“Eating healthy costs more!” As a dietitian, this is a phrase I hear frequently. While there are many strategies to keep healthy eating affordable such as eating in season, keeping a well-stocked pantry and cooking in batches, a recent study took a new approach. The goal was to identify which vegetables provide the most nutrients per unit cost. Researchers used a measure of nutrient density called the Nutrient Rich Foods (NRF) index. The NRF is based on 9 nutrients to encourage (protein, fiber, vitamins A, C and E, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium) and 3 nutrients to limit (saturated fat, added sugar and sodium).
So where do we get the most bang for our buck? The highest NRF scores per dollar were for:
- sweet potatoes
- white potatoes
- tomato juices and soups
Wow! I love this study and list for many reasons.
- Storage. These veggies do not spoil quickly. These are things that can be stocked up on. Both white and sweet potatoes will keep for many weeks if kept in a cool, dark place (not the refrigerator though, it is too cold). Do not store them next to onions, as they will make each other spoil quickly. Carrots keep in the refrigerator for weeks. Canned (low-sodium) tomato juice and soup can last years in the pantry. Even broccoli keeps for weeks in the fridge. It is also a great candidate for the freezer.
- Potatoes. Potatoes get a bad rap, since they are usually seen in their sliced, diced and fried form. But the truth is in their plain state, they are full of fiber, potassium, a good source of vitamin C and even have absolutely no fat or sodium. How we prepare them is where we usually start down the path of nutrition destruction – but we don’t need to go there!
- Versatility. These are veggies that can be added to nearly anything. Breakfast (veggie scramble – white potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli), lunch (tomato soup), dinner (lasagna – tomato juice, carrots, broccoli; stir-fry – carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, white potatoes), cold days (chili – tomato juice, sweet potatoes), hot days (salad – carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes). They can be prepared in so many, healthy ways: roasted, grilled, steamed.
- Local. All of these things (ok, not tomato juice and soup) can be grown in this area. Broccoli in particular is a good candidate, as it loves cooler weather, has multiple harvests throughout the season, and is just as happy in a pot as in a p-patch plot.
Do you use these veggies regularly? What are your favorite recipes that include them?