Yes, You Can Find Cheap, Healthy Food

We all know eating healthy can get expensive. And that’s usually true. For some reason, foods they do absolutely nothing to costs way more than foods that have been ground, dried, emulsified, powdered, saturated, hydrogenated and mutilated beyond all recognition to where it started.

What’s up with that?

Fortunately, there are resources to help the confused bachelor (or anyone else).

One of the best is the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit group that seeks to make our lives healthier by providing us with more information. They have come up with a budget guide called Good Food on a Tight Budget. It’s available at the organization’s website. They will send you this guide just for donating to their site.

After looking at more than 1,000 foods, they ranked them by nutrition and cost. What follows is some of what EWG found.

Protein continues to be the centerpiece of most American meals, no matter how hard we keep crying about eating less meat. But meat also is expensive, relative to other foods. You might think chicken would top the list of inexpensive proteins, but you’d be wrong. Turkey and seafood provide the best nutritional bang for the buck. Also, turkey farming is not quite as saturated with chemicals and additives the way chickens are. While there are limits to how much of some fish you should eat because of mercury contamination, there are still plenty of other fish in the sea. Hake, whiting and squid are some of the best options.

Eggs also are still a good buy and you can safely eat up to four a week without worrying too much about fat and cholesterol, especially if you don’t fry them.

Besides animal proteins, we’re finding lots of nutrition in other foods, like beans. There are many varieties and many ways to cook and eat them. Nuts and seeds do have a lot of fat, but it’s mostly healthy fat. Plus, all these options provide a lot of protein and other nutrients as well as fiber your body needs.

Grains provide plenty of nutrition when not overly processed and refined. But it’s not just about whole grain breads. Think cereal, too. Simple puffed grains like rice, corn and wheat, leave plenty of options open for healthy additions like fruit. Toasted oat cereals were also listed as Best Buys by EWG. There are also quick cooking whole grain hot cereals available that make excellent choices. Take a look at some of the other options in the cereal aisle besides oatmeal (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Also, look at barley as an alternative to rice. The glycemic index is lower and the flavor is good.

Speaking of fruit, EWG lists as Best Buys (the most affordable and nutritious options) lots of good choices:

  • Bananas
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Orange juice

A couple of notes about fruits:

  1. You should eat at least one piece of fresh fruit every day. Canned fruit will do in a pinch.
  2. You should be eating whole fruits rather than just drinking juice. Juice is concentrated and has a higher sugar content than the whole fruit. Also, it takes more to make you feel satisfied. Bottled juice often has added sugar. Also they are reconstituted from concentrates with water added for taste, not sugar content. Use fruit juice sparingly. That applies to children, too.

Vegetables.  Not only should this category be the biggest on your plate, it also should be the most colorful. If you have a mix of colors, you’ll probably get the most nutrition out of them. Dark green best buys include broccoli, collard, romaine lettuce and mustard greens. Frozen versions can often be cheaper without losing nutrition.

Carrots and tomatoes top the list of good buys in the red and orange vegetable category. Some squashes qualify as well. Potatoes continue to be the pick in starchy vegetables, but you can up the ante by using sweet potatoes.

Dairy is another category of which we should be eating less. And there aren’t a lot of best buy choices from EWG here. Milk is good choice if it’s low fat, otherwise it’s not. Look for cheeses that are what we sometimes call “farmers” cheese: cottage cheese, queso fesco and ricotta. The latter two make a good alternative to cream cheese.

The only EWG best buy in the yogurt department is non-fat plain yogurt. That means unsweetened. Since most yogurt has added sugar along with a little fruit flavoring, buy the plain stuff then add your own fruit. This is a great way to get that fresh fruit every day. You can also use canned and frozen fruit. Still not sweet enough for you? We recommend just a little bit of honey (preferably local). Just don’t get carried away.

Finally, we have fats and oils. Pure vegetable oils are better choices. Olive oil has gone up in price as its popularity has risen. We’re not a fan of canola oil because of its sometimes fishy smell. Corn and soybean oils are best buys as both inexpensive and relatively healthy.

Eating healthy doesn’t always have to be more expensive. The EWG is right: armed with information, you can be a healthier, wealthier consumer.

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