Take a stroll in the produce section of your neighbourhood supermarket — you will find all kinds of fruits and vegetables, both produced locally and from different parts of the world. The latter usually costs a bomb and that is the price we pay for its exoticism, transportation and preservation during its journey across miles. So, if drumsticks cost Rs 10 a bunch and asparagus Rs 150, what do you think is healthier for you?
While mango is a nutritious fruit, clamouring after them in January when they are priced at over Rs 100 a fruit makes no sense. Fruits and vegetables are at their nutritious best when they are in season and are allowed to ripen naturally, rather than the forced, chemical-aided ripening ahead of season. Though this might satisfy your taste buds, it is not doing your health much good.
On evaluating the nutrition for the cost we pay for each food item, it is surprising that we have many foods in our midst that are easily affordable. India, being a tropical country, produces the best of fruits and vegetables all year round, high in vital nutrition, suiting our genetic make-up too.
Some super cheap super foods
Bananas - Available around the year, they are a powerhouse of energy. Rich in vitamin B6, potassium, fibre and vitamin C. A favourite with sportsmen, we in India, are lucky to find this fruit sold at even street corners all through the year.
Papayas - Abundant in vitamin C, A, E and K, plus a healthy dose of folic acid, potassium and fibre.
Guavas - Rich in vitamin C, much more than oranges and high on dietary fibre, this non-glamourous fruit has everything going for it. Sold by cart loads, this packs in maximum nutrition at minimum cost.
Peanuts - Being good sources of vitamin E, niacin, folic acid and monounsaturated fats, they aid in keeping a healthy heart. Known to be rich in anti-oxidants, they are abundant in proteins too.
Lentils - These are a staple in any Indian cuisine. No meal is complete without dal and it is a rich source of protein for vegetarians, high in fibre, folic acid and iron. They are the perfect food for diabetics, giving them protein-rich food that slows down the rise in blood sugar after a meal.
Cabbage - Indian cuisine has multitude of ways to cook this wonder vegetable. Much hated by many Westerners for the smell it gives out on boiling – this is rich in vitamin K and C. Cabbage is also a decent source of fibre, B-vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Spinach - This along with other green leafy vegetables available fresh in the open markets are must-buys almost around the year except for the monsoons. Spinach is blessed with almost 15 flavonoids [anti-oxidants] that protect us from a variety of diseases. One cup, providing over double the required vitamin K for the day, is good for maintaining bone health. Iron-rich spinach is a reliable source of the mineral for all.
Eggs - They are one of the best sources of low-cost, high-quality protein, providing around 5.5 gm of protein for just 65 calories. An egg a day or every other day for breakfast gives you a complete range of amino acids.
Other complex starches such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, yam, wheat flour — all these are nutritionally high-grade foods that can be used in our day-to-day meals.
Tips to eat healthy without breaking the bank
- Buy healthy stuff such as nuts, olive oil, organic non-perishables in bulk when you find offers in your supermarket, like "take one, get one free".
- Eat fruits and vegetables in season, these are not only cheap but also have the best concentration of nutrients.
- Some things can be easily made at home such as paneer, yoghurt, peanut butter, pasta sauce and the like. Besides saving a lot of money, when you make them yourself, you can be sure about the quality and keep them free of preservatives and excess salt.
- Locally-grown produce is always cheaper than what has come from far-off states or countries. Besides, when you use produce from your nearby areas, you are consuming lesser "food miles" and lessening your carbon footprint.
- Some stuff like frozen peas or corn bought in bulk are quite economical for use when they are out of season. Since frozen/canned produce is picked at the peak of their season, you can be assured that they are high in nutrients.
- Herbs such as basil, oregano and mint are rich in micronutrients, but they tend to cost a lot for a very small pack. You can grow these from the seed in small pots on your window sill and snip some whenever you need them.
- Plan your weekly menu around the seasonally-available produce and the items on marked-down prices in supermarkets during that week. Do not buy large quantities of perishables though, if you do not have a plan on how you are going to use it all. A good way of taking advantage of bulk deals is to share it with neighbours or friends.
Eating and ordering out
The restaurants that serve the most expensive food are not necessarily the healthiest. Those that serve regional cuisine like Udipi, Maharashtrian or Bengali food, quite often stick to the traditional way of preparing food and are priced better than some of the so-called multi-cuisine restaurants. You might be surprised to note that the bill for beverages sometimes exceeds that of the food, and this money has been totally wasted on zero-nutrition liquids such as mocktails, colas or alcohol. Every restaurant is committed to providing you clean drinking water, so you can stick to that instead of adding to your waistline from the empty calories of most beverages.
You can make several pizzas with the freshest of ingredients for the cost of ordering out one pizza, where you are not sure about the quality of toppings used. Appliances like an oven might seem like an extra expenditure in the beginning, but when you can enjoy freshly-baked goodies in the comfort of your home, without extra sugar, salt and preservatives, the investment is very much worth it.
There is no need for us to go overboard spending on healthy foods. If we look around, we will find plenty of locally-produced, reasonably-priced foods that are as nutritious as their more expensive counterparts. The key is to buy fresh and local stuff, prepare them in the way that retains maximum of their goodness and eat fresh.
It is very much possible to eat healthy on a moderate budget too!
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