Cost Per Serving (1 cup): 15¢
Why lentils are so good for you: Like beans, lentils are high in fiber and protein (8 grams and 9 grams per half cup, respectively), which makes them great for your heart. They have the edge over beans, though, when it comes to preparation. Lentils cook up in only 15 to 30 minutes and don’t need to be presoaked.
Cost Per Serving (1/3 cup, uncooked): 10¢
Why oats are so good for you: Oats are a great way to get soluble fiber in your diet (they deliver 3 grams per serving). Research suggests that increasing your intake of soluble fiber by 5 to 10 grams each day could result in a 5 percent drop in “bad” LDL cholesterol. Plus, the quick-cooking oats are just as healthy as steel-cut—just steer clear of oatmeal packets that are loaded with added sugars.
Cost Per Serving (1 cup): 60¢
Why kale is so good for you: Kale is an undisputed superfood. A single serving (1 cup cooked) has 10 times the daily value of bone-healthy vitamin K. It also has 3 times the daily value of vitamin A and is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, which all help your vision. Plus, it’s pretty darn tasty.
Cost Per Serving (1 oz.): 63¢
Why almonds are so good for you: A 1-ounce serving (23 nuts, 162 calories) has 37 percent of your daily value for vitamin E—a nutrient many Americans fall short on. Almonds also deliver some calcium, fiber and folate. Not only that, a serving of almonds has as many flavonoids as a cup of green tea, according to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Cost Per Serving (1 tea bag): 10¢
Why tea is so good for you: While we’re on the subject of tea, there’s no doubt it’s a super-healthy, budget-friendly addition to your diet. Tea, especially green tea, has lots of health boons. Both green and black tea are loaded with antioxidants, which may boost your immune system and promote heart health. In fact, scientists have found that those who drink 12 ounces or more of tea a day were about half as likely to have a heart attack as non-tea drinkers.
Cost Per Serving (1 orange): 34¢
Why oranges are so good for you: You can get your entire day’s worth of vitamin C in a single orange. Plus, oranges deliver fiber (3 grams in one orange) and water to keep you full for only 70 calories. Not only that, the orange color means it delivers vision-boosting beta carotene.
Cost Per Serving (3 oz.): 48-77¢
Why tuna is so good for you: Sure, salmon gets a glowing (and well-deserved) rep for being a megasource of omega-3s. But did you know that lowly canned tuna also delivers omega-3s? Plus, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend cutting back on meat—eating tuna up to twice a week is one way to do that. Look for chunk light tuna, which comes from smaller tuna fish and is lower in mercury than white albacore tuna.
8. Peanut Butter
Cost Per Serving (2 tbsp.): 21¢
Why peanut butter is so good for you: Don’t knock peanut butter. Not only is it delicious and versatile, it delivers many of the same benefits as more expensive tree nuts, such as improving cholesterol and lowering risk of heart disease. Peanut butter delivers heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E and zinc. Look for natural peanut butter (a brand that has just peanuts—and salt, if you insist—as the ingredients) to avoid partially hydrogenated oils and sugar.
Cost Per Serving (1 medium apple): 28¢
Why apples are so good for you: Apples don’t have megadoses of any one vitamin or mineral to boast about (although they have some vitamin C), but several research studies suggest that apples have tangible benefits for your heart. The latest one, out of Florida State University, showed that people who ate the equivalent of 2 apples daily for a year improved these markers. Researchers think it’s a combination of the pectin (a type of fiber)and polyphenols that makes apples so good for you.
Cost Per Serving (1 egg): 17¢
Why eggs are so good for you: For such a small and inexpensive food, eggs pack in a lot of nutrition. The whites are brimming with protein (4 grams per egg), while the yolks deliver some vitamin D plus a lutein and xeanthanin, which lowers the risk of age-related macular degeneration—a disease that affects one in eight Americans with vision loss and sometimes blindness. All that for 80 calories. (There’s a reason they’re touted as the “incredible, edible egg”.)
Cost Per Serving (1 cup): 32¢
Why carrots are so good for you: Sweet potatoes get a lot of love for being a superfood, but so should the carrot. After all, they’re both orange, which means they both deliver beta-carotene (a type of vitamin A). A cup of carrots actually delivers 4 times the DV of vitamin A, which helps build bone and contributes to immune function.
Cost per serving (1 cup): 27¢
Why cabbage is so good for you: Like kale, cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable and diets rich in cruciferous vegetables are linked to lower rates of cancer. It’s also is an excellent source of vitamins C and K, and delivers fiber and detoxifying sulfur compounds. Red cabbage also boasts anthocyanins, an antioxidant thought to keep your heart healthy and brain sharp. Plus it’s very low in calories (22 per cup).
* These are average prices gathered from online grocery stores and a USDA 2011 survey of fruit and vegetable prices. Although the cost of these foods may differ from store to store, these are all healthy foods that are generally a good value relative to the nutrition they provide.
Do you want to eat healthy but are on a shoestring budget? Try these wallet-friendly health heroes!
Few foods can hold a candle to this leafy green. Kale is full of vitamins, minerals and health-enhancing antioxidants. Indeed, kale’s filling fiber, bone-building calcium and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help support the body’s natural detox system, getting rid of harmful compounds that are thought to cause cancer, heart disease and other serious ills. And what a bargain it is too, at just about 60 cents a cup. Plus, kale is easy to prepare. Simply remove the center ribs of its leaves, then slice it into thin ribbons. Add this healthful pick to soups and stews in the last 20 minutes of cooking, or sauté it with a splash of olive oil for a delicious side dish.
Eating this brilliant vegetable is like giving your body a beauty treatment, thanks to its high concentration of beta carotene (the healthful antioxidant that gives this spud its orange hue). Beta carotene, which has been shown to help every cell in the body stay healthy, also happens to be a skin-targeted nutrient. Studies have shown it neutralizes wrinkle and sun spot-spurring damage from the sun and helps generate new, healthy glowing skin cells. Sweet potatoes are also packed with a slew of figure-friendly fiber and energizing B-vitamins — all for just 43 cents a serving. Bake them whole or mash them with a bit of milk.
Who needs expensive, over-hyped, tropical fruit when you can get serious healing power from a home-grown variety for a fraction of the price? Dried cranberries rank among the highest antioxidant contents of any fruit, which means they may help reduce cancer and heart disease risk. Plus, they contain unique compounds that help prevent urinary tract and other pesky infections. What’s more, far from making a dent in your wallet, dried cranberries cost mere pocket change — just 50 cents a cup. Toss them into salads, bake them into muffins or toss them into your morning cereal.
Moo juice is so common that we tend to overlook its power and value. Here’s a friendly reminder: One 8-ounce glass of milk is chock-full of 9 essential nutrients, many of which most of us fall short, including bone-building calcium, heart-healthy potassium, and vitamin D. All for about a quarter a glass! Besides drinking milk straight-up, nice and cold, you can use it for lattes, in smoothies and in hot cocoa. Put it in your morning cereal or use it for puddings. Be sure to buy non-fat or 1 percent low-fat products to reap its potent health power for the fewest calories.
Don’t be fooled by their small size, pinto beans pack a huge nutritional punch. They are loaded with figure-friendly protein, filling fiber, energizing B vitamins and heart-helping antioxidants. In fact, pinto beans take the budget super-food prize because they have one of the highest antioxidant counts of all beans and cost the least, a mere 13 cents a cup. Add pinto beans to your favorite chili recipe or mash them with some chicken broth, sautéed onion and garlic for a creamy side dish. The pinto possibilities are endless.
At only 70 calories and 20 cents each, eggs are one of the best nutritional bargains around. They are protein packed and a top dietary source of choline, an essential vitamin that has been shown to promote brain health. They are also loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin, potent antioxidants which have been shown to enhance eye health. Note: Most of the vitamin and minerals in eggs are stored in its yolks so if you only spoon up their whites you’ll miss out. Just stick to no more than seven whole eggs a week (to keep your cholesterol in check) and strive to eat them boiled or poached instead of fried. One simple way to squeeze them in: Hard boil a few eggs at the start of the week so you have them on hand for a quick and healthy snack.
Surprise: You don’t have to spend big bucks on fancy teas to get a potent health punch. Regular black tea can easily fit the bill. Why? Its packed with flavanoids (protective compounds that neutralize health-damaging particles called free-radicals) therefore helping the health of every cell in our bodies. Plus, studies show tea sippers have less skin wrinkling as they age. So drink up! Up to six cups a day is suggested — iced or hot. At only 5 cents per tea bag you can afford to. Just keep sweeteners to a minimum so you don’t add empty calories to your cup. Sensitive to caffeine? Keep your tea intake to early in the day, since decaf and herbal varieties don’t offer the same flavanoid benefits.
There’s an array of costly grains with super-food status in today’s markets, but there’s one inexpensive health hero you most likely already have in your cupboard — oatmeal. Simple rolled oats are packed with essential minerals like immune-boosting zinc, magnesium and iron as well as chock-full of protective antioxidants called flavanoids that have been shown to reduce disease-causing inflammation in the body. But their real star power comes from their fiber. Oats are one of the top sources of soluble-fiber, the kind that can help sweep cholesterol out of the body and help keep blood sugar from rising too quickly. Buy plain oatmeal and gussy it up yourself for breakfast with fruit or simply sub in oats instead of breadcrumbs in your favorite meatloaf or meatball recipe.
Good news: You can have all the benefits of wild salmon at a fraction of the cost by buying canned salmon. Fresh or canned, experts say a 4-ounce portion of salmon provides a day’s worth of omega-3 fatty acids, the beneficial fat that has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and thereby reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. This food also provides the daily value for vitamin D, while supplying other important minerals. Both fresh wild and canned salmon are also low in contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. Use canned salmon just as you would use canned tuna: Flake it into your summer pasta salad or mix it with a touch of mayo, mustard, lemon juice, chopped onion and celery and serve it on a sandwich.
Just one cup of this luscious fruit gives you 80 percent of the daily value for immune-boosting vitamin C, 25 percent of vitamin A (in its antioxidant form, beta-carotene), 7 percent potassium and 3 grams of filling fiber, not to mention all the healing power you get from its wealth of phenols, plant compounds that have potent antioxidant activity. You get this huge health bang all for just 110 calories and about 50 cents. To properly prep a mango, first slice a bit off its bottom so the fruit stands upright on your cutting board. Then, cut straight down along both sides of the pit to remove the fruit. Afterwards, just peel and cut into slices or chunks. Two other suggestions: Try blending mango with a carton of yogurt, a handful of ice and a touch of honey for a tasty smoothie or serving it as a salad sliced with avocado and red onion with a squeeze of lime.