When you hear about the latest health food trend — for example, pomegranates, goji berries or avocado oil — you may rush to find it at the grocery store. Sometimes, the cost can be shocking.
So, is healthy food more expensive overall? A 2013 study from Harvard School of Public Health found that eating a healthy diet — rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts — was more expensive. To be exact, it costs roughly $1.50 more per day, per person, than for those eating an unhealthy diet full of processed foods and refined grains. That premium may seem small, but can really add up over time, especially for families.
By choosing healthier options and focusing on superfoods that pack the most nutrients per calorie without the high price tags, you can eat well, even on a tight budget. Here are 5 ways to start, courtesy of Tiffany Rios, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.
- Start from scratch.
Although some healthier options take longer to prepare, the health benefits are worth it. For example, choose rolled oats instead of instant oatmeal packets. Rolled oats and instant oatmeal cost about the same, but rolled oats contain more fiber and no added sugar. By consuming higher-fiber carbohydrates, you can protect yourself from diabetes and heart disease. You can also use rolled oats in other recipes, such as oat pancakes or homemade granola bars.
- Choose frozen fruits and vegetables.
Did you know that frozen vegetables can sometimes be fresher than the vegetables found in your produce section? This is because they are flash-frozen at the peak of ripeness, while fresh produce can be picked prematurely, packaged, shipped and end up in your produce section not quite ripe or close to its expiration. Therefore, purchasing frozen fruits and veggies can be more cost-efficient than fresh fruit and vegetables — and they have a longer shelf life.
- Expand your whole-grain options.
With little taste and price difference, whole-grain foods are healthier than their more refined counterparts that process out the fiber and nutrients that make grains good for you. Whole-grain options contain those natural vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fiber. Plus, they have a lower glycemic index, which means they don’t cause spikes in your blood sugar. Next time you are at the grocery store, reach for the 100 percent whole-wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa and 100 percent whole-wheat pasta for a small choice that makes a big difference in your health.
- Select canned foods in water instead of juice or oil.
Canned foods can be great budget-friendly options for healthy and quick meals on a regular basis. Choose fruit, vegetables and tuna packed in water, instead of oils or syrup, for a lower calorie count. For example, choosing pear halves in 100 percent juice, rather than heavy syrup, cuts the sugar in half and costs the same.
- Go low sodium.
With so much emphasis on monitoring calories and fats, we often forget to watch out for . Too much sodium can increase blood pressure and your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis and kidney disease. It’s important to take a look at the sodium content in canned and frozen foods — and even in your choice of grains — and choose those with the lower sodium content. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines low-sodium foods as ones that contain 140 mg or less per serving.
According to the USDA, a major step to saving money on our groceries is to plan before shopping. Have your recipes and grocery list prepared; choose fruits and vegetables in season; and purchase from bulk bin sections for ingredients such as beans, nuts, oats and whole grains.
“By being strategic in planning your grocery trip and taking the time to compare healthier options and food labels, you can eat substantially healthier without the inflated price tag,” says Rios.