There is a tendency to believe that superfoods must be costly because they are, well, super and trendy! These labels practically scream "expensive," but the good news is, you can easily populate your plate with plenty of these nutrient dense foods without breaking into your piggy bank or opening your wallet wide. In addition, the following nine cheap superfoods can be found readily on supermarket shelves and farmer's market stands.
Apples. Crisp apples always seem to be in season, and that's a good thing since the adage "an apple a day" still seems to hold true. Apples are an economical and nutritious snack, dessert, and even main course loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Since apples are heavily sprayed with pesticides, choose organic whenever possible. If not, thoroughly wash and peel conventional apples. They are all a nutritional bargain. Check out some great apple recipes for dessert and other occasions.
Bananas. Both the organic and conventionally grown versions of this yellow fruit are highly affordable. Bananas are a great source of potassium, calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron, folate, niacin, riboflavin, and B6. They are very filling because they contain pectin, a soluble fiber that also helps reduce cholesterol levels. Bananas are highly portable snacks but also are common ingredients in smoothies, cereal bowls, and who can forget banana muffins, banana bread, and banana pancakes! They can also help you fall asleep if you're having trouble.
Berries. All berries are rich in potent antioxidants known as anthocyanins, but some berries are more costly than others. One way to keep costs low is to buy frozen berries when fresh are not in season. I suggest stocking up when they are in season and plentiful. You can freeze them and enjoy them year round in smoothies, muffins, fruit salads, as a cereal and yogurt topping, and all by themselves! Hint: Frozen berries pop in your mouth and are a real tasty treat (my girls love to snack on them)!
Cabbage. This cruciferous veggie was named the second most economical cooked vegetable per price of edible cup by the US Department of Agriculture (potatoes made number 1). Beyond economics, cabbage has shown promise in preventing some types of cancer (because of its sinigrin content) and type 2 diabetes, and it also is a good source of vitamins C and K as well as fiber. Red cabbage offers unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Saute cabbage or add it to soups, salads, stews, stir-fry, or make sauerkraut or kimchi (probiotic power foods).
Lentils. The high protein content of these pulses makes them a low-cost animal protein alternative. Lentils save you time as well as money, because you don't need to soak them first and they cook quickly. Along with protein, lentils provide fiber, iron, magnesium, zinc, and antioxidants. Enjoy them alone with some herbs such as curry powder or cumin, mix with rice or other grains, or put into soups, chili, or stews.
Oats. You can hardly beat oats when it comes to being inexpensive, nutritious, easy to prepare, and versatile. The super ingredients in oats include beta-glucan fibers, which have been shown to help lower cholesterol. Oats also provide calcium, protein, iron, and potassium. Select steel-cut or rolled oats when possible, and avoid instant products that have added sugars. You can find oats recipes that take you from breakfast to desserts, breads and lunch ideas.
Red beans. Of all the beans you can buy, red beans and red kidney beans are tops when it comes to antioxidant content. Beans are not only inexpensive; they also are incredibly versatile. Enjoy these red wonders in chili, salads, soups, salsa, burritos, spreads, stews, and with rice or other grains. They also can be the special ingredient in some surprise recipes, such as brownies.
Sunflower seeds. How do you get the stellar nutrition and crunch of almonds and other nuts without the high cost? Sunflower seeds! Your heart and your wallet will be thankful for the healthy fats, vitamin E, copper, B vitamins, and fiber of sunflower seeds. Another plus: essential fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid, which helps balance hormones, slow food absorption, and carry fat-soluble vitamins. Sunflower seeds are great for snacking, especially when you are on the go. Keep some in your backpack, car, desk at the office, and in your kids' lunches.
Sweet potatoes. These highly affordable tubers are packed with fiber, beta-carotene and other carotenoids, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, vitamin B6, and potassium. Sweet potatoes can help lower your blood pressure, support nervous system function, and benefit your vision. A diet high in carotenoids has been shown to help reduce the risk of cancer, including breast cancer. Sweet potatoes are delicious baked, roasted, combined with apples and cinnamon, stir fry, toasted, and made into fries. And don't forget sweet potato pie!
Davis JL. Antioxidant super starts: vegetables and beans. WebMD.
Eliassen AH et al. Plasma carotenoids and risk of breast cancer over 20 y of follow-up. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015 Jun; 101(6): 1197-205
Mazumder A et al. Sinigrin and its therapeutic benefits. Molecules 2016; 21(4): 416