuts if you’re splurging.
* This list is for informational purposes only, if you’re on a medical diet or are concerned with specific diseases, please talk to your doctor. When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Whitaker Wellness Center gave me great advice and I’ve been symtom free for the past 2 years.