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Healthy body and healthy wallet

Some good buys for your health and your pocketbook:

Buy fresh fruits and vegetables in season. Buy frozen otherwise. Frozen is cheaper and may even be better for you than fresh. That’s because produce is usually frozen at its ripest, which is usually when it maxes out in nutrient content too. Some nutrients do break down or leach out in the freezing process, but most make it through. On the other hand, produce intended to be sold fresh is often picked before it’s ripe because it continues to ripen while being shipped to market. But the produce never reaches its peak, nutrient-wise. Canned fruits and vegetables are another alternative to fresh, although, with a few exceptions -- such as tomatoes -- they lose many of their nutrients. And adding sugar or salt subtracts from their healthfulness.

Give up organic. Organic fruits and vegetables are often better for the environment than nonorganic but not necessarily better for your health -- and they’re much harder on your bank account.

Weigh the pros and cons of juices. Bottled or canned fruit and vegetable juices are a relatively inexpensive way to get many of the advantages of fruits and vegetables. The nutrients are more concentrated, so you’re likely to drink more of them than you could eat. On the other hand, the sugar is more concentrated too, so you also get more calories. And the nutrients break down or lose their effectiveness quickly, so fresh-squeezed juices are better -- and then you lose your price advantage. In any juices -- even with pulp -- you also lose most of the fiber. So juices are not a perfect substitute, but they’re much better than no fruits and vegetables at all.

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Buy large carrots instead of “babies.” All carrots are a good source of vitamin A, fiber and many other vitamins and minerals. Baby carrots may taste sweeter, but large carrots are a sweeter deal. Originally, baby carrots were just regular large carrots cut down to be minis so as to hide their superficial flaws. These days they’re still minimized large carrots, but now they’ve been bred to have more sugar and a brighter orange color than the regular sort. They’re no better for you, though, and they can cost a lot more.

Use vegetables to increase quantity and quality. If you make canned soup or stew or chili, add some vegetables. Your meal will go further and provide more color, flavor and nutrients.

Be flexible. If a recipe calls for expensive or exotic ingredients, substitute ingredients that are less expensive or more easily found. For example, you may be able to use strawberries in place of raspberries; tomato sauce in place of tomatoes; spinach with a bit of ground pepper in place of arugula. For other possible substitutions, check out the Cook’s Thesaurus at www.switcheroo.com.

Buy inexpensive parts of a chicken, or buy a whole chicken. The breast is the least fatty part of a chicken, but as long as you remove the skin, those thighs and drumsticks are still healthy choices. And they’re much cheaper. But the best deal may be to get some of each by buying a whole chicken.

Buy inexpensive parts of a cow (but probably not a whole cow). Leaner cuts of beef are cheaper than fattier cuts -- flank steak costs less than filet mignon. It’s also tougher, but marinate it before cooking and you won’t notice. With hamburger, though a leaner version is more expensive, it’s lower in calories, and you end up with more meat after you cook it.

Buy canned fish instead of fresh. Canned fish is considerably cheaper than fresh fish. Some nutrients are lost in the canning process, but it remains an excellent source of protein and vitamins. (And when fresh fish is cooked, it loses some nutrients too.) Canned salmon actually has an advantage over fresh in that it’s canned with its bones -- the canning process softens them -- so it contains much more calcium. Sardines are also canned with their bones, but since people often eat the bones in fresh sardines too, any difference is probably small. Tuna is not canned with its bones, so the calcium advantage is reversed -- but calcium isn’t a big factor in tuna. Chunk light tuna is less expensive than solid albacore, which has slightly more calories and fat. So the cheaper choice is at least as good for you. In all cases, choose canned fish packed in water, not oil.

Get your proteins from plants sometimes. You get as much protein from half a cup of beans as you do from 3 ounces of broiled steak. But the protein is different. Animal proteins (except for gelatin) are considered “complete” because they have all nine essential amino acids. Except for soybeans (including tofu), whose protein is also complete, vegetable proteins are considered “incomplete” because they’re missing one or more of the essential amino acids. No problem, though, because plants can be divided into three groups, according to which amino acids they’re missing. And if you eat something from each of two groups, you end up with a complete protein after all. The three groups are grains (e.g., wheat, oats, rice), legumes (beans, lentils, dried peas) and nuts/seeds (sunflower seeds, walnuts, cashews). Peanut butter and bread complete each other in a sandwich, as do red beans and rice in that New Orleans staple. The completeness of animal proteins may be an advantage, but they have a disadvantage too -- they come with a lot of fat and cholesterol, which vegetable proteins do not. Another disadvantage -- they usually cost significantly more.

Eat more unprocessed or whole grains. All the grains we eat -- wheat, rice, oats -- are either whole or refined. Whole-grain kernels have three parts: the endosperm, bran and germ. Refining the grains removes the bran and the germ -- and along with them, the fiber, iron and B vitamins they contain. Refined grains usually are enriched, meaning manufacturers put back the missing iron and vitamins -- but not the fiber. Whole wheat flour and brown rice are whole grains. White flour and white rice are refined grains. If nothing is done to the grains -- i.e., if they’re not turned into flour or cereal -- they’re called unprocessed. Unprocessed grains -- wheat berries and whole oats -- are superb sources of protein, fiber and antioxidants, and they’re super cheap. Buy them prepackaged or in bulk from bins and cook them for hot cereal or to use in salads, soups and casseroles.

Drink nonfat or low-fat milk. It has all the nutrients of whole milk, but it has less fat and costs less to boot. To maximize your savings -- while, perhaps, minimizing your enjoyment -- try instant nonfat dry milk.

Use canola oil instead of olive oil. Both contain a lot of mono-unsaturated fats, which are considered the good kind, and they’re seen as about equal from a health perspective. But if you take your cash flow into consideration, canola will probably come out ahead.

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Low-cost recipes

For a database of healthful, low-cost recipes, check out the recipe finder from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at recipefinder.nal.usda.gov.

For the booklet “Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals,” offered by the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, go to www .cnpp.usda.gov, click on “Publications,” and look for the aforementioned title.

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Sources

Among the sources of this information:

Shirley Kindrick, registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Medical Center.

Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University, N.Y., and author of “What to Eat.”

Susan Roberts, professor of nutrition at Tufts University, Boston, and author of “The Instinct Diet” (forthcoming).

Barbara Rolls, professor of nutrition at Penn State University, University Park, Penn., and author of “The Volumetrics Eating Plan.”

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latimes.com/health

Time well spent on the cost of food

Wondering where your food dollars go -- on dining out or dining in? Go to latimes.com/health to get the U.S. stats. Also online: a survey on the cost-cutting measures people have made (or are planning) to trim fat from their food budgets. Plus, how cheaply can a person eat nutritiously? The answer -- in 1944 -- was $59.88 a year, if one could tolerate endless quantities of pancake flour, beef liver and cabbage.


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