If you’re trying to eat healthy but having a difficult time finding the right foods to buy, a trip to the grocery store can be quite intimidating. For weight management, disease prevention and overall good health, it’s important to eat a wide range of foods rich in macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Your local grocery store houses hundreds of foods that meet these criteria. Here are some of the healthiest to add to your grocery list, even if you have a frugal food budget.
Root Veggies and Bell Peppers
Root vegetables and bell peppers should never be forgotten during any grocery shopping trip, as they are cheap, easy to come by and incredibly nutrient-dense. Collectively, these veggies come in a spectrum of colors and include carrots, beets, and parsley, red and yellow pepper. They are also some of the best food sources of water-soluble vitamins, minerals and phytonutrient antioxidants, which greatly help to boost immunity and reduce disease risk.
Leafy Green Vegetables
Whether you prefer kale, collards, spinach, Swiss chard, dark lettuce or cruciferous varieties like broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy or red cabbage, leafy greens are arguably the world’s healthiest food. Regardless of the type, leafy green veggies are exceptionally low in calories and collectively rich in disease-fighting antioxidant nutrients and phytonutrients (isothiocyanates, indoles, beta-carotene, vitamins C and E), vitamin K, potassium, calcium, and fiber.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive is a must-have grocery item. While on the more pricey side, just a little bit goes a very long way. The large variety of nutrients contained in this oil offer tremendous health benefits. Due to its high content of healthy monounsaturated fat, regularly consuming olive oil has been shown to improve cholesterol, reduce blood pressure among individuals with hypertension, and regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels in people with diabetes.
In addition, the antioxidant compounds housed in extra virgin olive oil have been linked to a lower incidence of heart disease and cancer.
Fresh or Frozen Berries
Berries are packed full of nutrients and just plain old good for you. Whether you prefer blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries or raspberries, they are all rich in disease-fighting flavonoids and key vitamins and minerals including vitamin C. Berries are also virtually fat-free, low in sodium, and totally free of cholesterol. The versatility of berries is endless, as they can be included in smoothies, whole-grain cereals and breads, yogurt, salads, casseroles, and much more.
Oily Fish Varieties
Oily fish varieties like salmon, tuna and trout are among the healthiest, most versatile protein sources around. Due to low mercury levels, eating a variety of these fish is a great way to obtain your daily doses of selenium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. In fact, just one serving of oily fish provides an average of 50-60% of a day’s worth of vitamin D. These fish are also rich in healthy omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which possess powerful anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting effects.
Tomatoes are excellent for stand-alone snacking and cooking, as they can easily be added to salads, omelets, soups, stews and chili. There are wide varieties from which to choose including plum, cherry, and grape tomatoes each of which are low in calories, high in fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals (vitamin C and potassium). The reddest tomatoes are an excellent source of carotenoid antioxidants including beta-carotene and lycopene, which have potent heart disease and cancer-fighting effects.
Plain Strained Yogurt
Like unstrained (regular) yogurt, strained (Greek-style) yogurt is extremely rich in calcium, phosphorous and vitamin B12, all of which are critical for bone health. Unlike regular yogurt, Greek-style yogurt is low in sugar and very rich in protein making it a great food source for weight management and overall good health. Greek yogurt also houses large concentrations of probiotics, which are “friendly” bacteria that reduce the growth of harmful bacteria in the body helping to boost immunity and reduce disease risk.
Fresh or Canned Legumes
Legumes come in the forms of beans, peas and lentils, all of which are jammed packed with high-quality nutrients. At approximately 200-225 calories per cup, most varieties contain well over 40-50% of a day’s worth of fiber in both soluble and insoluble forms. Consuming soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar while insoluble fiber promotes healthy elimination of waste products from the body.
Legumes also house hefty doses of protein and flavonoid antioxidants along with sizeable amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and other valuable minerals.
Egg yolks and separable egg whites are economical and convenient sources of protein and other important nutrients. Although egg yolks are commonly shunned due to relatively high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, when consumed in moderation (3-4 yolks per week) they actually have powerful health-promoting effects. In fact, unbeknownst to many, egg yolks are a high-quality source of antioxidants like selenium and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in only a few food sources.
Oatmeal is an excellent source of fiber and key minerals like magnesium and phosphorus. It also contains all-natural compounds called avenanthramides, which function as antioxidants that fight cholesterol by preventing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from sticking to arterial walls. Now, if you prefer the texture of steel-cut oats, their nutritional qualities are pretty much equal to oatmeal. It really comes down to how much time you have to cook, as steel-cut oats have a relatively longer preparation time.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are naturally high in health-promoting fats (monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids), protein, vitamin E, selenium, and fiber. When it comes to nuts and seeds you have a variety from which to choose including almonds, walnuts, pecans, chia seeds, flaxseeds and much more. Although rich in nutrients, nuts and seeds are also relatively high in calories (170-200 calories per 1/4-cup serving) so just be sure to monitor your portions and care not to exceed 1-2 servings a day.
Fresh Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines and mandarins are rich in folate, vitamin C and potassium, which collectively aid in enhancing immune function and maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance in our bodies. They are also extremely low in calories and very high in a type of fiber called pectin, which supports weight management. Pectin slows the intestinal absorption and digestion of food, which leads to an increased sense of fullness and reduces the risk of overeating during meals.
Although avocado is calorie-dense and primarily comprised of fat, about 75% of the fat it contains is monounsaturated, which is a good thing. It’s also rich in fiber, potassium and other vital nutrients. Although many only know of avocado as the main ingredient in guacamole, this fruit is actually quite versatile. You can use it to make homemade smoothies or creamy pasta sauces, in salads and dressings, as a sandwich topper, or even as a delicious stand-alone snack.
Apples and Bananas
Apples and bananas are quick, convenient and very economical superfoods. In fact, no matter where you are, an apple or banana will likely cost you a buck or less. Key benefits of apples include their rich content of vitamin C and pectin while bananas are an excellent source of potassium and vitamin B6, which is necessary for maintaining muscle and metabolizing fat as well as transporting oxygen from the lungs to the cells, tissues, and organs of the body.
By making wise choices when grocery shopping, you’ll find that healthy eating is actually quite easy and much cheaper than it’s typically perceived to be. Including these foods on your grocery list and into your diet is an economical and sure way to achieve and maintain good health.