There are plenty of nutritional food bargains out there
Kidney beans provide exceptionally high antioxidant activity, along with soluble fiber and protein. Use them in salads, soups and wraps. (Fotolia.com / March 20, 2013)
It makes sense that minimally processed plant foods should be lower in cost than more highly processed selections; after all, the less food processing and packaging involved, the lower the food cost. (Think whole potatoes vs. potato chips.) However, even healthy whole foods, such as fresh berries, macadamia nuts and wild salmon, can be costly because of availability, cultivation and transportation.
But if you base the majority of your food purchases on seasonal, local nutrition bargains--foods that provide high nutrition content for a relatively low cost--you can allow for a splurge on wild-caught fish, delicate raspberries or specialty nuts more often.
Check out our nutrition experts' top picks for nutrient-rich food bargains. Prices are based on average retail surveys from the U.S.D.A. and U.S. Department of Labor.
1. Eggs (16 cents per large egg)
"Eggs are rich in protein, versatile and good for any meal or a snack. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two cousins of beta-carotene, which may help prevent age-related eye disease," says Virginia-based registered dietitian Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., author of "Diabetes Weight Loss, Week by Week."
2. Onions (12 cents per small onion)
Rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins B6 and C, the onion offers a much needed nutritional and flavor punch. They also contain phytochemicals, such as quercetin and allyl sulfides, which are linked to heart health, immune function and anti-cancer effects. Add them to a number of dishes, such as soups, stir-fries, and casseroles.
3. Peanut Butter (20 cents per 2 Tbsp)
America's favorite spread is packed with nutrients, such as "healthy fats, protein, fiber, B vitamins and magnesium--and it tastes yummy," according to Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., Boston-based sports nutritionist, and author of "Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook." Spread it on toast, sandwiches and crackers for a power snack.
4. Popcorn (16 cents per 1 cup popped)
Enjoy a healthy, whole grain snack for mere pennies. "Buy unpopped kernels and pop them in your microwave. Put three tablespoons of kernels in a brown paper lunch bag. Flatten the bag and fold the top down. Now pop it on your microwave's popcorn cycle," suggests Weisenberger.
5. Banana (14 cents per small banana)
The most popular fruit in the world, bananas are a good source of key nutrients, including fiber, vitamins B6 and C, manganese and potassium. Unlike most fruits, bananas grow year round and ripen best off the plant, which makes them more economical.
6. White Potatoes (17 cents per small potato)
"Don't forget the humble spud. It's kind to your heart because it's essentially fat and cholesterol free, very low in sodium, and gives us fiber and vitamin C. Plus, it provides two minerals important to blood pressure control: potassium and magnesium," says Weisenberger. Bake or roast potatoes--skins and all--to preserve nutrients.
7. Old-fashioned oats (11 cents per Â½ cup dry)
Sure, this whole grain is packed with minerals, but it's their heart-healthy fiber that has nutrition experts so excited. Studies show that just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day--the amount found in one bowl of oatmeal--lowers total cholesterol by 8 to 23 percent in individuals with elevated levels.
8. Kidney Beans (13 cents per Â½ cup cooked)
"Kidney beans provide exceptionally high antioxidant activity, along with a satiating combination of soluble fiber and protein. They're convenient in the canned form and budget-friendly for everyone in the dry form," says Jackie Newgent, R.D., C.D.N, culinary nutritionist and writer. Use them in soups, salads and wraps.
9. Carrots (9 cents per small carrot)
These crunchy root vegetables are packed with heart-healthy beta carotene, fiber, vitamin C and potassium. A bag of whole, fresh carrots can last in your frig for weeks, offering a crunchy, colorful twist to soups, salads, appetizers and stir-fries.
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR FOOD DOLLARS
-- Buy in season. Save the fresh strawberries for late spring in order to save money. If you purchase produce out of season, you may pay a premium for cultivation in hot houses or lengthy transportation from distant locations. And they won't taste as good, either.
-- Turn to preserved produce. Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, prepared without added sugar and salt, can be an economical, nutritious choice for out of season produce. Plus, the crops are harvested at their delicious, seasonal peak before they are processed. Stock your freezer with frozen berries, corn, green beans and spinach, and your pantry with canned peaches, tomatoes and applesauce.
-- Power up on whole grains and legumes. Pound for pound, plain simple kernels of grains, such as barley, wheat berries and brown rice, and legumes, such as dried beans, split peas and lentils, provide a boatload of nutrients, including fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, for a petite price.
(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. http://www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)