50 Foods That Give You the Most Nutrition Bang for Your Buck
Eating healthy sounds like a good idea in theory, but when sticking to your budget is as important as it is during this economic crisis, it’s often easier to pick up the cheapest foods at the store. These 50 foods, however, prove that nutrition doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think.
Eating fresh fruits that are in season can actually save you money. These fruits, including apricots and raspberries, will give you the most nutrition bang for your buck.
- Strawberries: When bought in season, strawberries can be bought in bulk or individually for a modest price. And just one half cup of raw strawberries contains 149% of your daily value for Vitamin C.
- Apricots: Apricots are a good source of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A once ingested. Buy fresh apricots and dry them yourself for better savings.
- Blackberries: Raw blackberries are low in calories but have a significant amount of dietary fibers, plus 50% of your daily value of Vitamin C per cup.
- Raspberries: Raw raspberries are another easy, healthy snack that isn’t too costly. They contain Vitamin K, magnesium, dietary fiber, and Vitamin C.
- Cherries: Make sure you buy cherries in season, or they can get expensive. They’re known as a "super fruit" because of their very high beta carotene content, as well as their fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, Vitamin C and potassium content.
- Cantaloupe: Cantaloupes not only go a long way in terms of recipes and snacking, they’re also low in calories, have no fat, and contain 120% of your daily value of Vitamin A and 108% Vitamin C in just one cup.
- Pears: One pear contains 24% of your daily value of fiber and have a low glycemic index, which means that the carbohydrates are slow to convert to sugar. Pears also contain Vitamin C and Potassium.
- Raisins: Raisins do contain plenty of sugars, but no fat or cholesterol. They are also a good source of potassium, iron and dietary fiber.
- Watermelon: Buy a huge watermelon in season for a cost-effective summer snack that’s packed with vitamins. Watermelons contain Vitamin A, B6, and lots of Vitamin C.
- Peaches: Buy fresh, not canned, peaches for the best nutritional value. Peaches contain beta-carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin A.
- Figs: Buy fresh figs and dry them yourself to save on cost. Figs are fat, cholesterol, and sodium-free; have 20% of your daily value of fiber; and "have the highest overall mineral content of common fruits," according to California Figs.
- Blueberries: Blueberries are strong carriers of Vitamin C, manganese and dietary fiber, and also contain Vitamin E.
- Cranberries: Cranberries are actually low in sugar and calories and contain lots of Vitamin C, dietary fiber, manganese and Vitamin K.
- Oranges: Get plenty of Vitamin C, as well as dietary fiber, folate, Vitamin B1, potassium, Vitamin A and calcium from just one orange.
- Bananas: Bananas may have carbs and sugar, but they’ve also got lots of Vitamin C and potassium, plus Vitamin B6, dietary fiber and manganese, making them a nutrient-rich snack.
Like fruits, fresh veggies are often inexpensive and can be used for lots of different meals and snacks during the week. Eat these vegetables to get your iron, calcium, fiber and other nutrients.
- Asparagus: Asparagus has more folic acid than any other vegetable. Folic acid helps prevent liver disease and helps your blood cells grow.
- Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain beta and alpha-carotene, lutein, fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, folate and more vitamins. Plus, depending on the variety you choose, they’re quite inexpensive.
- Crimini mushrooms: Crimini mushrooms have almost no calories but are packed with potassium, selenium, Vitamins B2, B1, B6 and B3, zinc, magnesium, iron, calcium, folate, protein and more.
- Squash and Zucchini: Summer squash and zucchini are only about $1 – $2 a piece and contain a moderate amount of Vitamin C and Vitamin A, plus iron and protein.
- Black beans: Black beans are one of the healthiest varieties of beans, containing 24% of your daily value of dietary fiber, 14% of your daily value of protein, and no saturated fat per 1/2 cup.
- Lentils: Raw lentils have a lot of calories, but no saturated fat and 50g of protein. They’re also an excellent source of iron and dietary fiber.
- Carrots: Raw carrots bought individually are incredibly cheap and are a good source of dietary fiber. One cup of copped carrots also contains 428% of your daily value of Vitamin A.
- Broccoli: One cup of raw broccoli flowerets only contains 20 calories but has 110% of your daily value of Vitamin C, 43% of Vitamin A, and no fat or cholesterol.
- Kidney beans: Kidney beans are rich in B-complex vitamins, niacin, folate, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, soluble fiber and calcium.
- Pearl Barley: Add pearl barley to a soup or salad for a major dietary fiber boost, plenty of iron, and a good dose of protein.
- Leafy spinach: Leafy spinach is moderately priced by the bunch, and can be divided up for multiple salads, sandwiches and garnishes. It contains fiber, B-complex vitamins, folate, magnesium, lutein and potassium.
- Potatoes: Potatoes contain carbohydrates, calories and sugars, but they’re also a very versatile, cost-effective food that contains lots of nutrients like Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, potassium, manganese and dietary fiber.
- Green bell pepper: Green bell peppers are cheaper than red bell peppers, but each one still contains 220% of your daily value of Vitamin C.
- Cabbage: Cabbage contains 91% of your daily value of Vitamin K; over 50% for Vitamin C; and a healthy amount of dietary fiber, Vitamin b6, omega-3 fatty acids, folate, manganese and more.
- Jalapeno pepper: A jalapeno pepper is very cheap, and because it’s so hot and spicy, only a very small portion is needed at a time, making it cost-effective. Jalapeno peppers also contain Vitamin C and Vitamin A, plus a healthy amount of dietary fiber and iron.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds can be bought in bulk or buy the pound. Best of all, they’re packed with nutrients and vitamins, and you only need a small amount to get the benefits, making them last between trips to the grocery store.
- Almonds: Try unsalted almonds for plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats, Vitamin E and fiber. You only need a handful for an energy boost that will fill you up, too.
- Flaxseed: Flaxseed is usually sold in pretty large bags, and you only need to add a tiny bit to cereal or any homemade breads and grains for the benefits. Flaxseed contains omega-3 fatty acids and lots of fiber.
- Walnuts: Walnuts are another healthy nut that contains magnesium, folate, polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E. Add a few to a fruit salad, or eat them alone.
- Sunflower seeds: Sunflower seeds contain lots of Vitamin E, more than almonds, peanut butter or even spinach.
- Sesame seed kernels: A handful of sesame seed kernels contains a healthy amount of iron, calcium and protein, plus dietary fiber.
- Brazil nuts: Brazil nuts are considered an excellent source of selenium and also contain protein, fiber and magnesium.
Picking the whole-grain version doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go over budget. These healthy foods are also cost effective.
- Whole grain or multigrain bread: You don’t have to buy the fancy bread: just pick out a moderately priced (maybe the generic brand) whole grain or multigrain version to get heart-healthy bread that has plenty of dietary fiber.
- Brown rice: Rice goes a long way, and it’s inexpensive. Plus, it’s full of fiber, B-complex vitamins, niacin and magnesium.
- Whole-wheat spaghetti: Even the whole-wheat variety of spaghetti makes a cheap meal, and it’s packed with fiber.
- Couscous: Like rice and pasta, couscous goes a long way when you cook it. It also contains protein and fiber, when you choose the whole-wheat or whole-grain variety.
- Whole grain tortillas: One whole-grain tortilla has 8g of protein and 7g of dietary fiber. Tortillas are usually sold in large packs, too.
- Oatmeal: Depending on the kind of oatmeal you buy, you can usually find a pretty good deal. It’s also a good source of fiber.
You can drink your way to good health, too, and these beverage options are also budget-friendly.
- Green tea: Green tea contains the highest concentration of the antioxidants called polyphenols, and may help prevent some types of cancer and heart disease. Buy your own green tea packets from the grocery store to save on cost.
- Milk: Low-fat or non-fat milk that is fortified with Vitamin D, plus calcium, Vitamin A and protein. Buy store brand or generic brand milk for a better deal.
- Orange juice: Generic brand orange juice isn’t terribly expensive, and it contains Vitamin D and plenty of Vitamin C.
From sardines to yogurt, these healthy foods are also packed with nutrients.
- Plain yogurt: Buy large containers of plain, non-fat yogurt instead of the individual snack-sized yogurts to save money and get the most nutritional version. One cup of plain yogurt contains 14g of protein and 49% of your daily value of calcium. Plus, it also contains probiotics which help your body absorb nutrients.
- Egg whites: Egg whites do contain a fair amount of sodium, but they also contain 26g of protein per cup and zero fat.
- Tuna: Tuna is a cold-water fish that contains much-needed omega-3 fatty acids and lots of protein. It’s also usually cheaper than salmon or mackerel.
- Tomato soup: Make your own variety for an even more cost-effective soup. Tomato soup is a good source of Vitamin C, iron, Vitamin A and dietary fiber.
- Sardines: Sardines are an excellent source of iron, calcium and protein, as well as niacin, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12. Just don’t indulge too often: sardines are also very high in cholesterol.
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