While it's important to recognize that eating healthy doesn't have to break the bank, sometimes it's worth it to spend a little more. Registered dietitians Kristin Kirkpatrick and Bonnie Taub-Dix -- both U.S. News bloggers -- explain which foods are worth spending extra money on. "We have to think about nutrient density and getting the most amount of nutrients for our dollar, and if we think in that term, it would completely change the structure on how we spend our money on food," Kirkpatrick says. The key is to learn which foods are worth the splurge.
While there may be a significant price difference, buying wild fish versus farm fish is worth the extra cost. "You'll probably get more omega-3 if you eat a piece of fish that is wild versus farmed," Kirkpatrick says. "It probably wouldn't have any food coloring." Wild fish is almost always leaner than farmed fish, with fewer calories and lower fat content. In addition to greater nutritional value, eating wild fish also helps avoid persistent organic pollutants -- which have been linked to Type 2 diabetesand obesity. According to Kirkpatrick, the levels of PCP -- one type of POP -- are five to 10 times higher in farmed fish than wild fish. Antibiotics and unsafe contaminants are also avoided by eating wild fish, so the few extra dollars are worth the splurge.
BPA-free canned goods
While many people know the dangers of bisphenol A in water bottles and other plastics, many fail to recognize that BPA exists in food cans and packaging. According to Kirkpatrick, buying BPA-free canned vegetables and sauces is worth the cost to avoid harmful chemicals. Many of these contaminants are thought to negatively affect behavior and brain activity in fetuses, infants and children. "We know that BPA can seep into food or beverages, and there is concern that exposure to BPA can affect parts of the body such as the brain," she says.
Organic dirty dozen produce
Kirkpatrick and Taub-Dix agree that one of the greatest problems in American nutrition is a lack of produce consumption -- and one misconception is the idea that people should always eat organic. Both suggest sticking to the Dirty Dozen, a list produced annually by the Environmental Working Group that includes the fruits and vegetables most likely to be exposed to or absorb pesticides and herbicides. If you're going to buy something organic, make sure it's on the list. "My apples are always organic, and my peaches and nectarines are always organic," Taub-Dix says. And remember: Regardless of whether you buy organic, your grocery cart should always consist of 25 percent produce.
High-quality olive oil and vinegar
High-quality olive oils and vinegars may be three to four times more expensive compared to the salad dressings at your local grocery store, but buying a quality oil and vinegar pair could significantly impact your diet. "A lot of times, if people do eat greens and vegetables, they're drowning it in a fat-free dressing -- which is nothing but sugar or a creamy dressing, which is nothing but fat," Kirkpatrick says. "They're taking something really healthy and making it really unhealthy by what they're putting on it." By purchasing a fresh but delicious set of oil and vinegar, you avoid unhealthy salad dressings and will likely find yourself eating more greens. "I've seen it with my own family," Kirkpatrick says.
If you want something sweet after dinner, the best and most nutritious option is dark chocolate. While a quality dark chocolate is more expensive than the traditional milk chocolate, the health benefits are incomparable. "Dark chocolate is very high in flavonoids," Kirkpatrick says. "There have been a lot of studies linking dark chocolate to a decrease in heart disease." Studies also link dark chocolate to better stress management, and when portion controlled, the few extra calories are worth the nutritional value.
Whole-grain bread, pastas and rice
While whole-grain bread may be around 80 cents more per loaf than the white alternative, the nutritional value is worth it. Same goes for pastas, rice or tortillas. It's best to buy whole grain as much as possible. "Whole grains help in the prevention of colon cancer and the prevention of obesity and diabetes," Kirkpatrick says. "There are so many benefits to whole grain consumption." White breads and pastas, on the other hand, are refined, which translates to fewer health benefits. When it doubt, choose whole grain.