Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive or require an entire paycheck. We eat a lot of processed food in the Western diet and hardly any fruits, vegetable, whole grains, beans, legumes, or nuts and seeds. Are our health ills then really any surprise? If you’re looking for affordable swaps to make in your diet and worry about breaking the bank, check out these 7 inexpensive food recommendations that will instantly upgrade your nutrition and health. You’ll definitely get the most bang for your buck!
#1 – Swap Rice for Pasta & Bread
Pasta and bread are pretty cheap but they’re actually processed foods loaded with gluten and made from refined wheat that hits our blood like sugar, spiking it into the stratosphere. Both gluten and the refined carbs in flour have horrible health impacts on our bodies and brains. Gluten causes inflammation of all sorts, can trigger autoimmune problems even in people without a gluten allergy, and breaks down into morphine-like chemicals that bind to our brain’s opiate receptors (this is why we love our wheat products so much). Wheat is a carb and has a high glycemic load which means it spikes our blood sugar and over time causes insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the main factor behind pre-diabetes, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other metabolic disorders but also numerous cancers and heart disease, among other problems.
Want to improve your health immediately? Switch off pasta and bread, which mostly have nutrition because of added vitamin fortification, and over to rice. Unlike most flour products, rice is a whole grain. It’s plenty cheap and available everywhere. It’s also a versatile cooking ingredient, great for anything from stir-fries and curries to Mexican “burrito” bowls and in soups. Jasmine rice preserves better in the fridge or freezer for those who like to make their meals ahead of time.
While white rice won’t win any medals for its health content, it usually comes fortified like wheat but without the gluten. Better, more nutritional rices would be brown, black (aka forbidden), and pink rice. All these still contain the whole grain, unlike white rice or wheat flour, and with that comes fiber, vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals missing from our usual pastas and breads. Brown rice is pretty cheap so grab a bag – it’s hands down a thousand-fold better for you than any wheat product and will satisfy your carb tooth.
#2 – Eat Beans Almost Every Day, Any Type
Beans are inexpensive. Better, researchers have linked this food group to longevity across cultures, sex, race, and other controlling factors. It beats out any other food when it comes to a predictor of health. Beans are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and fiber, all of which our standard American diet lacks. It’s like getting ten prizes for the price of one. Even better, it’s one of the least expensive foods in the supermarket. For example, at about 98 cents per pound, black beans are one of the most affordable protein sources available. You can usually buy canned beans for less than a $1 or frozen peas or green beans for around that price. Compare that to $4.60/lb+ for beef and $3.50/lb+ for chicken.
In the kitchen, beans are versatile. They work well as their own main course or as a side or ingredient for other dishes. They are so many varieties to choose from that you’ll quickly find your favorites and won’t risk boredom. For optimum health, eat two cans or a pound a week. This works out to half a cup a day if you split it up. Try them in soups, as cold salads, or even as dips in addition to such favorites as chili.
#3 – Munch on Sunflower Seeds
We don’t eat enough nuts and seeds. These nutrition-packed foods come loaded with vitamins and minerals as well as protein and good fat – and it only takes a quarter cup which is basically just a handful of them. Sunflower seeds are especially high in vitamin E (37% of RDI), manganese (30%), zinc (10%), folate (17%), B6 (11%) and selenium (32%). Vitamin E and selenium function as antioxidants to protect your body’s cells against free radical damage, which plays a role in several chronic diseases. Additionally, sunflower seeds are a good source of beneficial plant compounds, including phenolic acids and flavonoids — which also function as antioxidants.
A pound of almonds can clock in easily at $10 but sunflower seeds are relatively inexpensive at half that price – or less. They’re a great and tasty snack but they’re also incredibly easy to add to dishes like salads, stir-fries, yogurt, granola, pestos and more.
#4 – Cabbage
While spinach and kale are pretty packed with nutrition, they also cost roughly $4+ per bag and don’t go very far in the kitchen. Cabbage comes cheap (less than $1 a pound) and also contains a wealth of nutrition. It’s easy to add to soups, salads and stews or prepare as slaw, kimchi, or sauerkraut. It works well with beans and meat and has a surprising versatility once you start looking at recipes that contain it. In Japan, cabbage is the most eaten food in the country and no one knocks how healthy the Japanese are.
Just 1 cup (89 grams) of raw green cabbage contains:
- Calories: 22
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Vitamin K: 85% of the RDI
- Vitamin C: 54% of the RDI
- Folate: 10% of the RDI
- Manganese: 7% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 6% of the RDI
- Calcium: 4% of the RDI
- Potassium: 4% of the RDI
Cabbage can help keep inflammation in check. One study including over 1,000 Chinese women showed that those who ate the highest amounts of cruciferous vegetables like cabbage had considerably lower levels of inflammation, compared to those who ate the lowest amounts. Cabbage can also aid in digestion and may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
#5 – Bananas
When shopping for fruit, you can often get sticker shock. One of the habitually most inexpensive fruits are bananas. You can usually get them for 49 cents a pound, making them by far the consistently cheapest fruit out there most of the time – even all year long. You don’t really have to worry about pesticides as well since you discard the peel. They’re highly portable and great by themselves or added onto yogurt, cereal, oats or as sweeteners in low or sugar free desserts. If you’re avoiding fruit because of the cost, grab a bunch of bananas. You’ll also be getting a fair amount of fiber, 33% of your RDI of B6, and helpful vitamins and minerals.
#6 – Sardines or Anchovies
Sardines and anchovies are amazing, yet most Americans turn up their noses at these nutritional and delicious powerhouses despite never having tried them. These small fishes come packed with needed B vitamins and Omega-3 but also contain loads of protein and other vitamins and minerals. You can usually buy sardines for around a dollar in any grocery store and anchovies for around $2. These make great snacks. Sardines go well in soups, stews and tacos. Anchovies, especially fillets, go well in bean salads or pesto or as appetizers paired with veggies and cheese or as toppers on crackers. These two foods are environmentally sustainable as well, especially as they are low on the food chain. Better, they’re one of the lowest mercury contaminated fishes out there.
While these are small fish, you really only need a tin or two of them a week to reap their out-sized health benefits.
#7 – Eggs
When it comes to breakfast, eggs are king. They’re fast, versatile and filling – whether you eat them scrambled, boiled, poached, over easy or as an omelet or breakfast taco. They’re also easy to make and add to other meals. They’re an amazingly cheap source of protein and you can even grab free-range organic eggs like Nelly’s for less than $4 a dozen.
When it comes to nutrition, they contain a little bit of almost every nutrient you need. Whole eggs are also an excellent source of choline – a nutrient that most people don’t even know exists, yet it is an incredibly important substance and is often grouped with the B vitamins. Choline is used to build cell membranes and has a role in producing signaling molecules in the brain, along with various other functions. While eggs used to get a bad wrap, the latest research shows they are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke while lowering triglyceride levels and even keeping your eyes healthy.
While vegans will abstain from eggs, vegetarians – like the incredibly long-lived Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California – often include them in their diet.
Good Food on the Cheap
Want healthier, filling and delicious meals? Start by incorporating these seven foods into your weekly or daily meal rotation. They’re cheap while packing an out-sized nutritional punch. Your body – and wallet – will thank you.
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