February 2013 Issue

EN’s Top 9 Nutrition Food Bargains

“Healthy food is expensive.” That’s often the belief surrounding nutritious foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. However, evidence indicates that it might not be true. A May 2012 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that, on a per serving basis, many whole plant foods, such as grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, are less expensive than foods we should consume in moderation, such as sweets, chips and fatty meats.

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.

Top 9 Nutrition Food Bargains
Check out our nutrition experts’ top picks for nutrient-rich food bargains. The prices are based on average retail surveys from the U.S.D.A. and U.S. Department of Labor.

1. Eggs (16¢ 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, MS, RD, CDE, author of “Diabetes Weight Loss, Week by Week.”
2. Onions (12¢ 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¢ 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¢ 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¢ 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¢ 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¢ per ½ 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¢ per ½ 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¢ 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.

—Sharon Palmer, R.D.