The term Superfood gets thrown around quite a bit. Sometimes its use may be merited, others a bit more on the gimmicky side. More often than not, foods that “earn” this ear mark are on the more expensive side. This dietitian has an issue with that, particularly given the state of food prices. That’s why today’s article is about Superfoods with an economic twist.
I’m going to pick my 5 favorite foods that come at an above average value both nutritionally and economically and explain why, even though you’ve seen this item everywhere, it does not need to be expensive to be a superfood. And I’m going to explain my reasoning with great detail too. Let’s get to the good stuff.
I know what you’re thinking, hear me out.
While I appreciate not everyone loves the idea of sardines fresh out of the can, I may be able to change your mind.
Imagine your favourite spice, let’s say a lemon pepper seasoning.
Now imagine those same canned sardines that you can’t quite fathom eating straight from the can, but instead lightly pan or air fryer fried until crispy with your favourite seasoning?
I promise you this, it’s a whole different proposition.
But why am I telling you this?
Well, for an absolute fraction of the cost of salmon, sardines provide an competitive amounts of very elusive Vitamin D3 and the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA & DHA and are among the lowest mercury fish on the market.
This is above and beyond their exceptional protein and iron content, which is further supported by the fact their very soft bones contribute large amounts of calcium – a nutrient which many people do not consume enough of.
Economical super food? I think so.
I am strongly of the belief that legumes, the family of foods that includes chickpeas & lentils, are the most underrated food group.
They also happen to be one of the most inexpensive and easy to work with, once you know how.
Indulge me for a moment here.
Since you’re pan frying your sardines anyway, why not add an extremely healthy starchy base to that pan and get closer to making it a meal?
That’s where canned legumes, especially low sodium varieties, come into play.
Legumes check every single box of interest nutritionally:
- Bare minimum effect on blood sugar levels (low glycemic index)
- Ultra satiating, due to high protein and fibre content
- High in key nutrients like magnesium, zinc, calcium and potassium
Oh and guess what one of my most recommended afternoon snacks is to my clients?
Roasted chickpeas – click the link for an easy and delicious 5 ingredient recipe.
You won’t regret it, and your health certainly won’t regret eating more legumes either.
Vegetables as a family of foods are arguably the most important items to consider to ensure good health, which makes it hard to choose just one.
I could have gone with spinach, onions or even broccoli, all of which have an exceptional nutrition profile and are available (including frozen!) on the lower end of the vegetable cost spectrum.
You could, by the way, throw some spinach into your lentil and sardine stir fry to make it a complete powerhouse of a meal – but I digress.
Today I’ve landed on carrots owing both to their versatility to be eaten as either a snack or meal compliment, their relatively low price point AND the fact they are often misrepresented as being too sweet or not the healthiest for us.
Raw carrots, in fact, have a very low glycemic index and minimally effect blood sugar levels.
Additionally, all it takes is 1 cup of carrots to hit your daily Vitamin A requirement while also providing meaningful amounts of potassium too.
Vitamin A may be under consumed by certain segments of the population.
Finally, frozen carrots are often sold with real powerhouse veggies like broccoli and cauliflower and I strongly encourage frozen veggie use as a convenient and cost effective way for anyone struggling to eat vegetables daily.
A special shoutout to Asparagus, which comes into season in April and is another real powerhouse green.
Bananas simply have to be my pick in the fruit category owing to their year round availability, low price point and the many ways they can be used as part of snacks and meals.
Bananas also happen to be a source of multiple nutrients that most people need more of including potassium, fibre and magnesium.
They are sometimes incorrectly knocked in the same way carrots are as food items that have “too much sugar” or will spike blood sugar levels, but the reality is that ripe and especially under ripe bananas have a low glycemic index.
And while they may not be the fruit with the most antioxidants or vitamin C, another widely available and economical choice, oranges, can help fill that gap.
If you are able to have one banana and one orange on a daily basis, you’re doing wonders for your health from the fruit perspective.
I consider nuts and seeds to be a fundamental food group for optimal health.
I say this not only because they contain unique types of healthy fats found in few other foods but also because they are generally high in key nutrients like fibre, potassium, zinc and magnesium.
While almonds, flax and pumpkin seeds are the commonly available heavy hitters in this category, they are about twice the price per unit as sunflower seeds and peanuts – which have similar nutrition profiles.
I opted for sunflower seeds over peanuts because of the relative frequency of peanut allergies and the popular status of peanut butter in many homes.
Sunflower seeds are remarkably versatile and easy to eat daily in their own right though.
They can be:
- Added to salad, cereal, oatmeal or yogurt
- Roasted and seasoned and used as a stand alone afternoon snack or in a trail mix
I recommend my clients consume at least one serving of nuts or seeds daily ( 1/3 cup) and leaning into more affordable options like sunflower seeds makes that possible for more people.
I spent a great deal of time mulling over which food items made today’s list, narrowing down to one selection each rom five very different families of foods.
There are no flashy food items on today’s list, but each item packs a serious health punch.
You may have noticed that the majority of my selections are widely available foods that may not be fully understood or appreciated.
I wanted you to hear it from a reputable health professional that the lower cost of these foods does not detract from their nutritional value, and hopefully you now have a better understanding of why.
Until next time,
Andy De Santis RD MPH
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