Eating healthy and staying within a food budget can be challenging. Salads and smoothies generally are more expensive than pizza and burgers, and so-called "superfoods" such as quinoa and goji berries have eye-popping prices. As daunting as it may seem to incorporate such fare into your diet, many foods credited with health benefits are widely available at affordable prices. Here are 25 superfoods that you can enjoy this fall for less than $1 per nutrition-packed serving (based on prices from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a large retail chain).
Heralded for its gastrointestinal cleansing properties since ancient Rome, this leafy cruciferous vegetable is packed with fiber and delivers compounds linked to cancer prevention. The nutrients in cabbage, whether steamed, raw, or sautéed, are easily absorbed by the body. Cabbage is simple to store and keeps in the fridge for a few weeks in the crisper drawer. A delicious cabbage soup is a heartwarming classic in many cuisines.
"The incredible, edible egg" is well-deserving of its marketing moniker, packed with lean protein and essential vitamins and minerals. This nutritionally well-rounded food contains significant amounts of vitamins B12 and D, which help stabilize energy levels and protect the integrity of nerve cells, among other crucial bodily functions. Eggs are as versatile as they are healthful. Keep a few hard-boiled eggs on hand for an on-the-go snack or use them to enhance a sandwich.
Squashes, including pumpkins, are an inexpensive way to eat deliciously and nutritiously year round, and their prices go even lower during the autumn harvest season. The variety of squashes is also the greatest this time of year. What's more, their seeds can be toasted and enjoyed as a crunchy snack.
These legumes, from the same family as kidney beans and split peas, are rich in protein and a host of vitamins and minerals. The main nutritional stars are fiber, folate, and magnesium, which help keep the heart healthy, digestive system happy, and blood sugar regulated. Incorporating lentils into a regular diet can help the body produce what it needs to keep arteries clean and functioning up to snuff. A quick and easy lentil soup is a family-favorite weeknight meal.
For many years, before sugar became cheap and widely available, apples were a primary source of sweetness available to Americans, and were quite pricey. These days, a market-fresh apple goes for less than $1. A crisp, sweet apple is packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and it still tastes like a treat. Fall is apple season, and this healthy fruit can be enjoyed in countless ways.
Cloves evoke the warm spice aroma and flavor of the autumn season while also working as a powerful health booster. Cloves are used as a natural antibacterial, especially for gut issues, and also to help fortify the immune system to protect against seasonal sickness. Doubling down on this inexpensive and potent spice in classic recipes like pies and oatmeal is a fragrant way to eat healthier through the holidays.
Aside from their fiber and mineral-packed goodness, oats are the only source of a specific type of antioxidants (avenanthramides) that may help reduce the risk of heart disease. A bowl of oatmeal in the morning reduces hunger, releasing energy slowly into the bloodstream, which stabilizes sugar levels while reducing cravings. Not into oatmeal for breakfast? Up the nutritional ante of homemade cookies by using oats in the recipe.
These ubiquitous citrus fruits are a powerful source of vitamin C and antioxidants, which can help the body's vital organs stay in tip-top shape. A squeeze of lemon in a glass of water or tea, or over salads and grilled meats, is an easy way to work this powerful fruit into your daily routine.
These sweet, crunchy root vegetables have a lot to offer besides improved eye health. Carrots also contain a lot of potassium and vitamin K, both of which help keep the blood clean and stabilize pressure. Substitute carrots for chips or crackers with a favorite dip, or indulge in carrot cake when a sweet craving arises.
This powerful beverage isn't just a less acidic alternative to a morning cup of joe; it packs a powerful punch of impressive health benefits. The beneficial side effects of green tea include improved brain function and increased weight loss when dieting. The antioxidants in green tea are thought to help eliminate the presence of free radicals that can cause disease. Aside from enjoying a cup each morning or afternoon, use green tea to flavor homemade ice cream and baked goods, making those calories a little less empty.
A truly guilt-free indulgence, sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest starches to include in a balanced diet. Sweet potatoes contain plenty of fiber and energy-dense carbohydrates, as well as a laundry list of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, B5, B6, and E, plus manganese and potassium. The natural sweetness is an excellent way to satisfy a sweet tooth without relying on processed sugar and syrups, especially in an all-time favorite, sweet potato pie.
All beans are nutritional powerhouses and highly recommended as part of a balanced diet, but black beans are especially versatile. One of the major functions of black beans is helping keep the gastrointestinal tract — the colon in particular — squeaky clean. The indigestible elements of black beans attract bacteria that live in the colon, which in turn get passed out uneventfully. Replacing meat with black beans in classic Mexican recipes for tacos, enchiladas, and salads is a great way to get your fill, or try a less conventional method: incorporating them into brownies. Buying bags of dried beans, and cooking them at home, is even more economical than using canned.
The health benefits of bananas are many, thanks to nutrients such as potassium. The starchy, sweet fruit also curbs the appetite and provides long-lasting energy, which is perfect for athletes and dieters. Keeping a couple of bananas on hand for an easy grab-and-go snack is always a good idea. If you have too many getting too ripe, whip up a healthy dessert featuring bananas.
Flaxseed's amino-acid profile is especially valuable for people who don't eat meat, with protein as potent as soybeans, a healthy dose of (good) fat, and plenty of fiber to keep everything smooth in the GI department. Although you may not be sure exactly how to incorporate flaxseed into your diet, there are actually many culinary applications. Ground flaxseed can be stirred into yogurt or hot cereal, or blended into a smoothie. The seeds are a delicious addition to granola and breads, and make a nutty topping for salad when toasted in a dry pan. A tablespoon of ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons of water actually works just like an egg in baking.
DRIED SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS
Mushrooms, and particularly shiitakes, have long been praised in Chinese medicine, and modern science supports many of those 6,000-year-old claims. Particularly important for those who consume little to no meat, they are rich in bioavailable iron. On their long list of health benefits, supporting the cardiovascular and immune systems ranks high. Throw a few caps into broth, stew, or sauce for extra flavor and richness. They also make a great filling for tacos or topping for ramen once rehydrated.
Every bit as antioxidant-packed as fresh blueberries, frozen blueberries are a more convenient, accessible, and inexpensive way to include this superfood in your diet. Blended into a smoothie, or nestled into homemade pancakes, these tasty fruits are loaded with healthy compounds. Among the most exciting benefits of blueberries is improved memory function, plus a host of vitamins and fiber.
The actively beneficial element in turmeric is curcumin, which isn't easily absorbed by the body. It's more easily taken in when consumed along with natural fats and black pepper. Some benefits associated with curcumin include improved brain function, lower risk of cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. Using a teaspoon in a soup, marinade, or sauce adds color, as well as a subtle flavor.
An immune booster extraordinaire, garlic is also one of the most loved flavor enhancers in cuisines worldwide. From helping lower blood pressure to fighting colds and flu to possibly protecting against Alzheimer's disease and dementia, there are plenty of health reasons to keep garlic as a staple in the kitchen. Use this pungent ingredient in any savory dish, make it the star of the show with a roasted garlic soup, or simply rub it on toast for a delicious dose of nutrition.
This bulbous root portion of the celery plant is often consumed as a substitute for potatoes. Celeriac is low in saturated fat and cholesterol while offering a boost of fiber, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, and a host of vitamins. This tuber can be enjoyed cooked or raw as a tasty and economical addition to many meals.
Hemp seeds have a mild, sometimes nutty flavor that goes well in anything from oatmeal and cookies to salad toppings and smoothies. Just 1 ounce of hemp seeds provides a significant boost of dietary fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. The cost can go even lower if you shop in bulk bins rather than buy prepackaged hemp seeds.
Most people are probably familiar with the quirky chia-pet plants, which feature the same chia seeds touted for their health benefits. One of the most impressive aspects of the chia seed is how much nutrition it offers in a low-calorie package. Chia seeds can be added to smoothies, granola, and salads, or be the star of the show, as in this chia pudding, which is creamy and decadent yet healthy enough to enjoy for breakfast, as well as dessert.
Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory, and many common ailments are caused by inflammation of some type. Ginger has been used for centuries, if not millennia, for everything from fighting the common cold to easing nausea and digestive woes. Ginger root is super cheap and readily available at any grocery store. A 1-inch knob is a potent serving and costs just a few cents. Ginger tea is one quick and easy way to put this superfood to use.
Chocolate gets a bad rap for being an unhealthy treat when it's really the sugar that accompanies chocolate that is cause for concern. Cocoa is packed with antioxidants and other minerals that promote it to superfood status. An ounce of good-quality dark chocolate — 80 percent cocoa or higher — provides just enough sweetness to satisfy classic chocolate lovers.
Broccoli may not be universally loved, but there is no doubt about its nutritional benefits. Even when you don't have fresh broccoli on hand, frozen broccoli is an easy and inexpensive option. Adding a bag of frozen broccoli to a stir-fry or pasta is a quick and cheap way to boost your family's green-vegetable intake.
Almonds are a quick, efficient source of low-fat protein. Keeping a small handful of almonds nearby can help stave off hunger and cravings throughout the day while providing enough energy to stay active and focused. Although it's not the cheapest snack, eating almonds costs less than grabbing something from a fast food chain or a vending machine.