Healthy food can be expensive, which can be frustrating when you’re trying to eat well and make positive lifestyle choices. Though, with that said, there are still plenty of highly nutritious, versatile foods that you can add to your diet without breaking the bank.
Here, we’ve put together a list of 11 nutrient-dense foods that cost £1 or less.
1. Canned chickpeas
Chickpeas may be small but they’re certainly mighty! Thought to originate in Asia and the Mediterranean, chickpeas’ rich fibre and protein content slows down digestion and keeps you fuller for longer. This can stabilise blood sugar levels, and contribute to weight loss and maintenance.
These nutty-tasting legumes are also an excellent source of manganese, which is a trace mineral needed for your brain, nervous system, and many of your body’s enzyme systems to function normally. They’re also high in vitamin B9 (folate) which is important for the growth and development of new cells, including red blood cells.
Studies have also linked chickpeas to a reduced risk of cancer. This is because when we eat them, our bodies create butyrate (a short-chain fatty acid), which has been found to kill sick and dying cells and lower the risk of colorectal cancer.
When buying canned chickpeas in water, it’s best to choose the option with the lowest amount of sodium and to rinse the chickpeas before adding them to your meals. For chickpea recipe ideas, why not check out this list from Bon Appetit?
2. Butternut squash
Butternut squash is one of the most popular and versatile winter squashes – not to mention one of the brightest!
A single cup of cubed butternut squash contains a healthy dose of filling fibre (6.6g) and only 82 calories. It’s also a helpful source of energy because it’s high in carbohydrates but has a low glycemic index (GI), meaning that it’s broken down slowly during digestion and doesn’t cause blood sugar levels to spike.
One serving of this cheerful vegetable also provides us with our entire recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin A, which is important for healthy vision and proper organ function.
Plus, it’s a brilliant source of powerful antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, and beta-carotene (which the body also converts into vitamin A). Studies suggest that these antioxidants could help to protect against heart disease, cancer, and mental decline.
Butternut squash is often a leading ingredient in recipes like soups, roast dinners, salads, and curries. Over on BBC Good Food, you’ll find everything from roasted squash with crushed pistachios to squash and lentil salad recipes.
The humble egg is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, with most of the good stuff being in the yolk. One large egg contains small amounts of almost every nutrient that the human body needs – particularly B-vitamins, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
These nutrients play a number of important roles in the body, such as supporting brain health, normal vision, and immunity, and breaking down and transporting nutrients. B vitamins are also thought to reduce stress and lower the risk of developing certain cancers.
If that wasn’t enough, eggs are also low in fat, high in protein, and incredibly versatile – they can be eaten in an endless variety of ways. To get inspired, you might want to check out our article; 10 quick and easy egg recipes.
You might also be interested in this information from Push Doctor (NHS) about eggs and cholesterol. Research shows that eggs can raise levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce the effects of LDL (bad) cholesterol on our bodies – which is contrary to the popular opinion that eggs raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
4. Greek yoghurt
If you eat dairy, Greek yoghurt is a handy food to keep in your fridge. It can be used to make sauces and dips, to add moisture to baked goods, or to enjoy as a tasty and filling dessert with fresh fruit and a dollop of honey.
As well as being high in protein, Greek yoghurt contains plenty of nutrients involved in bone health, including calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. As a result, research has linked yoghurt to increased bone mineral density, and a reduced risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia in older adults.
Greek yoghurt also contains probiotics (good bacteria) – which can support a healthy gut if consumed regularly – and is a useful source of iodine. Iodine is needed for thyroid, brain, and nervous system function; a healthy metabolism; and immunity.
To get the maximum nutritional benefits from Greek yoghurt, it’s best to buy unsweetened versions. Experts argue that eating moderate amounts of full-fat versions is healthier because they contain less sugar and leave you feeling fuller for longer.
Why not take a look at these 29 genius ways to eat Greek yoghurt from Tasty for inspiration?
This leafy green vegetable boasts some powerful health benefits. It comes in several different varieties (some with purple leaves) and can be eaten raw or lightly cooked.
Some of the top perks are the fact that kale is rich in vitamins C and E, and selenium, which support a healthy immune system. Kale’s vitamin K and calcium content play an important role in maintaining bone health.
Thanks to two phytonutrients, lutein and zeaxanthin, kale is great for our eyesight too. These substances support eye health and vision, and can reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Lutein is also thought to lower cholesterol in the body, and therefore reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
If you’d like to start adding more kale to your diet, check out these kale recipes from Olive.
6. Beef liver
Beef liver is often described as ‘nature’s most nutrient-dense superfood’, and the benefits of eating it are well documented. A 100g portion of beef liver provides a whopping 24.8g of protein and is rich in vitamins A, B12, and D, as well as copper, and iron.
We need iron to make haemoglobin – the protein in red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen around the body – yet iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. Oxygen gives us energy, so without enough cells to drive it around the body, fatigue, and eventually, anaemia, can follow.
Another thing that makes liver a powerhouse meat is that it contains nutrients in forms that are easily absorbed and used by the body, without the need to be converted first. For example, liver contains retinol, which is the ‘active’ form of vitamin A; and vitamin D3, which is the ‘active’ form of vitamin D.
Liver can be eaten with vegetables, on toast, or in a salad – for more ideas, check out these liver recipes from BBC Good Food.
Note: Because liver contains large amounts of nutrients like iron and vitamin A, eating too much can cause these nutrients to build up to unhealthy levels in the body. Therefore, the NHS recommends eating it only occasionally.
Potatoes have long been a popular staple in the human diet – and for good reason! Not only are they easy to grow but they’re high in fibre (especially pectin), keeping you fuller for longer.
Plus, they contain resistant starch, which is thought to be particularly beneficial for blood sugar control and gut health. One way to increase levels of resistant starch in potatoes is by boiling them, letting them cool, and storing them in the fridge before eating.
Potatoes are also low in fat and rich in antioxidants like vitamin C – which help to protect the body from harmful molecules – as well as vitamin B6, potassium, and choline. Vitamin B6 plays an important role in nerve function; potassium is a key player in regulating heart rhythm; and choline is a small compound involved in brain function, muscle contraction, and pain responses.
More good news is that potatoes are naturally gluten-free, so they’re a great choice for people who need to avoid gluten.
If you’re looking for new and interesting ways to jazz up your potatoes, take a look at these potato recipes from Delicious.
Blueberries are one of the original ‘superfoods’ and are well-known for their nutritional value. They’re low in calories and fat, and exceptionally high in antioxidants (scoring high in ORAC; an antioxidant analysis).
Therefore, blueberries can help the body fight off many different diseases and may help to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration. Two key antioxidants are ellagic acid and anthocyanidins, which are responsible for giving the berries their bluey-purple colour.
Studies have shown that anthocyanidins may also reduce arterial stiffness (which is associated with ageing) and support the health of blood vessels. And, due to their low glycemic index (GI), blueberries may help to improve insulin sensitivity and manage blood sugar levels.
You can eat blueberries as a snack on their own; sprinkle them on porridge, cereal, or yoghurt; or add them to baking recipes. For more ways to enjoy blueberries, why not check out these recipes from Reader’s Digest?
There’s plenty to love about the unassuming oat! It’s versatile, filling, and incredibly nutritious. In fact, research has revealed that people who eat oats and other whole grains foods may live longer and be less likely to suffer from heart disease.
Just half a cup of oats provides 64% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of manganese – which, as we’ve mentioned, is needed for the normal functioning of the brain, nervous system, and many of the body’s enzyme systems.
Other nutrients boasted by oats include phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and B vitamins (particularly B1)! They’re also high in a group of antioxidants called avenanthramides, which, according to research, may help to lower blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide production. Avenanthreamides are present almost exclusively in oats.
Another powerful benefit of oats is that they contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which is known to reduce total cholesterol levels, increase feelings of fullness, stabilise blood sugar levels, and boost the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
Many people are put off eating oats because they see them as dull and uninspiring, but there are plenty of ways you can make them more exciting. You could make pancakes or soak them overnight in milk. You can visit the BBC Good Food website for more ideas.
As well as making food taste amazing, garlic is a top contender in the world of superfoods. Related to the onion, garlic has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, due to its antibiotic, antifungal, and antiviral properties. These properties can be attributed to allicin – a sulfur-containing compound that gives garlic its strong smell and flavour.
What’s more, garlic is thought to act as an anticoagulant by making the cells involved in blood clotting (platelets) less likely to stick together and build up on artery walls. This can result in a reduced risk of heart attacks. Though research is still limited, scientists also believe that garlic’s sulphurous compounds may be able to block tumours and inhibit cancerous cells.
Additional studies have looked into the effect of garlic on bone health – both in female rodents and postmenopausal women – and the results suggest that garlic may increase estrogen levels and minimise bone loss. Other research suggests that garlic may offer some relief for symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Garlic can be added to lots of recipes to enhance flavour. But, if you’re interested in recipes where it takes more of a leading role, you might enjoy this list of delicious dishes from Olive.
Bananas are tasty, filling, and a great snack for when you feel low on energy.
While they’re a good source of natural sugar, bananas’ high fibre content slows down the digestion of that sugar for slow, steady energy release. And because they’re high in simple carbs and low in fat, for most people, ripe bananas are easy to digest.
Like potatoes, bananas also contain resistant starch and pectin – types of dietary fibre that support the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Bananas are rich in many vitamins and minerals but some of the most notable include vitamin B6, vitamin C, and potassium. A medium size banana contains roughly 0.4g of potassium, and research suggests that consuming 1.3-1.4g of potassium each day can lower the risk of heart disease by 26%.
If you fancy getting creative with how you include bananas in your diet, you might like to check out these healthy recipes from Tesco. If you have overripe bananas that you need to use up, it’s also worth having a look at these recipe ideas from Ambitious Kitchen.
Though healthy ingredients can be expensive, there are still plenty of foods you can buy to get more nutrition for your money – from the humble egg to the unassuming oat.
For more ways to eat well and save money, why not have a read our articles; 10 money-saving recipes made from leftover foods and 10 meals you can cook for under £3?
Are any of these foods a staple in your diet? Do you have any ideas for other nutrient-dense foods that cost £1 or less that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.