Eating healthy on a budget may sound like an oxymoron. YouTube videos would have us believe that “nutritious” looks like several pricey superfood powders in a berry smoothie. “Cheap” food, in comparison, is greasy, salty, delicious fast-food. But, some of the most affordable foods you can buy in the grocery store are healthy, too. Here’s what to look for when you go shopping.
Keep your pantry stocked with shelf-stable items, particularly carbohydrates like grains and pasta, which can help you make vegetables last longer.
Affordable and filling, oats are among the healthiest grains you can buy. Rolled oats are a good source of nutrients including manganese, phosphorus, iron, and vitamins B1 and B5. Half a cup of dry oats contains 13 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber, so it keeps you feeling fuller longer. A pound of oats typically costs between $1.75 to $1.99 per pound.
At around $1.99 a pound, brown rice is another healthy carb to keep in your pantry. According to Harvard Health, whole grains like brown rice and barley can help lower cholesterol. Whole grains are also good sources of B vitamins, including thiamin and niacin as well as manganese.
Barley has a distinct chewy texture and nutty flavor, making it a great grain to keep on rotation. You’ll come across two varieties: dehulled barley, where the hard outer shell of the grain was removed, but it maintains the bran and germ; and pearled barley, where the bran has been removed through polishing. Dehulled barley maintains more nutrition. It is rich in fiber, molybdenum, manganese, and selenium and it has good amounts of copper and vitamin B1.
Whole grain pasta is high in carbohydrates, the primary energy source for your muscles, red blood cells, and nervous system. It is also high in B vitamins and minerals including copper and selenium.
5. Rice Noodles
Made from just rice flour and water, rice noodles are varied, versatile, and affordable. Rice noodles are a good low-fat source of carbohydrates and they contain trace amounts of manganese and selenium. There’s a rice noodle for every job, from stir-fries to soups and chilled noodle dishes.
Beans come in all shapes, sizes, and textures from buttery lima beans to creamy black beans, and nutty chickpeas. Beans are high in protein and fiber and easy on the wallet, making them the backbone of many budget-friendly diets. The nutritional profile of each type of bean varies, but in general, they are a source of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Soybeans contain all nine essential amino acids. Beans are also high in protein as well as fiber, which can protect against heart attack and cardiovascular disease.
Lentils come in multiple varieties too, from brown, which hold their shape in stews to red, which turn mushy and shine in dals. They are high in protein (12 grams per 1/2 cup) and a good source of B vitamins, iron, and fiber, which supports the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
According to the U.S. popcorn industry, Americans consume a per capita rate of about 200 cups a year. When cooked on the stovetop or an air-popper, popcorn is a good low-fat snack. It is low-calorie and a good source of dietary fiber.
9. Peanut Butter
Peanut butter contains all three macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—and is a good source of vitamins E, B3, and B6. The majority of peanut butter is relatively unprocessed, consisting of just roasted peanuts and salt. Some brands may add oil and sugar.
10. Pumpkin Seeds
Also known as “pepitas,” pumpkin seeds contain 7 grams of protein per ounce and 13 grams of fat, nearly half of which are omega-6s. They are a good source of manganese, magnesium, and iron. Pumpkin seeds also contain the antioxidants carotenoids and vitamin E, which can help reduce inflammation.
11. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds have a mild, nutty flavor that shines in granolas and as a topping for bowls and salads. These seeds are high in vitamin E and selenium. They may help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
High in calories with a strong nutritional profile, a handful of peanuts makes for a healthy snack. Technically legumes, 100 grams of peanuts contains 25 grams of protein and 8.5 grams of fiber. As far as vitamins and minerals go, peanuts contain potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, and B vitamins.
13. Canned Tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes won’t keep for long, so it’s good to have canned diced tomatoes stashed in your pantry. Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C as well as lycopene, an antioxidant that protects heart health and vision.
14. Canned Pumpkin
The shining star of fall, canned pumpkin is also great to have in your pantry all year. Pumpkin is high in vitamin C—one cup contains 245 percent of your reference daily intake (RDI) of vitamin A. It is also high in vitamin C and beta carotene.
Tofu is a good plant-based source of protein, iron, and it contains all nine essential amino acids. Made from soy milk, tofu has many varieties, including extra firm, firm, and silken.
16. Whole Wheat Bread
White bread may have a reputation for not being healthy, but whole wheat bread is a different story. Depending on the brand, it can be a good source of fiber as well as protein, so it keeps you full between meals. Since it is made from whole grains, many whole wheat bread brands are also a good source of iron.
17. Corn Tortillas
A staple of Mexican cooking, authentic corn tortillas are made by soaking corn in calcium hydroxide, known as limewater. The kernels are then ground into masa (corn dough), which is shaped, flattened, and baked. Corn tortillas contain trace amounts of calcium, iron, and magnesium. They are also a good source of fiber.
Fresh fruit and vegetables tend to be priced higher than shelf-stable, but many options are affordable and available in the majority of grocery stores. Remember to keep an eye open for sales, too.
Not only do they tend to cost around 75 cents per pound, but they’re also good for you. Bananas are high in fiber, making them good for digestive health, and vitamins B6 and C. According to Healthline, studies suggest that the nutrients in bananas may help improve blood pressure and heart health.
One medium apple—around 6.4 ounces—is a good source of vitamin C. Being high in fiber and water, apples help you feel full. Remember to leave the skin on—it contains most of the fiber and polyphenols, which have an antioxidant effect.
Oranges are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, thiamine, folate, and antioxidants.
Pears are a good source of potassium and copper and contain small amounts of folate, provitamin A, and niacin. Like apples, pears contain polyphenols, so remember to leave the skin on. Buy pears when they’re in season for the best price.
22. Lemons and Limes
Known for their distinct sour, acidic flavor, lemons and limes have a wide array of culinary uses. Their juice makes a good dressing base and can add a boost of flavor to soups, sauces, pasta, and roasted vegetables.
23. Sweet Potatoes
You can find sweet potatoes just about anywhere, typically for less than $1 a pound. These starchy root vegetables are technically a “superfood.” They are high in vitamins A and E as well as manganese, potassium, and antioxidants. Orange sweet potatoes are especially rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body converts into vitamin A to form light-detecting receptors in the eyes.
Russet, Yukon gold, red, purple… Potatoes are varied, affordable, and also good for you. Nutrition varies by the variety, but all tubers are rich in resistant starch, which studies show may improve digestive health. They also contain the antioxidants flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic acids, which may help protect against free radicals, which can increase the risk of chronic disease. Purple potatoes contain three to four times the antioxidants as white varieties. Leave potatoes unpeeled—the majority of nutrients are in the skin.
Technically a leafy green, broccoli is also a relatively affordable vegetable. It contains high levels of vitamin C. Some studies suggest that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli can help protect against certain forms of cancer. Because it is high in fiber, it may also help regulate blood sugar. Broccoli is nutrient-rich whether you eat it raw or cooked.
Orange carrots are high in a multitude of nutrients, including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, biotin, vitamin K1, and potassium. Try this recipe for sweet and savory roasted carrots, which livens up the root vegetable with a flavorful glaze.
While it’s true that colorful veggies are rich in nutrients, so is the humble cauliflower. This cruciferous vegetable is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and vitamin B6 as well as glucosinolates, isothiocyanates, carotenoids, and flavonoids. Try this lemon-roasted cauliflower as a side dish with dinner.
Also known as summer squash and courgette, zucchini is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and potassium.
29. Green Beans
Available all year round, green beans (also known as string beans) are low in fat, high in fiber, and suitable for low-FODMAP diets. It contains small amounts of the minerals folate and good amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C.
Green cabbage is one of the most affordable vegetables you can buy, often priced at around $.50 cents a pound. It is rich in vitamin K and vitamin C and a decent source of folate, manganese, vitamin B6, calcium, and potassium.
Beets are high in fiber, folate (vitamin B9), manganese, potassium, iron, and vitamin C. Shredded beets shine in salads, but the vegetable is also delicious when roasted with just a bit of salt and pepper. The greens are also edible, so remember to save those!
32. Butternut Squash
Butternut squash and other winter squashes can be found all year round (but, the prices will be lower and winter, when they’re in season). Winter squashes are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and potassium.
Onions consist mostly of sugars, such as glucose, fructose, and sucrose, as well as fiber. Where these vegetables shine is as an aromatic—a vegetable or herb that you saute in oil to make a dish more flavorful.
Garlic is similar to onions—adding a couple of cloves of garlic (or more realistically, three or four) to a dish makes dishes of all kinds more flavorful. However, garlic is more nutritious with decent amounts of calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin B1
35. Frozen Vegetables
Frozen vegetables are among the healthiest foods you can buy. The majority of produce is harvested at peak ripeness, when they are at peak nutrition. After harvesting, vegetables are typically cleaned, cut, blanched, and frozen. For the most part, frozen produce retain its nutrition content. It’s typically good for up to a year after buying.
36. Frozen Edamame
Edamame, frozen edamame in particular, deserves its own spot on the list. These mature soybeans, available shelled or in the pod, are considerably high in protein at 18.5 grams of protein per cup. Because they provide all of the amino acids your body needs, they are also a complete protein. Studies have shown that it may decrease the risk of heart disease.
37. Frozen Fruit
The frozen version of fruits is often more affordable than fresh. Fruit is at its most nutritious when ripe, but it begins to lose nutrition shortly after harvesting. It is frozen shortly after harvesting, preserving the high level of vitamins and minerals.
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