By Dr. Mercola
You can't tune into the news today without hearing about the rising cost of living, be it gas for your car, heat for your home, or food for your family. Many baby boomers are giving up -- or at least stretching out -- food luxury items such as those coveted fancy coffees, because their pocketbooks are thinning, along with their hairlines.
In this report, I will give you some ideas for selecting delicious, nutritious items that won't empty out your bank account.
In 2007, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food rose by 4.0 percent, the highest annual increase since 1990. The CPI for food is forecast to increase another 4.5 to 5.5 percent in 2008 as retailers continue to pass down higher commodity and energy costs to consumers in the form of higher retail prices.[i]
Most of you are aware of how the skyrocketing cost of oil is driving food prices rapidly skyward, but you might not be aware of the huge role biofuels have played in this increase. According to a confidential World Bank report, biofuels alone have forced global food prices up by 75 percent.[ii] According to an Iowa State University study published in May 2008, food prices have climbed an average of $47 per person since last July due to the ethanol surge alone.[iii]
Of course, you don't need me to tell you that your food bill has gone through the roof. Is there anything you can do to stretch your food dollar, without having to sacrifice nutrition?
Fortunately, you can still find many affordable, nutritious foods at your farmers market or local nutrition store, or even at the corner grocery. With a little creative use of your dollar, you can enjoy the best foods while getting the most "bang for your buck".
Below are ten excellent, nutrient-packed food choices that you can still find for around $1 per serving.
1. Two Cage Free Organic Eggs: $0.84
Eggs can be one of the most healthful foods in the world. However, not all eggs are equal. There is mounting evidence of a monumental nutritional difference between true free-ranging chicken eggs and commercially farmed eggs. This is a result of the diets eaten by the two groups of chickens.[iv]
Commercially farmed hens subsist mostly on corn, soy and cottonseed whereas hens that forage in a pasture for seeds, green plants, insects and worms receive a smorgasbord of other nutrients. Remember: garbage in, garbage out. It applies equally to hens, cattle, and people.
Don't be fooled by the egg industry's double-speak definitions of what free-range really means. The UDSA defines "free-range" as chickens that have "access to the outside". This does not specify whether the "outside" is a field for foraging or a cement courtyard and does not define their diets.
It is always best to obtain your eggs from a local farmer whose methods are known. To find free-range pasture farmers, ask your local health food store or refer to www.eatwild.com or www.localharvest.com. Many people are finding it rewarding to raise their own eggs. You can read about this at Mother Earth News.
If you must get your eggs from the grocery store, your best bet is to look for free-range organic.
Avoid all omega-3 eggs since they are actually less healthful for you. Typically, these hens are fed poor quality omega-3 fat sources that are already oxidized.
It is best to eat your eggs raw. Yes, you read that correctly. Raw.
Eggs are often one of the most allergenic foods, but this is because of the changes that take place in the cooking process. Eating eggs raw also helps preserve many of the highly perishable nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are powerful agents in preventing macular degeneration. Raw eggs are not a likely cause of salmonella poisoning. For more about this, read my 2002 article.
2. Raw Organic Milk, 8 oz: $0.62
Despite the bad press that raw milk has received, it is one of the best foods out there for nutrient value. The downside is that it remains a bit difficult to come by, depending on where you live. Not only does raw milk taste better than pasteurized milk, it contains more nutrients that are beneficial because they haven't been destroyed by heat.[v]
Why has the FDA selected raw milk as its whipping boy? The reason is likely far more political than nutritional. Just like the drug industry, the dairy industry has strong lobbying powers. And when I say "dairy industry", I'm not referring to the small farmer who provides your raw milk.
If raw milk really caught on, big commercial dairy farmers would have to clean up their acts -- raise healthier cows, provide pastures, etc. This would cost them a lot of money. So they use their substantial weight to shine raw milk in a negative light, making it appear as unappealing or dangerous as possible.
Raw milk is neither unappealing nor dangerous and is far better for you than pasteurized milk. Its popularity is growing all the time.[vi] To find a site near you, go to the Real Milk website. Not only does it give you links to raw milk farmers but also provides excellent information on the nutritional benefits of raw milk.
3. Raw Nuts and Seeds:
Sunflower seeds, raw, 1 oz. = $0.82
Mixed raw nuts, 1/2 oz. = $1.00
Nuts are a good substitute protein for meat, for those of you preferring a vegetarian diet, as long as they aren't eaten in excess. The reason for moderation is that, except for walnuts, almost all nuts are top heavy in omega-6 fats and can upset the omega 6/omega 3 ratio. The average American has an omega 6:3 ratio of 15:1. It should be 1:1. Therefore, any amount of omega-6 fat is not a good thing for most Americans.
You need to be cautious with the quantity of nuts you eat, especially if you have high levels of insulin. Nuts are not your best choice if you suffer from high blood pressure, excess weight, high cholesterol, or diabetes.
My favorite nuts are pecans, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. I normally avoid peanuts because they are one of the most pesticide-laden foods you can eat. Most peanuts are also contaminated with aflatoxin, a carcinogenic mold.
Seeds are similar to nuts in that they are relatively high in omega-6 fats. They have fewer carbohydrates than nuts, so they are a little less problematic. Two exceptions are flax seeds and chia seeds, which are higher in the desirable omega-3 fats.
The best way to obtain flax is not from the oil but to grind fresh flax seeds. A coffee grinder will do this very nicely. This way, you will also get the benefits from the lignin fiber in the seeds and obtain the freshest (i.e., least oxidized and damaged) fats.
To summarize then, raw nuts and seeds can be an economical, healthful addition to your diet if eaten in moderation, particularly walnuts, flax and chia seeds.
4. Berries: 1 cup fresh organic blueberries = $0.95
Berries are among the best fruits on the planet. Not only do they taste great, they are densely packed with a variety of potent phytochemicals that can do wonders to normalize and improve your health. They are high in fiber and low in sugar, so they won't cause drastic insulin swings if eaten in moderation.
The best way to eat berries is in their raw, natural state, since heating and freezing can damage some of the antioxidants. The different varieties of berries contain different types and levels of antioxidants, so berries have a range of health benefits.
Blueberries are one of the most powerful antioxidant-rich foods on the planet. Researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Center (HNRCA) have ranked blueberries #1 in antioxidant activity when compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables.[vii] One of the beneficial phytochemicals is anthocyanin, which is what gives blueberries their deep blue color. They also contain vitamins A and C, zinc, potassium, iron, calcium and magnesium.
Blueberries offer many health benefits, including protection against urinary tract infections, cancer, age-related health conditions and brain damage from strokes. The European blueberry, or bilberry, is known to prevent and even reverse macular degeneration.
Cranberries are also loaded with antioxidants and are famous for treating and preventing urinary tract infections. In addition, they offer protection against cancer, stroke and heart disease. Cranberries are rich in polyphenols, which might inhibit the growth of human breast cancer cells and reduce the risk of gum disease and stomach ulcers.
The best way to eat cranberries is to eat them raw and whole. Commercially prepared cranberry juice is loaded with sugar, which undoes any health benefits of the fruit. Whole, fresh cranberries are especially good when added to vegetable juice.
Strawberries came in second to blueberries in the USDA's analysis of antioxidant capacity of 40 common fruits and vegetables. They are rich in fiber, manganese, folic acid, potassium, and contain more vitamin C than any other berry. Among strawberries' antioxidants are anthocyanins and ellagic acid, a phytochemical that has been shown to fight carcinogens.
Raspberries are another one of nature's little health-packages. They are rich in anthocyanins and cancer-fighting phytochemicals such as ellagic, coumaric and ferulic acid. They contain calcium, vitamins A, C, E, fiber and folic acid. Raspberries are thought to offer protection against esophageal and other cancers.
As with all fruits, berries should be eaten in moderation and should be washed well before eating. Keep in mind that too many at one time can spike your insulin level.
5. Watermelon: One-pound slice = $0.59
On a hot, summer day, who can resist a big, juicy slice of watermelon at the family picnic? As it turns out, this universally loved melon has health benefits as well, and it won't break the bank.
Like berries, watermelon is loaded with phytochemicals, including lycopene, beta-carotene, and citrulline. When citrulline is consumed, it is converted to arginine. Arginine is an amino acid that has beneficial effects on the heart and circulatory system, as well as the immune system. Arginine boosts nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels, leading to another beneficial side benefit of watermelon ... a Viagra-like effect without the hazards of a toxic drug!
Watermelon -- an aphrodisiac? Who knew?
Arginine also helps the urea cycle by removing ammonia and other toxic compounds from your body.[viii]
6. Coconut Milk: 7 ounces = $0.98
Coconut is quite nutritious (unless your primary source is macaroons). The oil in coconut is one of the best oils for your body because of its medium chain fatty acids, or triglycerides (MCT's). MCT's have many health benefits, including raising your body's metabolism and fighting off pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Coconut milk is quite versatile -- ask anyone who has been doing vegetarian cooking for a while. It can be used as a milk substitute and is delicious in sauces and dressings, as well as baked goods. Coconut milk has been a staple in the Thai diet for centuries.
Coconut is nature's richest source of MCT outside of human breast milk. Coconut oil is very stable and does not oxidize and break down quickly like other oils, and it has a shelf life of more than two years. It is absolutely the best oil for cooking.
Your body needs fat but it needs the right kinds of fat to function optimally. Coconut fat is one of those fats. People have actually lost weight by incorporating coconut into their diets. This is because the MCTs promote thermogenesis, increasing your body's metabolism, producing energy. Coconut has also been found to be helpful to thyroid function, as well as digestion.[ix]
Fresh coconut is delicious although a little difficult to find sometimes, but there are now some good canned coconut varieties available. More and more research is emerging all the time about the health benefits of coconut.
7. Spinach: 5 oz. fresh organic spinach = $0.95
Popeye was correct. Spinach is extremely good for you! Regardless of your nutritional type, eating more vegetables is recommended for everyone. Spinach is high in antioxidants and has a very high ORAC score. ORAC is Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, which is a measurement of a food's ability to destroy the free radicals that cause your body damage.
The higher the ORAC score, the better a food is for you. Your own body's ORAC can also be measured as an indication of how many antioxidants you have working for you.
Spinach's ORAC score is surpassed only by prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and kale. Of course, you should not overdo fruits due to the high carbohydrate content, but there is no such risk of eating too many leafy greens. Some research has shown that it might be the "brain food" needed to help avoid memory loss and Alzheimer's disease.
In one study, women given 10 ounces of fresh, raw spinach saw their ORAC score go up more than when they took 1,250 mg of vitamin C daily. In a study involving rats, a daily serving of spinach prevented the memory loss and slowdown in learning capacity usually seen as the animals age. Rats given spinach or vitamin E from the age of six months were less likely to forget where things were as they got older than rats given nothing extra, or rats that got strawberries.
Spinach is also rich in folic acid, which can help lower blood pressure. In addition, it is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which can lower the risk for age-related macular degeneration.
8. Garlic: 2 cloves = $0.05
Whether you are dodging vampires, hypertension or cancer, garlic should be on your menu daily. Garlic boosts your body's natural abilities to protect you from hypertension and osteoporosis, and research is mounting that it decreases your risk for various forms of cancer. It is a potent antimicrobial as well, working as a natural antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, antiparasitic agent.[x]
Garlic's main active ingredient is allicin, but this agent vanishes about an hour after you cut into it. This is why you must eat garlic fresh! You can't swallow cloves whole -- they must be crushed first. Taking a garlic pill is a waste of time.
You can add 1-2 cloves to your vegetable juice to cut down on the pungent taste. The chlorophyll in the juice also tends to cut down on the potentially offensive garlic odor.
9. Wild Rice: One serving = $0.99
Contrary to its name, wild rice is not a rice at all but a grass. Wild rice is really the annual aquatic seed Zizania aquatica, mostly found in the upper freshwater lakes of Canada, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Wild rice towers over other grains when it comes to nutritional content. It is higher in protein, fiber, minerals, B vitamins, folic acid, and complex carbohydrates. It is particularly rich in niacin, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. If you are going to choose a grain, you just can't do better than this.
This versatile grain can be used to make a pilaf, a breakfast "cereal," stuffed into a bell pepper or a tomato, or tossed with fruit and nuts and made into a salad.
10. Krill Oil: Two capsules = $0.84
There was a time when I would have placed fish on this list as one of the top ten foods, but unfortunately, today, the dangers of eating fish outweigh the benefits due to the toxic mercury levels they now contain, with very few exceptions. Fortunately, I have discovered a cost effective way for you to receive all of the benefits of fish without the danger of heavy metal contamination.
Antarctic krill oil is a pure marine oil loaded with powerful antioxidants and essential omega-3 oils, with NO heavy metal contamination. Krill are small shrimp or prawn-like creatures that feed the world's most mammoth animals—the great whales. Toothless great whales gulp down huge quantities of krill to provide the energy they need to fuel their massive bulk. A blue whale eats up to 8,000 pounds of krill each day!
There are many ways krill oil can help you. These are just a few:
A healthy heart
Supporting your brain and nervous system
Stabilizing your cholesterol levels
Optimizing your mood
Keeping your skin healthy
This unusual oil boasts a very comprehensive set of necessary antioxidants not seen in fish or cod liver oil, and it is stable and well absorbed with a good deal of research to back it up. Generally, I am not a huge fan of supplements, but this is one important exception.
I hope that you have found these suggestions helpful in making the most of your food dollar in these economically challenging times. I am sure you will come up with many other excellent ideas as you become familiar with your local farmers market and nutrition stores. It might take a little more effort, but I am confident you will discover ways to eat within your budget, without having to sacrifice your health.
[i] USDA Economic Research Service: Briefing Rooms, Food CPI, prices, and expenditures, http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/CPIFoodAndExpenditures/ (Accessed July 28, 2008)
[ii] The Guardian July 4, 2008, Aditya Chakrabortty, Special report: Biofuel caused food crisis: Internal World Bank study delivers blow to plant energy drive, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jul/03/biofuels.renewableenergy (Accessed July 28, 2008)
[iii] Bloomberg.com, July 23, 2008, John F. Wasik, Forget the ethanol myth—Avoid biofuel bubble, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jul/03/biofuels.renewableenergy (Accessed July 28, 2008)
[iv] Mercola.com, November 8, 2007, What are the best type of eggs to get? http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2007/11/08/what-are-the-best-type-of-eggs-to-get.aspx
[v] Mercola.com, September 7, 2006, The "experts" are wrong about raw milk, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2006/09/07/the-expert-are-wrong-about-raw-milk.aspx
[vi] Mercola.com, May 1, 2008, Demand for raw milk continues to grow, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/05/01/demand-for-raw-milk-continues-to-grow.aspx
[vii] Mercola.com, September 24, 2003, Berries—the best overall fruits for your health, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2003/09/24/berries-health.aspx
[viii] Science Blog, Watermelon may have Viagra-effect, http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/watermelon-may-have-viagra-effect-16792.html (Accessed July 28, 2008)
[ix] Mercola.com, Cherie Calbom, M.S. and Brian Shilhavy, How to help your thyroid with virgin coconut oil, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2003/11/08/thyroid-health-part-two.aspx
[x] Mercola.com, March 17, 2001, RAW garlic for parasites and viral infections, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2001/03/17/garlic-infections.aspx