8 inexpensive nutrient-dense foods to fill your cart and fit your budget


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A survey conducted by the American Heart Association in early 2019 found that even though 95 percent of grocery shoppers “at least sometimes” wanted to seek out healthy options, only 25 percent of them reported having the knowledge to do so. Clearly, when it comes to eating healthy foods, there’s a knowledge gap. And yes, It’s true: there’s no reliable “healthy foods this way!” sign at your local supermarket. That’s exactly why we asked Malina Malkani, RDN, a dietitian with the American Academy of Dietetics which nutrient-dense foods will load up your cart without emptying your wallet.

According to Malkani, creating a shopping list that caters to your nutrient needs involves reaching for four types of food: protein, healthy fats, fiber, and the combination of calcium and probiotics. Truth be told, an infinite combinations of grocery store purchases could satisfy Malkani’s must-have items, but not every list would ring up to the same dollar amount at the register. So below, she offers a shopping list that ticks all four boxes. Let’s just call it your nutrient budget—shall we?

1. For protein, it’s all about the beans

The dietitian says that frugal shopper can’t beat beans for protein. “When it comes to convenient, affordable foods that are nutrient-dense and rich in many of the nutrients that promote health and wellness, beans and legumes are always among my top choices. Beans and legumes are rich in plant-based protein, many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and of course, fiber,” she says.

Buy: Garbanzo beans (about 7 grams of protein per 1/2 cup), black beans (about 7 grams per 1/2 cup), kidney beans (about 13 grams per 1/3 cup), and cannellini beans (about 10 grams per 1/2 cup)

Eat your beans in dessert with black bean brownies:

2. When it comes to healthy fats, chia seeds and avocado will treat you right

“Seeds are another nutrient-dense and affordable option,” says Malkani. “For example, chia seeds are packed with fiber and minerals and high in healthy fats including α-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that supports heart health. Chia seeds may also lower blood pressure and have anti-inflammatory effects, among other health benefits.” (Because chia seeds can set you back $5 plus, try buying them in bulk to lessen the strain on your wallet.)

Apart from seeds, she says that even though avocados can fall more on the cha-ching side of the fruit spectrum, their nutrients make them worth the extra cash. “Avocados offer multiple nutrients that support overall health and wellness. Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and a good source of fiber. They also offer almost 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. The fat in avocados also serves as a ‘nutrient-booster’ that helps the body absorb fat-soluble nutrients from other foods like vitamins A, D, E, and K,” says the dietitian.

Buy: Avocado, chia seeds

Avos are worth the hype: 

3. Nut butters are a win for fiber (and your wallet)

Bring on the butters, because Malkani says that there a fibrous win for your entire GI tract. “Both nuts and nut butters—i.e., peanut, cashew, almond, pecan and walnut—are a convenient, health-promoting options because they are rich in protein, fiber, healthy fats, as well as many vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Studies also show that eating nuts is associated with increased feelings of fullness, reduced hunger and fewer cravings, possibly because nuts are rich in protein and unsaturated fat which are satisfying nutrients that may lead to less subsequent food intake.”

Buy: Peanut butter (2 grams per 2 Tablespoon serving)

Here’s why peanut butter is a dietitian’s fave:

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4. For a combo of calcium and probiotics, plain-old yogurt will do

There are many fancy ways to consume your probiotics (see: kombucha), but Malkani says that when you get yours from yogurt, you tack on the added bonus of bone-healthy calcium. “Plain yogurt is a nutrient-dense food that can you help you meet calcium and protein needs. It also offers the added benefit of probiotics—the ‘friendly bacteria’ that supports digestive health—without the added sugars often found in sweetened versions.”

Buy: Plain yogurt (448 milligrams of calcium per 1/2 cup)

Get to know the “core four” foods to build a healthy plate every single time. And if you’re looking for dessert ideas, these are low on the glycemic index

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