You don't have to let a limited budget keep you from eating as healthy as possible; there are plenty of “superfood swaps” that are just as nutritious, but much easier on your bank account. We asked a few health food experts to share their favorite superfood alternatives. Here’s what you should look for when you’re on the hunt for the most nutritious foods that are also affordable.
“[Collards] are often cheaper and pack tons of vitamin K, key for bone and blood health, and fiber and vitamin A, key for eye health, cell growth, and immunity,” says Lula Brown, a New York City based Certified Health Coach and private chef. Mollie Dickson, CEO and Education Director for The Heart’s Kitchen, a food and nutrition consulting company that works with a team of two registered dietitians and a doctor, mentioned that spinach, while less trendy, is also a great alternative to kale. “This staple is just as nutritious and typically more accessible and affordable,” she said. “While both have comparable levels of Vitamin A and calcium, spinach takes the lead in amount of potassium. Plus it has about double the amount of iron and magnesium.” Abby Langer, a Registered Dietitian and a council member for the College of Dietitians of Ontario suggested using collards and chard in sautés and salads or as wraps for sandwiches.
Langer also suggested cauliflower as an equally nutritious swap for kale. Though, she did admit that it can be just as bland and “less than impressive.” To spice it up she recommends using it to make “buffalo bites” with Frank’s Red Hot Cayenne Pepper Sauce.
“Raspberries have more potassium and fiber than goji berries, and significantly less sugar,” Dickson said. “In fact, raspberries have more fiber than almost any fruit.” At the moment, health foodies may be buzzing about goji berries, but Dickson says that raspberries have recently started to gain attention for their potential anti-cancer benefits. “Almost no other fruit can provide the sheer diversity of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits,” she said. Ficek also mentioned goji berries, pointing out that they’re just not worth the high price ($13 to $30 per pound) and offered blueberries as an equally nutritious alternative.
Kimchi is a fermented dish that traditionally comes from Korea and recently it’s grown in popularity as a buzzy-worthy superfood. “Studies have shown that fermented foods improve the microbiome—meaning a healthier gut by providing the body more of the good bacteria—which supports digestion and immune function,” says Dickson. “Sauerkraut is less expensive and an easy addition to sandwiches, quesadillas, and even casserole.”
Both Brown and Dickson recommend millet as a more affordable option when compared with the ever popular (and usually expensive) quinoa. “Millet is an ancient grain that’s naturally gluten-free.” Dickson said. “It cooks using the same method as quinoa—which is about half the cook time compared to brown rice—and shares a similar taste, texture, and nutritional profile. On the other hand, Ficek says that quinoa is one superfood that’s worth its higher price tag. “[It’s] one of the plant based proteins that contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a perfect food that is not easily substituted,” she said.
Langer says that lentils are another smart swap for quinoa because they typically contain even more protein. “[They’re] cheap and full of protein and fiber,” she said. “They cook up fast and can even be combined with quinoa in some dishes.”
“Chia seeds are known as a superfood that offer a great source of plant based proteins, potassium, fiber, essential fatty acids and minerals such as phosphorous, manganese, calcium, and sodium,” Ficek explained. “Unfortunately, chia seeds are not easily found in grocery stores and they can often be expensive for a small package.” Instead she recommends flax seeds, noting that they offer the same nutritional benefits and are usually more easily found at the grocery store. Dickson recommends sesame seeds as another nutritious chia seed alternative. “Sesame seeds have double the iron, an important nutrient that many women are deficient in,” she said. “Plus, compared to chia seeds, sesame seeds are higher in calcium, B6, magnesium, potassium, and protein.”
Ficek pointed out that many nut butters (especially almond butter) are all the rage right now, but that you often have to “spend an arm and a leg” to get just one jar. She said that nut butters are packed with plant-based protein and healthy fats, but that whole almonds make for an equally nutritious snack. “Plus, by eating the whole almond rather than the butter, it is much easier to control portion size and calorie control,” she said.
“Sure, pomegranates and the ever popular pomegranate juice are rich in antioxidants that may help fight against heart disease and cancer, but these antioxidants come with a high price tag,” Ficek said. “Pomegranate juice is one of the most expensive juices out there.” She suggests substituting with antioxidant-rich, unsweetened cranberry juice instead. “Compared to $5 to $7 for 16 ounces, cranberry juice costs about half as much at around $3 to $4 for 16 ounces,” she added.
Langer mentioned that although they’re nutritious, certain nuts can come with a hefty price tag. Instead, she suggests trying roasted chick peas as a snack. “[They’re] full of protein and fiber and are super easy and super cheap to make,” she said.