We're all pinching pennies at the grocery store these days, but sometimes the cheapest items available might not be the healthiest.
So where should we loosen the purse strings?
We asked nutritionists to weigh in on some higher-priced healthy foods which are worth the splurge.
These are their suggestions.
If you have a love/hate relationship with fruit, you're not alone. It seems like every day one health guru is telling you to add more fruit to your diet while another is telling you to cut back on all that natural sugar.
Berries, however, seem to be the exception to that rule, as they're lower in calories and sugar than many other fruits, and are packed full of vitamins and nutrients that promote heart health, weight loss, and healthier-looking skin.
Dr. Yanyan Li, assistant professor of nutrition in the College of Science and Humanities at Husson University, focuses her research on phytochemicals (natural plant components with health benefits), and she believes that berries, such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, are worth the extra money.
"Although rather expensive, they are full of strong antioxidants," Dr. Li says. "Antioxidants help remove free radicals that are associated with a variety of chronic diseases and the aging process."
Personally I've been loading up on blackberries lately, since they're a tasty, low-cal way to consume omega-3s, fiber and antioxidants. One cup only contains 62 calories, which means that I get the pleasure of a sweet snack without all the guilt.
2. Cruciferous vegetables
While I've never had a problem consuming fruits, vegetables have been harder to integrate into my diet. In fact, until fairly recently the only bean I liked was of the jelly variety. Slowly but surely, I'm making strides toward putting more greens on my plate — even though they make my grocery bill inflate.
There's a silver lining, however. According to Dr. Li, "Cruciferous vegetables — such as broccoli sprouts, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, arugula, and radish — are high in multiple cancer-preventive components, including carotenoids and isothiocyanates."
3. Chia seeds
Hard to believe that your Scooby-Doo Chia Pet is a super-food source. Yep, that's right — the same seeds used to grow chia "hair" from terracotta pop-culture icons are a concentrated source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. While they're not cheap, they're easily consumed by sprinkling and mixing them into your ordinary diet.
4. Organic butter
Butter is okay in moderation, even healthy, but non-organic butter can contain toxin residues that tend to be fat-soluble — and that's not a good thing. Alexander J. Rhinehart, certified clinical nutritionist and owner of the Arizona Nutrition Center, explains:
The body often stores toxins away in fat tissue, and consumption/exposure to these same toxins have been linked to insulin resistance and weight gain. As butter is a pure fat, toxin residues can be concentrated in butter — not to mention any synthetic hormones that had been given to the cows. The residues from feed fed to the cows can find their way into your butter. I recommend opting for the organic butter — you get an A+ if it is made from grass-fed cows like Kerry Gold Irish Butter — which has a richer gold color due to higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid.
5. Coconut- based products
You're not getting out of the grocery store with a basket full of healthy coconut-based product on the cheap, but at least you can feel better about all the good stuff you're putting into your body.
Birgitta Lauren — president of Expecting Fitness, which is dedicated to exercise and fitness advice for pregnant and new moms — recommends adding the full spectrum of coconut-based items to your diet, including coconut oil, milk, cream, flour, and sugar. "For all systems — brain, nervous, metabolic, etc., it has anti-bacterial, anti-viral benefits," she says.
Dr. Rhineart agrees, adding, "Coconut oil is one of the most versatile substances in the grocery store. It is great for cooking as it tolerates high heat. It is also great for use on the skin and hair, as well as infections. It can also help support the immune system. When you consume coconut oil, some of the lauric acid (the main fat of coconut oil, comprising 50% of it's composition), actually is converted to monolaurin, which is known to have wide spectrum anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal/yeast properties. The other primary fats, capric acid and caprylic acid, also share similar properties. Capric and caprylic acid are what typically comprise 'MCT oil', whereas lauric acid must be consumed via coconut oil, or one can supplement with monolaurin directly."
6. Organic milk
They say that milk does a body good — although even that long-standing claim has been contested recently — but organic milk will do your body better.
Chef Jessica Swift, a registered dietician with an MSc in nutritional sciences, says, "Conventional milk can be filled with rBS and rBGH, which have been proven to be, how do you say, 'no bueno?' When it comes to skipping these hormones, I would say 'Yes, please' and grab a good ol' jug of the organic stuff."
I don't trust anyone who doesn't like chocolate — because, seriously, what's wrong with you? But even chocoholics like me would be wise to be a bit more conservative when choosing how to get that sweet cocoa fix.
"There are many different chocolates, but only a few that provide optimal healthy benefits," Chef Jess says. "Skip the Butterfinger and go for a bar that contains at least 70% cocoa; this bar contains antioxidants to aid in optimal heart health."
8. Antibiotic-free chicken
According to the Huffington Post, the excess amount of antibiotics with which we're pumping our chickens is undermining the effectiveness the antibiotics have in fighting new diseases in our own bodies.
"Overuse by agricultural companies to make animals grow faster or to cover up poor living conditions for the animals is certainly not worth jeopardizing our ability to take care of our kids, parents, neighbors and the world community," the article says. The editorial board of The Washington Post warned that more must be done to reverse the overuse of antibiotics in livestock before a new generation of superbugs is created. The effectiveness of these incredibly powerful drugs is being undermined every day we give them to animals.
This long-term preservation of our collective health is certainly worth a few more bucks at the cash register, and your fellow Americans agree: "Consumer Reports found 60% of poll respondents said they would pay more for antibiotic-free meats; 37% would pay up to one dollar more per pound."
Stacy Goldberg, registered nurse and founder of Savorfull, adds, "The shelf life [of antibiotic-free chicken] is shorter, but you will be putting cleaner ingredients in your body."
9. Organic eggs
Organic eggs can differ in price drastically from their non-organic counterparts, but there's also a drastic difference in the benefits they offer, too.
"Eggs are one of the best foods to eat for health," says Dr. Lisa Metzger, co-owner ofBioFunctional Health. "Organic free-range eggs are more nutrient dense than commercially raised eggs, having more vitamin A, twice as much omega-3 fatty acids, and more vitamin E due to the diet the free range chicken are fed as opposed to the commercial grain feed."
10. Grass-fed beef
Beef is already pricey, no matter how you slice it. But cattle that are able to graze in open spaces tend to lead healthier lives (with less need for antibiotics), so it's a smart choice to start switching up how you buy your steak.
"When cows are able to eat a diet that is natural for them, the nutritional composition of their meat is much more ideal for you, providing an increased level of omega-3s (a type of fat that many folks are lacking in) and other nutrients," explains Amanda Austin, a registered dietician and certified food sensitivity expert. "At the store, make sure that the beef that you're purchasing is actually 100% grass-fed beef — all cows are grass-fed for the first six to 12 months of life, but most are then 'finished' with grains, which are typically given to cows before slaughter to fatten them up at a quicker rate. You want beef that has been grass-fed for the entirety of the cow's life."
11. Wild fish
Farm-raised fish are cheaper — larger supply is yielded with fewer resources used — but what once seemed to be an environmentally conscious solution to seafood demand has presented new problems of its own, especially where tuna, halibut, cod, and salmon are concerned.
"These predators are usually raised in the open ocean, in net pens," writes Margo True in an article for Sunset magazine. "What seemed like a great idea initially has now revealed itself to be one in serious need of fixing: The farmed fish pollute the water with their concentrated wastes, spread disease (the crowded conditions make them prone to it, which requires dosing with antibiotics), and escaped fish compete for food with the wild fish."
Personally, I enjoy cashews more than other nuts, and almonds tend to get much of the praise from health professionals, but walnuts also are a great source of healthy protein and other nutrients. "These nuts are packed with omega-3s and heart healthy fats. They may be a little pricey, but I recommend eating a handful of nuts — including walnuts — every day," says Sharon Palmer, nutrition expert and author of Plant-Powered for Life.