Ramen noodles are dirt cheap; so is mac 'n' cheese. They're also low in nutrients, and even the "natural" versions are too processed for regular inclusion in a healthful diet. But organic eats are pricey, and few folks have a lot of extra cash these days.
In lean times, is it possible to eat a nutritious, organic diet? After scouring the shelves of grocery stores, we say yes! Organic foods are affordable on nearly every budget. Start with these 15 great buys-nearly everything you need for a healthful diet.
- Eggs. With a biological value of 100-the measure of how well a protein is used by the body-eggs are a nutritious, versatile protein source. At the higher price of $3.49 to $4.69 a dozen, you're still paying only 29 to 39 cents per egg. Cheap.
- Cabbage. You'll find it somewhere in the range of $1 to $2 per pound-a screaming deal, especially when you consider the nutrition. Cabbage contains compounds that slow the growth of cancer cells and keep precancerous cells from developing; it may also help the body metabolize toxic forms of estrogen into safe forms. It's a bargain at any price.
- Sweet potatoes. At only $1.99 to $2.49 per pound, they're a great buy. Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber and beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease, cancer, and age-related blindness. Carrots are even cheaper, at 79 to 99 cents a pound, and equally high in beta-carotene.
- Beans. As a cheap and nutritious source of protein, you can't beat beans. They're extremely high in fiber and in lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that protects against breast cancer in postmenopausal women and reduces the risk of other cancers as well. In the bulk section, they average $1.39 to $1.99 per pound. And at 99 cents a pound, dried peas are the best deal in town.
- Peanut butter. Priced at $3.49 a pound, peanut butter is a staple for the whole family-not just kids. Peanuts are high in monounsaturated fats and in resveratrol, an antioxidant that helps protect against cardiovascular disease. Also, look for almond butter on sale; it's expensive for budget shopping, but stock up if you find a good buy.
- Bananas. In general, organic fruit is expensive for budget buying; bananas are the exception. They're 89 to 99 cents a pound, and are a great source of potassium, magnesium and fiber; bananas also contain fructo-oligosaccharides that nourish beneficial bacteria in your colon. Buy a bunch!
- Oats. Warming and nourishing, oats are also wildly affordable, ranging in price from $1.19 to $1.39 per pound. They also contain beta-glucan fiber, which has dramatic cholesterol-lowering properties; barley contains the same compounds and is in the same price range. Other great grain options include buckwheat and brown rice. Combined with beans or nuts, any of these makes a complete protein and a hearty meal.
- Sardines. Wild Alaskan salmon is pricey for everyday use, and tuna's high in mercury and other toxins. The best fish bet: sardines. They're rich in the same healthful omega-3 fats as salmon and tuna, but because they're so small, they don't accumulate toxins like bigger fish. And priced at only $1.79 for a 4-ounce tin, they're a great deal.
- Broccoli. At $2.49 to $2.99 a pound, it's pricier than some of the other veggie options; but it's so nutrient-dense we think it's worth the extra expense. Rich in beta-carotene, loaded with cancer-preventive compounds, and high in fiber, it's a bargain at any price. Peel the stem and use it, too, for maximum waste reduction.
- Flaxseeds. They run around $1.99 a pound, and are packed with nutrients. Flax is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and it contains lignans that benefit prostate, breast, and heart health. Other good nut and seed buys include pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Organic nuts are pricier, so keep your eyes open for bargains, and stock up when you find them. Stash extras in the freezer, where they'll keep for three months.
- Chard. At $2.99 a pound, chard, like broccoli, is on the pricey side, but it's worth the cost. Chard is high in lutein, an antioxidant that protects the eyes from age-related blindness, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and a host of other nutrients. Kale, spinach, collards, and other greens have similar profiles; check for the best buys, and use a variety.
- Canned tomatoes. They're cheaper than fresh tomatoes-usually around $1.49 a pound-and more consistent in quality during winter months. Plus, canned tomatoes are high in lycopene, the signature antioxidant of the tomato, is actually made more bioavailable by processing.
- Onions. Yellow and white varieties range from $1.49 to $2.29 per pound. Besides adding wonderful flavor to foods, onions are high in compounds that may help protect against stomach cancer. Look for bags of onions, which are usually about 99 cents a pound. Garlic has some of the same flavor and nutritional qualities; stock up when you find it on sale, since it keeps well in a cool, dark area.
- Yogurt. It's more expensive than some of our other selections-ranging between $2.49 and $3.69 a pound-but yogurt is the most nutritional dairy buy. It contains probiotics that are beneficial to intestinal health; eating yogurt also helps reduce abdominal fat and encourages retention of lean muscle mass. Buy the plain varieties in large containers for the biggest savings, and use in moderation. Bonus: Plain yogurt contains much less sugar than fruity ones.
- Fryer chickens. In general, organic meat is a big expense on a small budget. But for the occasional meal, a whole organic fryer chicken is an affordable option at $2.49 a pound. They're frequently on sale, so when you see them, stock up and freeze a few; roast them with sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic for the most mileage.