Five low-cost, heart-healthy ingredients
When you’re shopping for food on a budget, it can be tempting select processed foods like pre-packaged dinners, cans of soup, cereals and refined bread. While these products are highly affordable, they fall short on nutritional value and fill the body with sugar and sodium. When these products are consumed in excess over long periods of time, they put you at risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, prediabetes and diabetes.
The average American is consuming double the recommended limit of salt per day and, on average, 16 percent of our daily diet is sugar. It’s time to eat smarter and healthier.
It is important to learn which foods are not only affordable, but healthy for you. Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are essential to overall health and well-being. They work together to keep your bones, teeth and hair healthy, heal injuries, and keep your immune system working hard to fight off illness and infection. A healthy, balanced diet is not only good for you, it creates the energy that fuels your body.
Add more of these five low-cost, heart-healthy alternatives to your diet:
Beans and whole grains
Bulk up your meals with fiber-rich whole grains like quinoa and protein-packed beans. Dried beans, like lentils or black beans, can last up to a year in your cabinet and can be prepared easily. So, if you see them on sale, stock up. Old-fashioned steel-cut oats, brown rice, and whole or multi-grain bread are healthy alternatives and are packed with heart-healthy B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate), minerals and antioxidants (iron, selenium and magnesium). Each of these vitamins and minerals are essential to nearly every function in your body.
Shop for in-season fruits. Stores get larger shipments of fruits that are in-season and price them lower so they can sell before they spoil. You can freeze fresh fruit up to 12 months and enjoy them in smoothies or mixed into yogurt year-round. Check out these helpful tips for freezing and thawing fruit. You can also purchase frozen fruit, for a timesaving alternative, which is equally as healthy and affordable as fresh in-season fruit.
Canned or frozen vegetables can be an affordable way to ensure you have a variety of healthy vitamins and minerals in your diet. When choosing canned vegetables, look for labels that read “Low Sodium” or “No Added Salt” to get the healthiest options. If you prefer cooking with fresh vegetables, however, check out a local farmer’s market about an hour before they close. Oftentimes vendors will offer discounts to avoid having to transport, store and risk spoiling their produce.
There are many healthy, less expensive options when it comes to meats. Canned light tuna is a good, inexpensive source of protein and contains less mercury than white Albacore tuna. If you prefer poultry or beef, you can still enjoy a variety of meat on a budget. Less expensive cuts of meat like chicken thighs (instead of chicken breasts), and bone-in, skin-on or tougher cuts of meat can be prepared in a slow cooker. Slow cooking does a terrific job of making tough meat tender and juicy, and as a bonus these meals often taste better the next day and freeze well.
Adding seeds to a balanced diet is a fun, and heart-healthy way to snack. Sunflower, pumpkin and other seeds can be an excellent source of magnesium, potassium, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. When eaten in moderation, they can promote heart and liver health, support the immune system, and protect against diseases like diabetes. While you may not think of this snack as an inexpensive option, you can pick up a single serving of sunflower seeds and enjoy a healthy snack for less than a dollar. If you carve pumpkins for Halloween, you can save, prepare and enjoy a copious supply of delicious pumpkin seeds.
Eating a balanced diet rich in vitamins is possible on a budget; you just need to know where to look. The next time you’re shopping at your local grocery store, focus your shopping around the edges of the store; that is where you’ll find healthier options like fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, meats and dairy. Once you’ve taken advantage of the deals there, then you can head to the freezer section for additional fruits and vegetables.
To save even more money, avoid impulse purchases (which are usually less healthy) by shopping on a full stomach armed with a list of exactly what you need. This will help you eat better, and keep your budget happy at the cash register. Also, plan heart-healthy meals ahead of time so you can make smart, healthy decisions at the grocery store and/or farmer’s market.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.