If you are concerned about your health and also concerned about your money, you’re often going to be concerned that the two appear to be in conflict. It’s tough to eat healthy on a budget (but the opposite isn’t true: it’s easy to eat horribly while spending a lot). There are heart-healthy foods anyone can eat that don’t cost a fortune. The trick is simple. Don’t eat processed foods, and eat smaller portions of the pricier foods. Thomas Jefferson said “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that not as an aliment, so much as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet.” That’s good advice for the most part, both from a financial and health point of view. Eating less meat will save you money and – by and large – won’t hurt your health. You do need protein, and humans have for most of their history obtained that protein from animals, but the current consumption levels for the average American have become ridiculous. I’ve had plenty of conversations with friends who don’t think they’ve eaten a meal unless the largest part of that meal was meat. That’s not a good way to live. As Jefferson said, meat should be a side dish, not the main dish. It’s good for your wallet and your waistline.
So what are the healthiest foods for your heart, and how can they be good for your finances, too?
1. Oatmeal. Providing omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, folate, niacin, calcium, and soluble fiber, oatmeal is one of the top foods for health. But it’s also a great budget meal. It’s seldom expensive, it’s easily complemented with fresh fruit or a variety of spices (think cinnamon and nutmeg) and it’s one of the cheapest items in the grocery aisle.
2. Black beans. With B-complex vitamins, niacin, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and soluble fiber black beans are a great source of nutrition and practically free compared to most processed foods.
3. Nuts. Almonds provide omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E as well as heart-favorable mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Walnuts do the same. While nuts are nutrient-dense, they are also calorie-dense. Make sure you snack on nuts, rather than making a meal out of them. They aren’t cheap, but if you remember that they are supposed to be eaten in very small portions they are very reasonable.
4. Tea. With catechins and flavonols (flavonoids), tea is probably the best drink you can imbibe other than water. If you’re concerned about caffeine – and you should be, caffeine is not a healthy stimulant – drink green or white tea to get all the health benefits without any of the downsides of black tea (or coffee). Tea’s cheap, too – you can get excellent organic teas for less than the cost of a 12 pack of high-fructose corn-syrup-laden soda.
5. Tuna. With omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and niacin, tuna’s a great meat choice if you have to eat meat. Make sure you get dolphin-friendly tuna that’s packaged in water, not oil. It’s one of the least expensive meat options you can find, and it can satisfy all of your meat-related nutritional needs. without breaking the bank.
6. Tomatoes. The tomato is a rich food, with beta- and alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein (carotenoids), vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Here’s the catch: tomatoes aren’t frugal. They tend to be among the most expensive produce items you can buy in a supermarket. But you can grow tomatoes. They tend to be some of the easiest things to grow, and you can often grow them indoors. The health benefits are worth the slight bit of effort to grow them on your own.
7. Brown rice has B-complex vitamins, fiber, niacin, magnesium, and fiber. I’m not a huge fan of carbs, but for basic nutrition and calories brown rice is hard to beat. In moderation it won’t cause much weight gain, and its nutritional benefits (and extremely low cost) make it a food worth considering.
8. Carrots. Alpha-carotene (a carotenoid) and fiber make this a great food. It works for rabbits, right? There’s little reason to avoid carrots. They are sweet, crunchy, and healthy. They tend to be some of the least expensive produce you can buy, making this a great choice for healthy food.
9. Spinach has lutein (a carotenoid), B-complex vitamins, calcium, and fiber. Dark leafy greens are always good for you, and particularly good for heart health. Spinach tends to be one of the least expensive leafy greens, so it’s a great choice for health and wealth.
10. Red wine. Wine’s debatable for a number of reasons. It can cause health problems if not taken in moderation. If you get into fancy wines, it’s not good for your wallet, either. But wine does provide catechins and reservatrol (flavonoids). Both have been shown to have potent anti-aging effects, so consider hoisting a glass or two for health. And inexpensive wines have come a long way in recent years. You can have excellent wines without spending a fortune.
It’s not easy to be healthy and frugal, but it can be done; give these 10 items a shot! And suggest more if I’ve missed a few….