A balanced, healthy diet is the foundation of any serious athlete, functional fitness lover or health-minded individual. However, in this day and age, with our supermarket shelves becoming increasingly dominated by cheap, processed foods, maintaining a clean and healthy diet can often be tricky and expensive.
So if you are a broke college student like myself, trying to eat and train on a budget, it is important to know what essential grocery items will give you the best ‘bang for your buck’ while also providing you quality nutrition.
If you’re the kind of person who often wanders around aimlessly in supermarkets, not quite knowing where you should be looking, a good basic guideline is to to stick to the outside aisles (fresh meat, produce, and a few others).
In terms of specific items to buy, here are some of my suggestions for some cost-friendly and healthy food items you should be able to find at most supermarkets. Stick to these items and you will keep your fridge and wallet (or purse, or man-purse, if you’re into that) stocked:
Meat, meat and more meat – This should go without saying as quality lean meats should already be a staple of a healthy diet. Chicken, pork and beef are all great options and are loaded with protein. Red meats, although higher in fat, are also packed with protein and are a source of vitamin B12, iron and several other essential nutrients. While certain types of meat can be expensive, my advice is to buy in bulk or load up on the discounted, soon-to-expire meats that you can usually purchase at at considerable discount. If you do decide to go that way just ensure you throw what you don’t cook in the freezer. And remember, you don’t have to buy one of the best gas grills to be able to cook a mean steak!
Eggs – Easy to make and cost-effective, the nutritional benefits of eggs are just an added bonus. A healthy source of fat and high-quality protein, eggs will fill you up for as low at $1-3 per dozen.
Muesli – Muesli serves as a nutrient-dense antioxidant, fibre and carbohydrate source. It is also a healthier alternative to granola, which is typically baked in honey and oil. Be careful though, muesli can be high in calories and can sometimes come with high levels of added sugar. So when looking for a ‘clean’ brand of muesli, look for those which are un-roasted, low-sugar, low in saturated fat and without dried fruit. Extra kudos if you make your own homemade muesli!
Natural Peanut Butter – Like muesli, peanut butter is something that can become quite unhealthy if you select one with nasty additives like sugar and salt. As a rule of thumb, the fewer ingredients, the healthier! Peanut butter is both satiating and satisfying, and just like egg, it should fill you up fast due to its high protein and healthy fat (poly and monounsaturated) content making it a very healthy investment for just a few bucks per jar.
Carrots – Loaded with tons of vitamins and antioxidants (Vitamin A, carotenoids), carrots are a nutrient-rich source of carbohydrates (roughly 5-7 grams per carrot) and fibre that will only run you a couple bucks per kg. Easy to snack on and/or great to throw in a salad, carrots are an excellent choice.
Cauliflower – I know you’re thinking, “Ew, no way,” but if you pass up on this healthy veggie you are missing out on some big time health benefits as well as a delicious addition to any meal. Cauliflower is a super-veggie; it provides your body with much needed cardiovascular and digestive support, is loaded with B vitamins, antioxidants, and has detoxifying and anti-inflammatory properties! Yes, anti-inflammatory, meaning a quicker recovery and possibly a faster WOD time. All these benefits and more for just two to three dollars a head. In my opinion, raw cauliflower is far from appetising, but either bake, grill or throw a handful of florets in a stir-fry to release the flavour and serve as a delicious addition to any meal!
Onions – Another food item with too many health benefits to list, making these guys worth the tears! All you need to do is dish out a few dollars and your heart and joints will certainly be happy due to the cardiovascular support onions provide. On top of that they are another vegetable that has anti-inflammatory properties.
Kiwi – Digestive support, detox and disease prevention are just a few of the laundry list health benefits of this superfruit. Kiwis have nearly twice the amount of Vitamin C as oranges. This fruit will boost your immunity while also providing you with an excellent carbohydrate source that is low on the glycemic index.