Healthy eating is the ultimate paradox: It’s great for your body and terrible for your bank account.
When I recently joined the “clean eating living cult” — or rather when I made it a priority to eat fresh instead of processed — I noticed two things: my weight went down and my grocery bill went up.
I was expecting, and even hoping for, option No. 1. I figured that clean eating was the way to go if I wanted to improve energy, drop a few pounds and possibly live forever. I just didn’t think about the fact that eating au naturel would cost me — filling more than half my grocery cart with produce for salads, stir-fries, juices and fermented vegetables added at least an extra $100 at checkout.
It was then I knew that I couldn’t go into grocery shopping blind, not if I wanted to sustain my super-awesome healthy lifestyle. I began to do some research to figure out how to get the most nutritional bang for my buck. I consulted with a few experts for guidance, and here’s what I found: These inexpensive superfoods can fit into a minimal grocery budget to provide you with healthy meal options all week long.
If you’re looking for another good excuse not to eat your broccoli, this broccoli-as-a-superfood-campaign is not going to help you one bit. Broccoli may be everyone’s most hated veggie, but it’s also the “king of glucoraphanin, an antioxidant that supports your body’s unique detoxification pathway,” explains Tori Holthaus, RDN, of Yes! Nutrition. Holthaus advises, “To save money on broccoli, find it in the frozen aisle and keep it in your freezer so it never goes bad. Added bonus? Frozen foods are often picked at the peak of ripeness before frozen, thereby locking in their nutrients.”
For those who just can’t and will not ever get on board the broccoli train, there is something behind door No. 2. Holthaus recommends mixing it up with her favorite new superfood BroccoLeaf, the leaf that grows alongside the broccoli plant. She tells SheKnows, “Just one serving contains an adult daily dose of vitamin C and as much calcium as a glass of milk. Prices vary per store, but I’ve found it for $1 a bundle — quite a deal!”
Chickpeas make the superfood lineup, not just because of their rich nutrient profile, but because they moonlight as a delicious dip that everyone wants to eat. Amy Gorin, nutrition expert and contributing blogger for Weight Watchers, goes so far as to call chickpeas a “superfood for weight loss.” She explains, “Hummus is made of chickpeas, which are an excellent source of fiber — helping to build a healthy digestive system and keep you feeling full and satisfied. They also offer protein that fills you up.”
Of course, as holistic nutritionist and The New York Times best-selling author of The All-Day Energy Diet Yuri Elkaim points out, you can still enjoy chickpeas the good old-fashioned way and receive the same health benefits. Elkaim endorses inexpensive legumes (including chickpeas) as a low-fat, high-fiber plant food and protein source that can protect against heart disease.
Let’s just call cucumber the dark horse of the superfood world. It’s always in the produce section, just hanging around and waiting to be picked for a fresh salad — like an eighth-grade girl at a dance. It’s been right under your nose the whole time, but I bet you didn’t know this low-cal, low-cost veggie was really that good for you. Cucumber earns its superfood title because of its high phosphorus content, which Dr. Leslie Renee Townsend, regional dental director for Jefferson Dental Clinics, calls “essential for calcium absorption.”
Dr. Townsend suggests, “Crunch cucumbers in salads or try marinating slices overnight in a simple vinaigrette made with red wine vinegar, herbs and garlic.”
4. Greek yogurt
As someone who has taken my clean eating so far that my husband and I now ferment kefir, I’m all about the probiotics in my belly. Gastroenterologist and co-founder of Tula skincare line Dr. Roshini Raj agrees, recommending affordable Greek yogurt for its delicious taste and as a bountiful source of friendly bacteria.
Hey, it’s doctor’s orders: “Greek yogurt helps you maintain a healthy balance of intestinal microbes that aid digestion. Besides gut well-being, probiotics have other health-promoting benefits: They help boost the immune system, assist with the production of vitamins, including vitamins K, B12, B5 and biotin, and help prevent anti-inflammatory molecules from entering the bloodstream,” explains Dr. Raj.
5. Leafy greens
If you’re stuck on the hamster wheel of buying ridiculously expensive superfoods at hipster supermarkets (Whole Foods, I’m looking at you), it’s time to stop the insanity. Dr. Townsend says it is a “common misconception” that health food has to be pricey. Some of the cheapest — and most nutritious — superfoods can be found in the fruit and veggie department of your local grocery store.
It’s time to accept that your two new best friends should be spinach and kale. For spinach, Dr. Townsend recommends: “Try getting creative with this classic green — tossing it into pasta and rice dishes, stir-fry and even soups. This vegetable delivers a great source of iron, which promotes tongue and muscular health, along with a notable dose of a half-dozen other essential vitamins.” For kale, Dr. Townsend adds: “This leafy green packs a whopping amount of absorbable calcium, great for healthy teeth and bones. Try tossing kale into green salads or sautéed with a bit of pancetta and garlic.”
OK, this one is easy. You probably have oatmeal lurking in the back of your kitchen cabinets right now. Not only does this hot breakfast stick to your ribs and provide an excellent source of lipids, vitamins and minerals, but it clocks in at a shockingly low 13 cents per serving, according to Holthaus’ estimations.
“Oatmeal is a superfood that’s super affordable! Purchase your oatmeal in large canisters or from the bulk bins instead of individual packets to save money. Oats contain fiber to help you feel fuller longer, to help enable better digestive health and to keep your heart healthy too,” Holthaus says.
7. Seasonal fruit
This superfood hack is so ingenious, I wonder why I didn’t think of it myself. As you’ve probably noticed by now, seasonal produce on display at the supermarket is cheap, cheap, cheap. Billy Polson, founder of DIAKADI, the Bay Area’s elite personal training facility, explains that not only is fruit cheaper in season, but it is also better for you when you are buying it at its peak.
Polson says, “The seasonal fruit is typically on sale, so you can get a good bang for buck. When you buy what’s in season, you are buying food that is at the peak of its supply. It costs less for farmers and distribution companies to harvest and get to your grocery store. It may seem like common sense, but it’s one of those things many of us ignore when we’re out shopping. And, it’s an added bonus that eating foods in season is great for your body.”
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Move over, quinoa, teff is the hip, new grain on the block. Though I had never heard of teff before, Lori Kenyon Farley, certified nutrition consultant and co-founder of Project Juice, reminded me that most “new” superfoods as we know them are hardly new at all. “[They], in fact, are items that have been in other parts of the world for centuries or longer, as part of a healthy diet, or by healers when specific nutrients were needed.”
Farley considers teff an all-star ancient grain to add to your grocery list because of its rich iron and magnesium content. Often cheaper than trendy quinoa, teff also happens to be naturally gluten-free. Farley says, “Similar to quinoa, it is a great source of plant protein and contains eight essential amino acids needed for the body to grow and repair.”