11 Cheap Foods that are Surprisingly Good For You

Eating well and eating cheaply are seemingly contradictory goals for most people. But maintaining a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. In fact, some of the most nourishing foods for your body are also some of the most budget-friendly options available. So eating on a budget can be a picnic, if you know how to make the right choices. In this era of inflation, there remain relatively cheap foods that taste great, and are also nutritious.  

In this article, we’re about to delve into the world of nutrition and savings, uncovering eleven incredibly healthym cheap foods that not only contribute to your overall well-being but also prove that you don’t need to break the bank to fuel your body right. So, whether you’re a college student on a tight budget, a frugal family shopper, or simply looking to adopt a more economical approach to your diet, these wallet-friendly, nutrient-rich options are about to become your new favorites. Let’s dive in with our team’s personal favorite cheap foods that are surprisingly healthy!

These Healthy Foods Won’t Break Your Budget

1. “Balkan” or Asiago Cheese

    Why It’s Healthy

    Asiago Cheese, known also in some regions as “Balkan Cheese,” is a semi-hard cheese from cow’s milk. Like other saltier and firmer cheeses, asiago contains relatively little lactose, which makes it ideal for those with lactose intolerance. It’s a wonderful source of fatty protein, with moderate amounts of cholesterol and salt.

    Why It’s Tasty

    Asiago has a crumbly texture and lightly fermented flavor, making it a delightful addition to anything from a green salad, to an omelet. It’s also tasty on its own, as a snack between meals. I most especially enjoy it chopped and mixed into a salad of green peppers.

    Pro Tip

    In many regions such as the EU, only cheeses made in specific parts of the world can be labeled by name. For this reason, “Asiago” cheese is often more expensive than other nearly identical cheeses sold alongside it. While Asiago and “Balkan” cheese are not exactly the same thing, they are very similar, and one can be easily substituted for the other. Check the cheese section of your supermarket and see what’s available locally. We won’t tell the Italians!

    2. Oat Milk

    Made from straining the liquid out of oats, oat milk is what you get when you process oats into dry cereal. By putting oat milk on your oat cereal, you’re really just putting the milk back in! This is why making oat milk is also a viable option for fans of the taste.

    Why It’s Healthy

    Oat milk is vegan and contains no lactose, which is important if you’re lactose intolerant or sensitive, or allergic to almonds, soy, or coconut. Unlike soy, it doesn’t contain any estrogenic hormones, and personally I prefer the texture and taste to soy milk. Oat milk is also said to boost immunity, with plenty of vitamins A and D. Even better, its high content of beta glucan helps your body reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the food you eat.  

    Why It’s Tasty

    Oat milk is just yummy! It has a slightly sweet flavor, and can easily be enhanced with a dash of cinnamon or a bit of sugar. It can also be used to substitute for regular milk in desserts like pudding or homemade ice cream and milkshakes. Unlike soy or almond milk, which tend to be silkier, oat milk has a more watery texture, which is nice in foods like cereal and fruit cocktails. 

    3. Miso Soup

    Miso soup is an absolutely ubiquitous dish in modern Japanese culture, enjoyed by many in Japan and throughout East Asia every day. There are also a zillion claimed health benefits, some of which are probably more credible than others. Plus, it just tastes good. I love me a bowl of warm miso soup! 

    Why It’s Healthy

    Made from fermented soybeans and other spices, Miso soup is known to contain probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that help your healthy gut flora to thrive and support health digestion. If you’ve ever noticed a reduction in stomach issues after eating at a Japanese restaurant, this may be the reason. 

    Miso is helpful for people suffering from irritable bowels, ulcerative colitis, or constipation. It contains proteins which can strengthen the bones, and it holds important amino acids which help with muscle growth. It’s believed by some to prevent cancer of the colon and digestive tract, and that it is a powerful antioxidant, which means it breaks down “free radicals,” which are oxygen-carrying molecules in the blood and guts that damage cells. 

    Why it’s a Little Overhyped

    Some of these claims aren’t necessarily supported by science — yet. Research has shown that miso has anti-cancer benefits in mice, but large scale human studies need to be done. It may also lower cholesterol by blocking the uptake of cholesterol in the stomach and gut. It’s even claimed that miso promotes the production of seratonin and melatonin, helping you relax and even sleep. Those same properties may also promote cardiovascular health.

    But again, some of these claims are circumstantial or have yielded some mixed results in the research. It’s not clear that miso has these properties for everyone. More study is needed, and you should talk to a nutritionist or doctor about the benefits of miso soup yourself. Some health experts argue that its more inflated health claims ignore the fact that miso soup is also typically high in sodium, which is not good for cardiovascular health. It also has some known estrogenic properties, which may be a problem for some people. It may also interact with medications that are absorbed in the stomach and gut, so should be used with appropriate caution. However, in moderation, it appears to be a healthy choice. 

    Why It’s Tasty

    Miso soup is just lovely, and it’s super easy to make. I buy miso paste at a local shops specializing in Asian cuisine, and I’ve learned it can be used in all sorts of soup recipes and other ways. I love its smooth, full bodied flavor and its salty rich aftertaste that always leaves me feeling satisfied no matter what else I’m eating. My favorite use is in a simple Korean dumpling soup, but I also will prepare it with nothing but a bit of seaweed and a few chopped green onions, providing both a healthy probiotic and a dose of iron. It can also be made with ramen, including instant ramen noodles if you’re in a hurry, or it can be used as a spice in many other non-soup dishes. 

    4. Pickle Juice

    Here’s an entry that will have 25% of the audience wreching at the thought of drinking the brine of of a jar of pickles, 25% of the audience cheering that they aren’t the only ones who love a salty cup of pickle water, and 50% of you, who are slightly disgusted… and slightly intrigued. 

    Well I’m here to tell you: pickle juice just may be the best kept secret of cheap and healthy eating. 

    Why It’s Healthy

    How could drinking essentially pickle flavored salt water be healthy you ask? Well, a few reasons. For one, pick juice is high in electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which may prevent muscle cramps, relieve headaches caused by exhaustion, dehydration, or excessive alcohol consumption (hangovers). It’s especially good on extremely hot days to replenish the body’s salts, which regular or filtered water can leach out of the blood stream even when you’re already low on electrolytes. 

    The vinegar content of pickle juice may also help you control your blood sugar, and improve insulin sensitivity in people with obesity and diabetes. If you have an issue with the late night munchies, a glass of pickle juice may help cut down on those cravings. It may also, like miso, promote better gut health thanks to its natural fermentation, if the pickle juice is unpasteurized. It is said to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, because it contains “flavonoids” like phenolic acids and lignans. 

    The Not So-Good Side

    Unsurprisingly, pickle juice is very high in salt, and this goes especially for commercially produced pickle juice, which often contains artificial sweeteners and added preservatives and more salt. That’s also why it can be so tasty and refreshing (to some people). In addition, it may contain enzymes harmful to the liver, and it could interact in unwanted ways with medications, so you’ll want to talk to your doctor about making it a regular part of your diet. 

    Why it’s Tasty

    Ok, hear me out: once you get used to the vinegary, tangy flavor of a glass of lukewarm pickle water… you won’t be able to get enough of it. I know I can’t. And while this may seem disgusting to some of you, I hope that it might have intrigued a few to give this salty delicacy a try. After all, it’s just going to waste if you’re too afraid to take a sip.

    5. Canned Tomatoes and Beans 

    The common wisdom is that processed and canned foods are unhealthy. And it’s true they’re usually less wholesome than their fresh alternatives. However, there’s something to be said for two exceptional canned goods: beans and tomatoes. 

    Why It’s Healthy

    Unlike a lot of preserved foods, canned beans and tomatoes retain most of their nutritional benefits even after being canned. These include macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates and fats. They also contain iron, folate, vitamin C, Vitamin A, and potassium. Vitamin C may be lower in canned versions, but vitamin A and E may be higher. 

    Canned beans and tomatoes also contain plenty of amino acids, like leucine, whic his important for muscle development – particularly of the heart muscles. Like pickle juice and miso, it contains lignans and phenolic acids, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, making it good for those with problems like arthritis and diabetes. The vinegar content can also help control blood sugar levels and improve gut health. 

    Why It’s Tasty 

    Aside from convenience and low cost, I personally enjoy the taste of a nice canned bean, particularly in tomato sauce, or black or refried beans, which are often quite tasty when canned. They’re also much easier and faster to cook with than fresh beans and tomatoes, which is a help in the kitchen if you’re in a hurry. 

    6. Sweet potatoes

    Why It’s Healthy

    Sweet potatoes are like little bundles of goodness that come with a bunch of health benefits and won’t break the bank. They’re loaded with all sorts of important stuff your body loves, like vitamins A, C, and B vitamins, along with minerals like potassium and manganese. Plus, they’re bursting with antioxidants, especially beta-carotene, which gives them that gorgeous orange color.

    Sweet potatoes are also your tummy’s best friend because they’re full of dietary fiber. Fiber helps your digestion, keeps you feeling full, and plays nice with your blood sugar levels. It’s also a superhero for your heart health and can help keep nasty chronic diseases at bay.

    The carbs in sweet potatoes are complex carbs, which means your body takes its sweet time to absorb them. This helps keep your blood sugar steady and gives you a nice, steady stream of energy.

    Why It’s Tasty

    Sweet potatoes are like a flavor party in your mouth. They’ve got this natural sweetness that’s just perfect, not too sugary but enough to satisfy your taste buds. It’s like having a hint of dessert with your meal. 

    They’re not only delicious but also versatile. You can cook them up in so many ways – bake, boil, mash, fry, you name it – and they’re always ready to rock your plate. 

    Plus, sweet potatoes won’t make your wallet cry. They’re kind to your budget while still offering a load of nutrition. 

    7. Brown Rice 

    Why It’s Healthy

    Brown rice is like a treasure trove of nutrients. It’s loaded with vitamins like B6 and minerals like magnesium and phosphorus. These little gems play a role in keeping your bones strong, your energy levels up, and your body functioning at its best. And they’re loaded with fiber. Fiber is like the superhero of good digestion. With its high fiber content, brown rice keeps things moving smoothly in your digestive system and can help prevent constipation.

    When you think of protein, you probably have chicken or eggs in mind. But brown rice is a real protein kick: Unlike its white brother, it brings some protein power to your plate, making it a great choice to keep your muscles, hair, and nails happy and healthy.

    Why It’s Tasty

    Now let’s talk taste. Brown rice is like a satisfying party in your mouth. It has a nuttier, earthier flavor compared to white rice, which adds a whole new dimension to your meals. Plus, the slightly chewy texture is like a delightful surprise with every bite. Whether you’re whipping up a stir-fry, crafting a salad, or creating a comforting bowl, brown rice is your culinary best friend. It adapts to any cuisine and pairs well with an array of flavors and ingredients.

    8. Dried Lentils 

    Why It’s Healthy

    Dried lentils are like little nuggets of nutrition. They’re packed with protein, dietary fiber, vitamins (like folate and B vitamins), and minerals (such as iron and magnesium). This nutrient combo is like a food superhero that supports your overall health. 

    The carbohydrates in lentils are complex carbs – the good kind that release energy slowly. This steady energy release keeps you feeling full and energized for longer, making them a fantastic choice for sustained energy throughout the day. If you’re watching your weight, dried lentils are your allies as they’re naturally low in fat and calories, so you can enjoy a satisfying meal without worrying about overindulging.

    Why It’s Tasty 

    Dried lentils bring this wonderful earthy flavor to your dishes. This earthiness adds depth and richness to your meals, making them feel grounded and satisfying. If you pay attention, you’ll also notice a subtle nutty undertone. It’s like a hidden gem of flavor that gives your dishes a pleasant surprise. This nuttiness pairs beautifully with a variety of other ingredients, creating harmonious taste profiles.

    You can use dried lentils in a wide variety of dishes, from soups and stews to salads and curries. They soak up the spices and seasonings you cook them with, creating dishes bursting with deliciousness. They can turn even the simplest ingredients into a taste sensation.

    Plus, they have this fantastic texture – they’re soft yet have a slight bite. This textural contrast is like a party for your palate, adding a fun element to your meals.

    9. Bananas 

    Why It’s Healthy 

    Bananss are rich in essential nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium. These nutrients play a key role in supporting your immune system, nerve function, and overall well-being. It’s potassium, a mineral, helps regulate blood pressure and maintain a healthy heart rhythm, reducing the risk of cardiovascular issues.

    But bananas aren’t just good for your physical well-being. They also contain a substance called tryptophan, which your body converts into serotonin – a neurotransmitter that’s often referred to as the “feel-good hormone.” So, eating bananas can actually contribute to improving your mood and reducing stress. And they’re proper brain fuel. The vitamin B6 in bananas supports cognitive function, helping you stay sharp and focused. This makes bananas a great choice for a quick snack before a study session or important task.

    Why It’s Tasty

    Bananas are like a gift for your sweet tooth. They offer natural sweetness without the added sugars that can be found in processed snacks and desserts – a perfect guilt-free treat.

    As they add a naturally sweet and creamy touch to any dish, you can blend them into smoothies, slice them onto cereal, or use them in baking. Bananas are real versatile stars.

    Plus, kids LOVE bananas. The fun shape, natural sweetness, and easy-to-eat nature make them a hit with little ones. They are every parent’s secret weapon to get kids to eat more fruit.

    10. Frozen Berries 

    Why It’s Healthy 

    Berries are loaded with vitamin C, which is an immune system superhero. It helps your body fight off infections and keeps you feeling your best. Frozen berries retain their antioxidant content. These antioxidants protect your cells from damage, support healthy aging, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

    And that’s not all. Frozen berries are rich in dietary fiber, which is good digestion. Fiber helps keep your digestive system moving smoothly and can even support weight management. That’s also because they’re low in calories, making them a satisfying option for those watching their calorie intake.

    Why It’s Tasty 

    The natural sugars in frozen berries are a guilt-free treat for your sweet tooth. They provide a satisfying sweetness without the need for added sugars. They’re ready to use whenever you need them – no washing, peeling, or chopping required. This convenience can save you time in the kitchen.

    Whether you’re adding them to a smoothie or simply snacking on them, the frozen quality of these berries adds a refreshing and invigorating element to your culinary experience – in taste and appearance. The rich colors of frozen berries are almost like edible art as they add a pop of vibrancy to your dishes, making them visually appealing and enticing.

    11. Canned Fish 

    Why It’s Healthy 

    When you crack open a can of fish, you’re not just enjoying a tasty meal – you’re treating your body to a wealth of nutrients that promote good health. Canned fish is an excellent source of high-quality protein that your body needs for building and repairing tissues, including muscles, skin, and even enzymes.

    Fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These are like brain and heart boosters. They support cognitive function and even help reduce inflammation in the body. The omega-3s in canned fish can also lower triglyceride levels, reduce the risk of irregular heartbeats, and even improve blood vessel function, promoting cardiovascular health.

    Did you know fish is also a vitamin D Boost? Yup, certain canned fish varieties contain vitamin D, which is essential for bone health, immune function, and overall well-being. It’s like a sunny dose of goodness.

    Why It’s Tasty 

    The taste of canned fish is a savory delight. It has a rich, satisfying flavor that can instantly elevate a simple dish into something special. It pairs well with a variety of ingredients. From tangy sauces to fresh herbs, its taste complements a range of flavors. You can use it in so many dishes – from salads and sandwiches to pasta and rice bowls.

    Plus, canned fish is like a mealtime lifesaver. It’s quick, easy, and ready to eat, making it perfect for busy days when you need a nutritious meal on the go.

    The Bottom Line

    As we conclude our journey through these eleven affordable and nutritious food options, it becomes evident that prioritizing your health doesn’t mean draining your wallet.

    From the creamy satisfaction of Balkan cheese to the versatile goodness of sweet potatoes, and the convenience of canned beans to the immune-boosting properties of miso soup, these selections showcase that wellness and budget-consciousness can harmoniously coexist in your kitchen.

    With pantry staples like brown rice and canned tomatoes, as well as protein-packed heroes like lentils and canned fish, your meals can be both satisfying and economical.

    And let’s not forget the fruity delights of bananas and frozen berries, along with the dairy alternative oat milk, which prove that nourishing snacks can be as affordable as they are delicious.

    So, embrace these wallet-friendly choices and empower yourself to make health-conscious decisions without compromising on flavor, variety, or your hard-earned dollars.

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