-By PANCHALI MOITRA
Planning healthy meals that are enriched with nutrients and yet easy on the wallet may seem like a challenging endeavour. ‘Nutritious’ is often labelled as ‘expensive’ and to a certain extent, are rightly so. The much revered nutrient dense foods like multi grain breads, almonds, olive oil or organic foods are all quite steeply priced.
What makes healthy budget eating even more difficult is that most cheap foods available (such as white bread, vada pav, 2 minute noodles or wafers) come loaded with empty calories, simple sugars, invisible fat, excess sodium and a great taste!
However, the good news is that a little knowledge and careful meal planning can help us to avoid these calorie laden diet disasters, even on a tight budget. There are plenty of inexpensive but healthy foods around us which when made a staple in a diet is sure to bring us closer to our health goals without burning the pockets.
Add these ten low cost healthy foods in your plan and reap their vast benefits whilst staying within a budget.
1. Beans- An excellent source of protein, calcium and fibre, beans are one of the most versatile and nutrient rich low cost foods. The beans are easy to cook, good in taste and almost completely free of fat (or cholesterol) and sodium. In addition to these benefits, the beans also contain certain anti carcinogenic compounds, namely isoflavones, lagnins, phytic acid ,sapopin and protease inhibitors. Sprouting the beans helps to perk up the nutrient quotient even further.
2. Whole grains- The role of whole grains in providing us with energy giving carbohydrates, dietary fibre, B complex vitamins and essential fatty acids is widely known. While one may choose to add them in the diet by shopping for fortified attas or branded cereal mixes; the cheaper and natural sources such as millets, oatmeal and whole wheat flours work equally well.
3. Green leafy vegetables- The flavorful leafy greens are undoubtedly a wallet friendly nutrition storehouse and it is not just about being low in calorie and rich in fiber. Greens like spinach, radish leaves, methi and mustard greens are packed with free radical fighting potent antioxidants like Vitamin A, C, E and B complex and growth promoting minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc.
4. Bananas- Though it is said that ‘an apple a day can keep a doctor away’; cheaper fruits such as bananas, cheekus and guavas don’t really lag behind nutritionally. The bananas are high in soluble fibre, fruit pectins, natural sugar, magnesium and potassium and can be enjoyed as a a breakfast accompaniment, healthy snack, or dessert alternative.
5. Amla- This incredible health food is abundant in vitamin C, a core nutrient needed to maintain heart, digestive and skin health. Amla (also referred to as Indian gooseberry) contains good amounts of fibre, vitamins and tannins. Drinking a glass of amla juice every morning has been shown to boost immunity and alleviate eye problems, constipation and hair fall. Amla can be made into chutneys, murabbas, and pickles or eaten after meals in dried forms.
6. Curd- The high nutritional value and ease of preparation qualify curd as a key food in budget eating routine. Rich in calcium, protein and Vitamin B12, low fat curd houses live bacteria (probiotic) which help in improving digestion and curing stomach ailments. Consume a cup of curd everyday plain or as salad dressings (instead of white sauce or mayo). Adding curd is a great way to improve bone health, especially for elderly (who find it difficult to digest milk) and people with osteoporosis and lactose intolerance.
7. Flax seeds- Yet another inexpensive healthy food with valuable nutrient content is flax seeds or alsi. Intake of omega 3 fatty acids (as in almonds and olive oil) is linked with lowering of blood cholesterol levels, triglycerides and blood pressure. Flax seeds are rich in these heart friendly omega 3 fatty acids (ALA or alpha linolenic acid) and also in insoluble fibre and cancer fighting lignans. Moderate intake of flax seeds (1-2 tbsp per day) shows positive effects in prevention of breast cancer and heart problems. Flax seeds can be sprinkled on salads and breads.
8. Eggs – When it comes to ‘all -in -one health foods’, it is hard to beat eggs. Eggs are an awesome and low cost source of good quality proteins with high bioavailability. Their contribution as a food source for choline (needed for nerve transmission), carotenoids ( lutein present in eggs may prevent cataracts and macular degeneration) and vitamin B 12 is profound. Though a healthy adult with moderate activity can eat an egg every day, the people with history of heart troubles may restrict themselves to egg whites. Vegetarians may opt for soybean or cottage cheese as an alternative.
9. Jaggery- Switch over to natural and unrefined jaggery from refined white sugar and satisfy the sweet tooth healthily. Rich in natural goodness of minerals such as iron, magnesium and fibre, jaggery is considered to be beneficial in treating anaemia, throat problems, indigestion and other respiratory disorders.<
10. Water- Finally the cheapest and perhaps one of the most important components of any diet plan is water. Drinking water often takes a backseat as we don’t consider it worthy to be included as a nutrient. However, water must form the mainstay of any eating regime as it works as a detoxifying, hydrating and cooling agent. Aim for 8-10 glasses of water per day to improve digestion, physical and mental performance, and skin glow and also to lose weight faster.
Furthermore, try to buy fruits and vegetables in season as they are much cheaper, fresher and richer in nutrients. Shop in local shops or vendors and prefer fresh and unrefined foods over frozen, canned and processed foods. Home cooked food is definitely healthier for both our pockets and waists than restaurant meals, so make cooking a fun and regular family event.
Eating healthy foods need not be an expensive affair. If we choose wisely, the foods that cost the least may actually become the best foods for our health.