Most of us need to watch our finances when shopping for food. This is especially true right now, with the current cost of living crisis gripping the UK. Food, electricity and fuel prices have all gone up dramatically and managing household expenses is ever more important. It’s often said that eating healthily is more expensive. But this doesn’t need to be true! Processed convenience foods are often both more expensive and less healthy than meals made with fresh ingredients. That means you can save money and help your health just by cooking more from scratch.
Beyond this basic switch, there are certain ingredients that are particularly healthy and help you save money. How do we determine what makes a healthy food? We use three basic principles, that are important to everyone, but particularly for anyone facing health issues (we use the acronym GAiN to help remember):
- Gut Friendly – high in prebiotics (especially vegetables, fruit and nuts), probiotics, polyphenols and fibre, with avoidance of unhealthy fats (such as vegetable and seed oils)
- Anti-inflammatory – low in inflammatory ingredients, like processed oils and sugar, while high in foods proven to reduce inflammation, which is a major factor in several common health issues
- Nutrient Rich – abundant in vital vitamins and minerals, plus good sources of protein, with limited ‘empty foods’, such as many carbohydrates
Based on this thinking, our top ten health and good value foods, in order of price (based on the Tesco website June 2022) are as follows:
Carrots (40p per kg)
Both highly versatile and packed full of nutrients, carrots are a great value health food. Rich in powerful Vitamin K1, potassium, beta-carotene (which converts in the body to Vitamin A) and antioxidants, carrots offer a wide range of health benefits. They are equally useful as a raw snack, cooked side dish (we add butter and caraway seeds), salad ingredient or addition to a soup, stew or stir-fry. It seems rabbits are onto a good thing.
Sweet potatoes (95p per kg)
Sweet potato is a great source of Vitamins A & C and has anti-inflammatory properties. An international team of scientists tested 115 foods for in vitro anti-inflammatory activities. Of all the foods, sweet potatoes (along with onion, oregano, oyster mushroom and cinnamon) had the most significant anti-inflammatory properties. Try roasting in olive oil, mashing with cheese or combining with pumpkin and carrots for a delicious soup.
Broccoli (£1.39 per kg)
In addition to being a rich source of Vitamins A, C, E and K1, Broccoli contains micronutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have shown positive impacts on a variety of illnesses, from heart disease and diabetes to osteoarthritis and cancer. Try cooking with cauliflower as a soup and combining with mustard seeds or powder, to boost the generation of powerful micronutrient sulforaphane.
Plain, full-fat yoghurt (£1.70 per kg)
Yoghurt contains many essential nutrients, including Vitamin A, B2 & B12, Magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorous and Zinc. It is also a useful, vegetarian source of energy-sustaining protein and some types of yoghurt contain probiotic bacteria for gut health and immune protection (check the label). Eat for dessert or as a snack or add to soups and stews instead of cream. Avoid flavoured yoghurts, which are laden with sugar; if you want a fruit yoghurt, add fresh or defrosted frozen fruit yourself.
Eggs, Free Range (£1.85 for 12)
Another source of high-quality protein, eggs are a superfood with a long list of benefits. Packed with several nutrients (A, B2, B5, B12, Phosphorous, Selenium, Choline), antioxidants and healthy fats, eggs tick lots of boxes. Although high in cholesterol, there is strong evidence this does not translate to high levels in the body for most people (that said, best to check with a medical practitioner if you live with a health condition). Fry (in olive or butter), boil, scramble or poach, there are a lot of ways to use eggs.
Tomatoes (£1.92 per kg)
Tomatoes offer fibre, Vitamin C & K1, Potassium and an antioxidant known as Lycopene, which gives them their red colour. Lycopene functions as an antioxidant by preventing damage to our body’s cells, which may otherwise increase the risk of cancer and other diseases. Tomatoes have multiple uses, in warm and cold dishes, and pair brilliantly with other healthy foods, such as olive oil, spinach, goats’ cheese or basil. Tinned tomatoes are a cost effective, healthy option if you can’t get them fresh.
Berries (£4.40 per kg)
Compared with other fruits, berries are relatively low in sugar, yet are high in fibre and an excellent source of Vitamin C & K1. They contain beneficial phytochemicals, anthocyanin and ellagitannins, which act as antioxidants. In summer, feast on fresh strawberries, raspberries and blueberries and for the rest of the year you can fall back on frozen berries, widely available in supermarkets.
Tofu or Tempe (£5.06 per kg)
Made from condensed soy milk and a staple in Asia for centuries, tofu and tempe are great, vegan-friendly sources of protein. Additionally, they are rich in copper, iron, manganese and zinc. Soy beans contain natural plant compounds called isoflavones, which are increasingly connected with heart health and anti-inflammatory benefits. Because it is made with fermented soy beans, tempe has the bonus factor of being probiotic.
Canned Tuna or Salmon (£8.60 per kg)
A great cupboard staple, canned oily fish packs a healthy punch with high levels of protein and nutrients such as Vitamin B3, Vitamin D, Calcium and Magnesium. Especially beneficial for people with joint, bone or heart issues, canned tuna and salmon is also a great energy sustained source. Use in salads, sandwiches or pasta sauces.
Walnuts (£12.50 per kg)
Nuts in general are a great health food, providing they are not coated in sugar, unhealthy fats or salt, and walnuts are amongst the healthiest of all (as are brazil nuts and hazelnuts). Containing Vitamin E and Omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are particularly beneficial for brain health. They also promote a healthy gut microbiome and have positive links with heart health. Keep them handy on the kitchen worktop, to snack on whole or add to salads, fruit, cereal, dressings or stir-fries.
There are hundreds of ways you could combine these ingredients, with a few cupboard staples like olive oil, soy sauce, onions and garlic, to make delicious, healthy and good value dishes. If you want more inspiration, check out our recipe pages.