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7 Superfood Swaps on a Shoestring Budget

Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, fresh organic blueberries, pomegranate seeds, quinoa and açai berry juice. All are amazing superfoods, right?

Yes . . . and they also are amazingly expensive. And for many of your clients, that part is not so super.

“Superfood” is a nontechnical term for health-boosting fare that packs a lot of nutritional punch. If you teach at an upscale club in a wealthy area, your clients may be able to easily afford the latest superfood recommendations, whatever the price. And certainly there is nothing wrong with a client of means trying out the latest “it” foods.

However, if you work at a modestly priced gym in a Midwestern suburb, for example, your clients are relatively likely to be limited in what they can afford. And even middle- and upper-class fitness clients may feel the recession-era squeeze and prefer budget-friendly nutrition options over trendy yet unattainable fare.

Indeed, 62% of shoppers believe it costs too much to eat healthfully (USDA 2013). To combat this trend, use these tips to teach cash-strapped clients how to optimize grocery store choices—whatever their budget.

“Heavily marketed products backed by health brands or ‘gurus’ can have everyone questioning their food and nutrition choices,” says Teri Mosey, a holistic nutrition and culinary consultant in New York City who holds advanced degrees in exercise physiology and nutrition. “These foods being advertised as superfoods are [simply] whole foods from nature that have been around for thousands of years. They are just getting their 10 minutes of fame.”

Here are some thrifty substitutions for hyped-but-pricey foods that frequently show up on “superfood” summaries.

  1. Instead of salmon. Try tuna for some good fats, says Jenna A. Bell, PhD, RD, senior vice president and director of nutrition for Pollock Communications in New York City. “Canned tuna in oil has 1 gram of saturated fat but also has 2.5 grams of unsaturated ‘good’ fat.”
    Water-packed tuna is low in calories while offering generous amounts of lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, selenium and vitamin D, says Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RND, FAAP, a senior advisor for healthcare solutions for the American Council on Exercise who is based in Carlsbad, California. Canned tuna counts toward the recommended minimum of two servings per week of fish, she adds.
  2. Instead of quinoa. Turn to barley, oats and brown rice, says Bell. “All three of these amazing grains are less expensive [than quinoa] and often sold in bulk. I love oats and barley because of their special fiber: beta glucan. It’s good for your heart, and new research shows that it helps you feel full longer so you’re less apt to overeat.”
  3. Instead of fresh berries. “Look for sales on store-brand frozen berries,” says Bell. “If you have a farmers’ market, see if berries are cheaper in season.” Or buy inexpensive bananas for your fruit fix; they are high in potassium, vitamin B6, fiber and vitamin C, adds Muth.
  4. Instead of kale. Choose another leafy green, such as mustard greens, collard, Swiss chard or turnip greens. “Kale used to be a deal, but with its popularity came a higher price tag,” says Bell. “Instead, keep your eye out for any dark-green leafy vegetable that your market has on sale.”
  5. Instead of “superfood” juices (acai, pomegranate, blueberry, etc.). Swap out sugar-filled juices (as well as sodas and sports drinks) for water, says Muth, and add some sliced oranges, lemons, cucumbers, watermelon or strawberries to the pitcher for flavor.
  6. Instead of almonds or walnuts. “For nuts, shop in bulk and pick a store brand,” says Bell. “Also, peanuts can be cheaper, and if they’re unsalted, they are a great nut pick.”
  7. Instead of “superfood” meats (bison, emu, grass-fed beef). Try affordable poultry, such as chicken breasts bought in bulk, says Muth. Or eat eggs, which are inexpensive yet protein-rich and high in heart- and brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, she adds. Alternative inexpensive proteins include cottage cheese, organ meats such as liver, cheap cuts of meat (cooked in a slow cooker to make them fork-tender) and tofu.
  8. Dried beans are also budget-friendly. With both protein and fiber, they can be added to soups, salads or almost any dish. Muth recommends black beans, which have three times more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty-acids than other legumes. She likes them simmered in a pot with onion and garlic for extra flavor.

To read more about incorporating affordable superfoods into your diet, please see “Supercheap Superfoods: Optimal Nutrition on a Shoestring Budget” in the online IDEA Library or in the June 2015 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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