How to eat superfoods on a budget
If there is one thing I have noticed from this pandemic, it is that it led more people to discover the importance of a healthy diet to optimise their health.
When it all kicked off in March 2020, I remember seeing people in panic in supermarkets, filling their trolleys with lots of sugary and processed foods such as cookies, cereals and crisps, which can contribute to inflammation and subsequent health issues, yet the fruits and vegetable aisle, better known as the place to find micronutrients and antioxidant-rich foods, was always full of produce.
Currently, many people still think that a healthy grocery shopping that includes the so-called “superfoods” will be extremely expensive and therefore feel discouraged about even trying, as current financial times are hard for most of us.
Well, fear not! Because this article is here to debunk this myth and help you realise you can have a trolley filled with superfoods even on a budget.
What are superfoods?
This is the name given to foods which are considered to be a nutrient powerhouse!
Generally, when people think of superfoods, what comes to mind are things with exotic names such as Maca, a Peruvian root known to increase libido and restore hormonal balance - although there still isn’t enough scientific evidence to support these claims - or Lucuma, a fruit that comes from Chile, Ecuador and Peru, which some studies have shown may help with blood glucose support.
Even though these superfoods do contain vitamins and minerals that can support some aspects of your health optimisation, they do come with an expensive price tag and their benefits can often be exaggerated in order to support the increasing demand in the health foods market.
Switch your mindset to local and seasonal
If your goal is to start incorporating more nutrient-dense foods to support your overall health, all you need to do is to start shifting your mindset from exotic to local.
If you have access to a farmers market then you have hit gold, as that’s where you will find fresh local produce that hasn’t travelled thousands of miles, retaining freshness and nutrient content.
However, not all of us are lucky enough to have a farmers market on their doorstep. If you can only access a supermarket that’s ok too, just start roaming the outside colourful aisles before adventuring into the packaged products ones. When choosing fruits and vegetables, pick what’s in season here in the UK which generally means products are fresher and local. The vegetarian society has a list of UK monthly seasonal produce you may find useful.
Organic vs non-organic
The eternal debate, organic foods are so expensive, are they actually better?
Firstly, if you worry about spending too much but you still would like to try organic foods, have a look at the list called ‘The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen’ which shows you the 12 fruits and vegetables with most pesticides and the 15 cleanest ones. The list is based on US data but likely to be similar in the UK and Europe, it is updated each year and it gives you an idea of which produce you may want to spend a little extra on.
Going back to the nutrient content debate, yes there are some studies mentioning there may be no difference, however, this scientific review of 343 peer-reviewed publications found statistically noticeable differences between organic and non-organic crops, especially in antioxidant content (read anti-inflammatory compounds). But it doesn’t necessarily have to be all about fruits and vegetables.
A 2016 meta-analysis which looked at sixty-seven published studies comparing the composition of organic and non-organic meat products, found that the organic ones were higher in fatty acids. Grass-fed beef can also be a good choice, a 2010 review showed not only increased fatty acid content but also a higher amount of both vitamin A and E precursors and key antioxidants such as glutathione, compared to grain-fed beef.
Your top 10 budget superfoods shopping list
Now that you have your basic concepts down, let me give you a sample budget superfood list for August (as we previously mentioned that you may benefit from buying seasonal products).
Different people follow different types of diets from plant-based to meat-based, either way, fresh fruits or vegetables are always there in some percentage, so our 10 seasonal superfoods are based on those:
Broccoli - This super affordable vegetable, belongs to the Brassica family and has been associated with detoxification support thanks to a compound called sulforaphane, shown to also be anti-inflammatory and able to support mitochondria (an energy factory located in each of our cells) in the body.
Carrots - Another cheap choice, high in water (between 86-95%) and with a small carbohydrate amount of about 10%. Mainly known thanks to their carotenoids, plant compounds with a powerful antioxidant effect, especially beta carotene, which converts into vitamin A in your body, a process that can be helped by eating this sweet tasting vegetable with a source of fat such as olive oil.
Carrots will also provide you with soluble fibre in the form of pectin. The suggested daily fibre intake is 30g and the British Nutrition Foundation has revealed that in the UK most people will only get between 17g and 20g per day. Fibre supports regular bowel movements, encouraging waste excretion from our bodies but also supports blood sugar balance and makes us feel fuller for longer, promoting weight optimisation.
Potatoes - The humble potato contains a whole host of nutrients including fibre and protein (about 2.5g for a medium potato). It is also a source of antioxidants such as flavonoids, carotenoids and phenolic acids
A 2005 study found that boiling potatoes and cooling them overnight in the fridge can help increase the resistant starch within them, which can help to support blood glucose balance.
Potatoes provide you with both vitamins and minerals (be mindful that most of the nutrients will be in the skin, so scrub well when you wash them and leave the skin on for maximum effect!).
Cucumbers - High in water and low in calories, cucumbers are a great choice if you are looking to increase hydration through food which could also help to maintain regular bowel movements, as dehydration can often be one of the causes.
Just like potatoes, you may want to wash them well and eat them unpeeled to maximise the nutrient content which includes fibre, vitamins and minerals. They are a source of antioxidants including tannins and flavonoids, which help fight free radicals in the body.
Tomatoes - My personal favourite as I grew up eating them in Italy. One more superfood with a high hydration content (about 95%), the rest is insoluble fibre and carbohydrates. They are red when ripe thanks to their carotenoids and chlorophyll content but you can also find many other varieties and colours such as yellow, green, orange and purple. Talk about eating a rainbow!
Most people associate tomatoes with the antioxidant lycopene. Studies found this compound may be helpful in decreasing inflammation and lower LDL cholesterol.
Peas - A member of the legumes family (like chickpeas, beans and lentils) with different types available: green, purple and black-eyed. They are a good source of plant-based protein and are also rich in fibre and have a low GI, which is why they may help support blood glucose balance.
Their high fibre content has also been shown to be beneficial for digestive health.
However, you need to be mindful of the fact that they also contain so-called antinutrients such as phytic acid and lectins, which may impair the efficient absorption of minerals in the body.
Beetroot - This root vegetable can be found in different colours from purple to yellow, pink and orange. It has a high simple sugars content (glucose and fructose) and its benefits are mostly known in connection to its high inorganic nitrates (including nitrates, nitrites and nitric oxide) content.
Dietary nitrates such as these are converted by the body into nitric oxide, which has been shown to help decrease blood pressure by helping blood vessels to relax. You need to be mindful of beetroot if you suffer from kidney issues, as it is high in oxalates which, in high amounts, have been associated with kidney disease.
Blackberries - Always a great choice to add to your trolley, these little black beauties together with blueberries and raspberries have been found to have the highest content of antioxidants in fruit after pomegranate. High in fibre and antioxidants, they are a great food to incorporate to a diet looking to optimise brain health and decrease the risk of neurodegeneration later in life.
Blueberries - Another type of antioxidant-rich berry, they are low in calories (84 calories in 1 cup) but rich in vitamins C and K amongst others. In a 2010 study, 50g of freeze-dried blueberries daily over 8 weeks, lowered LDL cholesterol by 27% and blood pressure by 4-6% in 48 participants with metabolic syndrome.
Plums - Juicy, nutrient-packed deliciousness. High in antioxidants and therefore helpful against free radical damage, their consumption has also been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Thanks to their high content of fibre potassium and antioxidants, plums have also shown positive effects on heart disease risk.
Don’t forget to balance it out!
This article focuses on the idea of seasonal budget superfoods, however, it is key to understand that our bodies need a variety of different nutrients, so always make sure to supercharge your plate by following these tips:
- Half of the plate should be non-starchy colourful veggies such as rocket, watercress, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
- Include some root vegetables and whole grains such as parsnips, sweet potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, brown rice.
- Add a source of either animal or plant-based protein, the best quality you can get your hands on (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds).
- Incorporate some healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds.
- If you are not sensitive to dairy you can also include a small daily amount such as a small piece of cheese.
- Aim for a maximum of two to three fruit portions per day, ideally away from meals to avoid bloating.
- Aim for about eight glasses of water per day to keep hydrated, the best tip is to monitor your urine colour ensuring it is always clear or pale yellow.
To make things clearer, you can refer to the BANT (British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine) handout, The Wellness Solution, or read the Nutritionist Resource Balanced Diet fact-sheet.
Hopefully, this article opened your eyes to the amount of delicious and affordable foods you can have in your kitchen to optimise your health without spending a fortune!
However, if you think you may still need a more personalised approach to achieve your wellness goals, please get in touch for a personalised one-to-one consultation.
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