Counting your pennies? Trying to feed your family in an economic slump and every single dime counts? In no particular order, here’s my top ten nutritional powerhouses that won’t break the bank. Believe me: they’ve made a steady and regular appearance at our table the last few weeks.
1. Eggs from Pasture-fed Hens
Selling anywhere from $1 to $6 a dozen, truly farm fresh eggs from hens fed on pasture makes for a remarkably inexpensive, but nourishing food. Produced by hens who are allowed to freely wander the farm, foraging for their natural diet of grubs, bugs, worms and sprouts, pastured eggs offer a much different, healthier nutrient-profile than eggs from conventional, battery-cage hens. Sadly, 98% of the world’s eggs are produced from battery cage operations.
Eggs from pasture-fed hens offer a higher omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin A and vitamin E content than eggs produced from caged or so-called “free range” hens. Further, farm fresh eggs are a remarkable source of high quality fat, cholesterol which is essential for cognitive function, protein and flavor. Plus the humble egg’s high choline content offers anti-inflammatory properties.
2. Cod Liver Oil
I know, I know. Even the sounds, when rolled off the tongue, make many of us squirm. Cod Liver Oil. It sounds like a punishment, doesn’t it?
Cod Liver Oil, while not a feature on anyone’s dinner table, is a profound source of fat soluble vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids – nutrients that are severely lacking in the standard American diet. Cod liver oil packs in vitamin A in a form that is more readily absorbed than beta-carotene, vitamin D, DHA and EPA. (Here’s just one reason why Vitamin A is so important: Vitamin A & Cleft Palate).
A bottle of cod liver oil will run you anywhere from $8 to over $40 depending on the size and quality. Remember, look for a cod liver oil without added synthetic vitamins and buy it in the liquid form instead of capsules. It is an excellent, natural supplement that can provide a nutritional boost to a healthy diet. You can purchase some cod liver oil here.
3. Liver from Grass-finished Animals
First cod liver oil and now liver? Yeah, I see your grimaces even as I type this list. And, yes, you better believe I still struggle with this one: organ meat. It is not for the faint of palate – and virtually everyone who’s been raised on the standard American diet is faint of palate. Still, our modern reliance on muscle meat is not in keeping with our ancestors’ views on using and eating the whole animal.
Liver is exceptionally nutrient-dense and therefore remarkably valuable for everyone – and particularly so for those who are on their road to recovery from poor eating habits or who suffer from poor health. It is remarkably rich in vitamin B12, vitamin A, copper, folate, riboflavin, selenium and zinc – all of which play a critical role in health and wellness. Further, vitamin A and folate are critical to a preconception diet for couples who are looking to conceive.
Liver from grass-finished animals sells for as little as $3 – $8 per pound depending on your market; however, if you get to know your rancher you might be able to pick up liver as well as other oft-discarded organ meats for free.
4. Sardines & Anchovies
Both sardines and anchovies are inexpensive whole foods. While their strong flavor may take some getting used to, it’s important to note that many wholesome, healthy foods are strongly flavored. Those are the nutrients you’re tasting!
Sardines and anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and good sources of nutrients like selenium which is good for hair, skin and nails as well as calcium, niacin, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin K and vitamin E. Sardines and anchovies, like most ocean-going fish, are strongly anti-inflammatory.
Purchase wild-caught fish packed in extra virgin olive oil rather than soybean oil. Sardines and anchovies sell around $1.99 per tin. If you’re a die-hard anchovy lover like me or you just want to try them out, check out this recipe for Anchovy Toasts.
5. Winter Squash
Rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and folate, winter squash provides a variety of critical nutrients for very little money. Indeed, organic winter squash will sell for as little as $1 per pound. Winter squash, with its dark orange hue is an excellent source of beta-cryptoxanthi, a carotenoid that is proven effective in the prevention of cancer.
Winter squash is exceptionally versatile and suited to a myriad of culinary purposes: soups, casseroles, gratins, roast vegetable dishes and, of course, pumpkin pie.
Organic oranges sell for as little as $1 per pound when purchased in season. Packed with vitamin C and dietary fiber, they’re both nutritious and appetizing. Oranges are also good sources of folate and thiamine – both of which are critical in the maternal diet. Vitamin C is critical to proper immune function. Further, vitamin C is also a very powerful antioxidant and some research indicates it may prove effective in the prevention of cancer – particularly colon cancer.
Much of an orange’s nutrients reside in the skin that is too-often discarded rather than put to good use. Dried orange peels can add excellent flavor to both savory and sweet dishes.
Kale is a leafy green vegetable that can be eaten raw when young, but is also good steamed, sauteed or added to soups. An exceptionally good source of beta-carotene, vitamin K and manganese, it makes for a nourishing, inexpensive addition to meals. By some estimates, leafy greens like kale and animal foods comprised the bulk of the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Leafy greens are, essentially, the foods that nourished us throughout our evolution.
Most kale can be purchased in season for as little as $1-2 a bunch. Take care in serving kale to your family as it has a high oxalic acid content which is mitigated to some degree by cooking. Most people with healthy intestinal flora will be able to eat kale – raw or cooked – without concern; however, people suffering from mineral deficiency might do well to limit kale or at least cook it. Check out this recipe for kale and white bean soup – it’s tasty and super cheap.
8. Real Sauerkraut
Real sauerkraut is inexpensive to make, lasts a very long time and is rich in vitamins and probiotics. You can purchase heads of organic cabbage for as little as $0.75 per pound, and process the sauerkraut yourself using Celtic sea salt or real salt which increases the mineral content of the sauerkraut. Further, because it is a raw, living food its vitamin C content remains better intact than in cooked cabbage. Cabbage that undergoes fermentation as in the case of sauerkraut and kimchi produces isothiocynates which are powerful cancer fighters, and the beneficial bacteria present in naturally fermented sauerkraut increases intestinal health and assists with proper immune function.
Want to make your own sauerkraut? Check out this recipe for naturally fermented sauerkraut.
Betacyanin is the component that makes beets both vibrantly colorful and remarkably healthful. This naturally occurring pigment is a potent cancer fighter and coupled with other nutrients like folate, potassium and manganese, makes the homely beet a nutritional powerhouse. Beets are showing promise in the fight against cardiovascular disease, cancer and hyperlipidemia. Plus, they’re cheap! A bunch of organic beets will usually run between $2 and $4.99. Check out these beet recipes (Roasted Baby Beets and Chioggia Beets with Citrus Glaze).
10. Bone Broth
Now, I’ve detailed the benefits of bone broth before, but let me outline them again. Bone broth is one of the most valuable sources of hard-to-get nutrients and it should be consumed frequently, if not every day. Exceptionally rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, bone broth is a valuable, nutrient-dense addition to the diet. Bone broth is also an excellent source of gelatin and glucosamin-chondroitin – nutrients essential for joint health.
Just as with liver, bones are often discarded at slaughter and can be purchased inexpensively for under $2 per pound. However, by getting to know your rancher and regularly purchasing farm-direct, it’s likely you can pick up bones as free gift for your patronage. Beyond that, carcasses from roast chickens and turkey make excellent broth (see the roast chicken stock recipe here).
So that’s my top ten list! What are your favorite, frugal, nutrient-rich foods?