A Doctor Dishes: Which ‘Superfoods’ Are Worth the Cost?
Most people you speak to these days are trying to stretch every dollar as far as possible—even the ones they spend buying apples and oranges.
Food prices are expected to increase yet again this year, and food manufacturers are making portions smaller without reducing prices. Not surprisingly, a recent Rasmussen poll found that 93% of adults report paying more for groceries now than they did a year ago.
So how can we supercharge our grocery dollars and get them to do overtime for us?
Yes, some foods are obviously a better nutritional deal than others (think apples vs. potato chips), but there’s another class of foods that blows the rest of the field away in terms of nutrients and health-protecting qualities: superfoods.
Superfoods can help prevent diabetes and heart disease, repair damage to your body’s cells and more. But before you go piling them into your cart, know that some “superfoods” are better nutritional bargains than others. As a doctor and a mom, I’ve sleuthed out which ones are worth the extra cost in terms of their long-term health benefits. Below is the scoop on which ones may help you age better, ward off cancer and more.
What to Know Before Buying Superfoods
Before we dive into what to buy, there are a few important things to remember about consuming these foods:
- Eating foods fresh and in their natural state, especially fruits and vegetables (rather than in pill or powder supplement form), usually allows us to absorb the greatest amount of their nutrients. The way a superfood is processed or cooked can significantly lower its antioxidant content.
- If the superfood can’t be eaten fresh, look for easy and appetizing recipes containing it. No matter how “super” a superfood may be, if you don’t know how to cook it, you’ll probably let it go to waste.
Are Superfoods ’Good Buys’ if I’m Shopping on a Budget?
|Superfood||Yes/No||Things to Consider|
These berries, when fresh, have one of the greatest antioxidant contents of any edible fruit, giving them one of the highest known ORAC scores.
|No||Unless you live in Brazil, you are likely getting expensive, processed Acai berries, whose ORAC score is greatly reduced. Much more cost-effective, filling and tastier options include blueberries, Concord grapes and black beans.|
Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, potassium, vitamin C and fiber. At about 80 calories a cup, they’re also easy on the waistline.
|Yes, when bought in season.||A 4 oz. container can cost anywhere from $1.49 to $6.00! To get them at the right price, buy these berries in season, and stock up and freeze them to avoid extreme price hikes out-of-season.|
Packed with cancer-fighting nutrients, broccoli is low in calories and high in fiber.
|Yes||Cheap, available year round and easy to prepare, this green power vegetable should be one of your staples.|
|Dried Gogi Berries|
Grown in China, gogi berries are touted for being highly nutritious and filled with antioxidants.
|No||Gogi berries are usually found in dried or powdered form. At $13 to $30/pound, Gogi berries are some of the most expensive dried fruits one can buy. We say stick with the fresh blueberries, which have an ORAC score significantly higher than that of fresh gogi berries.|
Rich in antioxidants, which promote eye health, and in choline, a nutrient thought to be essential to brain functioning, eggs are one superfood not to be missed.
|Yes||Eggs are cheap, low in calories (75 calories per egg), and packed with antioxidants, high-quality protein and vitamins. Also, eggs are one of the most versatile foods, and a multitude of delicious recipes call this superfood their main ingredient.|
|Extra Virgin Olive Oil|
All olive oils are high in heart-healthy monosaturated fats and are a ready source of vitamin E and antioxidants. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the least processed (no chemical or heat involved) form of all olive oils, and is therefore considered to be the healthiest.
|No||Exorbitantly priced and often erroneously or fraudulently labeled, “extra” virgin olive oil can stay off your grocery list. Stick with simple “virgin” olive oils.|
One kiwi has more vitamin C than an orange, is packed with potassium, and is delicious when ripe.
|Yes||This superfood is a great value, averages less than a dollar a pound and is so simple to eat—just halve and scoop with a teaspoon!|
Oatmeal has been proven to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and is an excellent source of dietary fiber.
|Yes||Oatmeal is inexpensive and easy to cook. While steel cut oats are less processed than traditional or quick-cooking rolled oats, both types of oatmeal products are essentially equivalent in terms of fiber and nutrient content, so go with whichever you find tastier and/or more convenient to prepare.|
Rich in a variety of antioxidants, this fruit juice may help fight against heart disease and cancer.
|No||At around $5-$7 per 16 oz., pomegranate juice is certainly not easy on the wallet and packs 278 calories. Consider substituting with antioxidant-rich, unsweetened cranberry juice instead. This super beverage averages $3-4 or less per 16 oz and has fewer calories than pomegranate juice. Additionally, cranberry juice is rich in vitamin C and has proven urinary tract infection-fighting properties. Be careful to avoid juice products that are labeled as punches, blends, cocktails, “drinks” or “beverages,” as these are unlikely to be 100% pure cranberry juice.|
Purple cabbage is packed with antioxidants and fiber, and is a rich source of vitamin K and fiber.
|Yes||Purple cabbage, also known as red cabbage, is inexpensive, readily available year round and can keep for up to two weeks when stored in your refrigerator’s crisper. Keep this superfood on hand to slice into your salad for extra crispness or to add some vibrant color to your next stir-fry.|
Quinoa is a whole grain that one would usually use as a white rice or brown rice substitute.
|Yes||Although it’s more expensive than both white and brown rice, quinoa should stay on your grocery list. Compared to brown rice, quinoa has about the same number of calories but is higher in both dietary fiber and protein—so much so that it can serve as a fine protein substitute. Furthermore, it is much easier and quicker to cook. And as for white rice, nutritionally, quinoa blows it away.|
A great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
|No||While salmon is a ready source of omega-3 fatty acids, it is a pricey one. Consider substituting canned salmon or sardines which are just as rich, if not richer, in omega-3 fatty acids and a lot less expensive. Also remember that cost-effective walnuts are a great source of the ALA type of omega-3 fatty acids, which should comprise two-thirds of our daily-recommended omega-3 fatty acid intake.|
Spirulina is a nutrient-dense, B12-packed blue-green algae, which is usually sold in powdered form. This supplement has been advertised as being cancer-fighting, immune-boosting and helpful for those wanting to lose weight.
|No||A pound of this superfood will run you around $30 to $40, and while the daily recommended dose of 10 grams is rich in vitamin K, folate, calcium and magnesium, you will actually find considerably higher amounts of the same nutrients in a salad-sized portion of fresh romaine lettuce. Plus, there is insufficient evidence to support the anti-cancer, immune-boosting and weight loss-enhancing claims that have been made about spirulina.|
One of the oldest known cultivated foods, sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, minerals and vitamins. They help curb one’s appetite by stabilizing the body’s blood sugar levels, and have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
|Yes||At $1-$1.50 per pound, sweet potatoes are a nutritional steal. The next time you plan to cook with regular potatoes, consider substituting them with this delicious superfood instead—your body will thank you!|
Dr. Radha Chaddah MD JD MPH earned her professional degrees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and at the Harvard School of Public Health and completed residency training in Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital/ Harvard University. She has practiced medicine in Boston and New York City, provided lectures on health and wellbeing to professional, academic, and public audiences in the U.S. and abroad, and currently lives in Beijing, China with her husband and two daughters.