Healthy food does not always require shelling out that extra money. Read ahead for budget-friendly foods that boost health yet can be found easily in your kitchen
Believe it or not, frozen certainly doesn’t have to mean unhealthy. The trick here is to think less frozen pizzas, chips and ready meals and more nutrient-rich frozen peas, sweetcorn, spinach, okra – well, any vegetable really!
Far from the common misconception that frozen veggies have less nutritional value than the fresh stuff, most are frozen only a short time after being picked, which locks in the goodness, rather than some supposedly fresh produce that is transported halfway around the world only to sit on a supermarket shelf for weeks on end before finally finding its way on to your plate.
And with the added bonus that frozen vegetables are generally cheaper than fresh, a trip to the frozen isle gets you much more bang for your buck.
With a whole host of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, boosting memory and reducing risk of colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, you’d think that bananas would be highly prized ingredients eaten only by the elite, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. With an average price of just Dh10 per kilo, you can buy a big bunch at the start of the week to see you through.
Great chopped over cereal, blitzed up into a smoothie or eaten on the go, just one of these potassium-rich superfoods in place of your usual mid-morning biscuit will keep you going right the way through to lunch.
Red meat? Healthy? Okay, the two terms don’t generally come hand in hand, but red meat is a great source of iron (which boosts the immune system), zinc (which supports reproductive health and fertility) and vitamin B12, which guards against a plethora of ailments from cardiovascular disease to cancer.
And not only that, topside is also one of the leanest and cheapest cuts of meat around. To make this bargain food go even further, pick up a family-sized roasting joint of topside for your Saturday evening dinner, then use the leftovers for sandwiches to take to work – the meat is so much tastier and healthier than any processed sandwich-filler and saves on pricey lunchtime hunger-busting purchases through the week.
Thrifty dieters have been championing tinned tuna for its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids for ages, but recent concerns over potentially high mercury levels (which can interfere with the brain, kidneys, liver and nervous system) have seen a move away from the previously undisputed king of canned food.
But there’s no doubt that the omega-3 in tuna is good for us, so people are now turning to a tiny fish that packs a big punch both in terms of health benefits and flavour – sardines.
Rich in omega-3 as well as vitamin D – which is essential for the body to absorb calcium, therefore strengthening bones and reducing the risk of brakes or fractures – sardines are also a bargain at around Dh5 per can.
Opt for sardines in spring water or brine rather than oil, and use them in salads or mixed with chilli, lime, tomato and onion for a flavoursome sandwich filling.
Know your onions
Either grown locally or imported from nearby India, which means the average price is usually well below Dh5 per kilo, red onions are perhaps the best-value fresh vegetables available in the UAE. With a low GI rating of just 10 (on the GI scale of one to 100), they help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, which in turn causes the body to store less fat and even helps to lower cholesterol.
Red onions also contain a very high level of antioxidant flavonoids, which help fight against cancer, but most of these are stored in the outer layers, so to maximize the health benefits, make sure not to over-peel.
Delicious fried until crispy in a little olive oil, as the base for a sauce or even raw in a fresh salad, red onions are a must-have healthy fridge-filler.
After taking their fair share of flack on account of their relatively high cholesterol content in recent years, many people are now starting to see eggs as the all-in-one superfood they really are.
Jam-packed with protein and a great source of all nine essential amino acids (vital for your body to be able to build and repair muscle tissue), eggs are nature’s pre-packed health supplements.
Best prepared boiled, poached or even in an omelette (and don’t believe they hype about egg-white-only omelettes – although they are lower in calories, most of the goodness in an egg comes in the yolk!) and at a bargain price of around only one or two dirhams per egg, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value superfood.
What not to eat: Cut out crisps
They might be full of flavour and have a satisfying crunch, but for crisps (or chips, if you prefer), that’s where the benefits end. With virtually nothing in the way of goodness and a frightening amount of fat and salt, if you were to eat one pack per day, it’d be the equivalent of glugging down five litres of cooking oil a year!
Instead of crisps, try raw vegetables. Local cucumbers and carrots can be bought from all major supermarkets very cheaply – less than Dh10 per kilo – and, when chopped up and seasoned with a few grinds of black pepper, provide just as much crunch and flavour (and far more vitamins) as those oil-soaked crisps. For more variety, try peppers, celery and even raw broccoli.