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6 Healthy Foods that Are Easy on Your Wallet

By Suzy Buglewicz

These days it seems as if we're all trying to stretch our dollars, either by necessity or because we're becoming savvier about saving more and spending less. If you've been looking for ways to stretch your grocery budget without resorting to filling up on cheap, empty calories, read on. It's a myth that the healthiest foods are the most expensive. With a list and a plan, it is possible, and surprisingly simple, to eat healthily without blowing your budget or sacrificing those hard-earned P90X® or ChaLEAN Extreme® results. If you want to keep your wallet fat and your waistline trim, try to put more of these food items in your shopping cart the next time you're at the grocery store.

Piggy Bank with Shopping Cart and Fit Model

  1. Sweet potatoes. Also marketed as yams (which are actually a variety of the sweet potato), this versatile food is as nutritious as it is economical. Sweet potatoes are used in everything from baby food to main dishes to desserts.

    Why they're good for you: At about 140 calories each, sweet potatoes are filling, easy to cook, and loaded with vitamins A and C, iron, and thiamine. They, also contain beta-carotene, which may help reduce the risk of certain cancers. Sweet potatoes are also low in sodium and a good source of fiber.

    Best way to enjoy: Scrub and pierce the potatoes; you can bake them, microwave them, or cook them in boiling water. Use sweet potatoes in recipes in place of white potatoes. For a special treat (and an instant kid pleaser), you can add a small amount of butter and brown sugar to your potatoes.

  2. BeansBeans. Long regarded as one of the ultimate frugal foods, beans are as versatile as they are nutritious, with a variety of flavors, colors, and varieties to choose from. Stock up on the dried (and the cheapest) kind as well as the canned variety (still a bargain at less than $1 a can). You'll have tons of cheap, healthy meal possibilities.

    Why they're good for you: Beans are one of the best sources of dietary fiber, which can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Beans are also high in protein and low in calories, making them an ideal food choice for dieters.

    Best way to enjoy: Beans can be incorporated into almost any recipe or eaten alone. Try replacing beef with black beans in chili, soup, or your favorite Mexican food recipes. Eat beans hot or cold, alone, in salads, or with rice, for a high-protein, high-fiber meal.

  3. Brown rice. One bag of brown rice can provide as many as 20 servings. Brown rice can be combined with an assortment of other ingredients. Or simply enjoy it with your favorite seasonings. Brown rice has more flavor and nutrients than instant white rice.

    Why it's good for you: Brown rice is a great source of fiber, vitamin B, iron, manganese, and selenium, nutrients that are essential for boosting immune systems, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risks of heart disease and diabetes. Studies have shown that women who consume more whole grains like brown rice tend to weigh less than women who consume fewer whole grains.

    Best way to enjoy: Cook rice in water on the stove, in the microwave, or in a rice cooker, and enjoy it as a side dish or add it to soups, salads, and your favorite main dish recipes.

  4. EggsEggs. At about 75 calories each and less than $2 for a dozen, eggs contain 13 essential nutrients, making them a healthy bargain. And there's no need to avoid eating eggs for fear of consuming too much cholesterol. Research has shown that egg consumption contributes less than 1 percent to the risk of heart disease when other factors are considered.

    Why they're good for you: Eggs have a high proportion of nutrients to calories, which means that they help you stay full and energized while helping you maintain a healthy weight. Eggs are also an excellent source of folate; protein; lutein, which promotes eye health; and choline, which helps brain function.

    Best way to enjoy: Eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in bakes, in frittatas, as omelettes, or hard cooked.

  5. Pasta. Tasty, filling, and always an economical way to feed a crowd, what's not to love about pasta?

    Why it's good for you: Pasta is low in sodium and fat and high in complex carbohydrates, which helps you maintain a consistent energy level. Pasta is also fortified with folic acid, an essential nutrient, especially for women.

    Best way to enjoy: Pasta is easy to combine with other foods, including vegetables, meats, and your favorite sauces. For a healthier dish, toss cooked pasta with olive oil or a marinara sauce instead of a high-calorie Alfredo sauce.

  6. Frozen VegetablesFrozen vegetables. While fresh, raw vegetables (and fruits, for that matter) that are in season should always be a first choice, having a supply of frozen vegetables in the freezer is an inexpensive, nutritious, and versatile backup plan.

    Why they're good for you: Frozen vegetables retain almost all of their nutritional value, since they're picked and frozen while at their peak flavor. When the perishables in your refrigerator have, well, perished, it's easy to reach for a bag of frozen vegetables and add them to any meal.

    Best way to enjoy: Frozen vegetables have a high nutritional value. And they can be kept in the freezer and pulled out any time to toss in soups, stews, lasagna, or stir-fries, or they can be used as a side dish.

BONUS: Try these recipes for healthy, low-cost eating.

Three Bean Pasta

1 lb. farfalle (or other pasta), uncooked
1 15-oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen green beans, thawed
1 small red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Rinse under cold water and drain. In a large bowl, combine pasta, beans, onion, and bell pepper. Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over the pasta, toss and serve. Serves 6.

Chunky Vegetable Chile

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes, cubed
� cup onion, chopped
� cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp. chile powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 28-oz. can tomatoes, undrained
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup zucchini, cubed
Sour cream, if desired

Heat all ingredients, except zucchini, to boiling in a Dutch oven, breaking up tomatoes and stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add zucchini, cover, and simmer another 10 minutes, or until zucchini and potatoes are tender. Serve with sour cream, if desired. Serves 6.

Related Articles
"6 Ways to Cut Costs While Getting Cut"
"7 Tips for Healthy Lunches Kids Will Love"
"7 Tips to Keep Cool on the Cheap"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this coming Monday, May 4th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT, in the Beachbody Chatroom!

Suzy Buglewicz If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Nutrition 911, Part XII: Jumbo Juices and Crappuccinos

By Steve Edwards

Today, our oh-so-basic nutrition class hits the mall, or at least the strip mall, for a look at popular beverage chains. These range from places we know may not be healthy, like coffeehouses, to juice bars that market themselves as the pinnacle of nutrition. Certainly, beverages named after a cornucopia of healthy fruits must be good for you, right? Let's take a deeper look at that Mangorangoberry Pizzazz you were considering for lunch today.

Smoothies, Blackboard, and Customers

Most of the drinks we're discussing fall under the smoothie category. We've been conditioned to consider this word synonymous with healthy, but many of these drinks are quite the opposite. Smoothie's not a word you need to strike from your vocabulary, but like most things you put into your body, you should pay attention to the ingredients. Some of these beverages are great, while others are little more than ice cream in a cup. Here's a quick rundown on the types of smoothies you're likely to encounter and when, or if, you should drink them.

Bottled "smoothies"

A smoothie used to be a blend of various whole fruits with, perhaps, a bit of protein powder and/or other ingredients that were healthy, didn't taste great, and were best hidden in a mixture of yummy fruit. Nowadays, it can be almost anything. In stores, however, most of 'em still follow that traditional blend. They also have the nutrition information listed on the side, so it's easy to see what you're drinking. I guess this is why you'll almost never see a Peanut Butter Blast™ at your local market, but you'll often see spirulina.

Analysis: Most of these drinks are pretty darn healthy, and it's obvious when they're not. Just make sure to read the nutrition information on the label.

Jamba Juice®, et al.

Jamba Juice DrinksI'm using the Jamba Juice model because it's the biggest smoothie chain, but there are plenty of others. Most follow a similar format of offering varying drink options. Coffeehouses get in on this too, which we'll get to later. Jamba Juice touts its usage of real fruit and fruit juices to make its beverages sound healthy. When analyzing the final product, we see an abundance of sugar and not much fiber, meaning that fruit juice is being used, which is completely different nutritionally than using whole fruit.

  • Traditional smoothies. Jamba Juice calls these "classics," because it's all that was offered before consumers caught on to the hype and demanded healthier options. These are mainly made of fruit, with some amount of dairy dessert like sherbet added for a smooth texture. At an average of around 500 calories (for an "original" size, or a medium) and 100 grams of sugar, this is not exactly the "light lunch" many people thought they were getting.

    Analysis: The only time this would be an appropriate snack (or meal, really) is if you were doing an excessive amount of exercise. Adding protein powder as an option helps balance it a little bit, but basically there's no way around the fact that this is a high-sugar meal, which is only okay if you happen to be burning a lot of blood sugar.

  • Functional smoothies. These use industry buzzwords in drinks like Açai Supercharger™, Matcha Green Tea Mist™, Protein Berry Pizzazz™, Coldbuster®!, and a host of other ultra-healthy-sounding items. Some of them have a slightly higher amount of protein, but checking the bottom line, an "original" also has around 500 calories, 400 or so of which come from sugar.

    Analysis: Shakespeare once asked, "What's in a name?" Maybe he was referring to a business he knew would pop up in a few centuries. Don't believe this marketing hype; the only purpose of these beverages would be to fuel you after a long bout of very intense exercise.

  • Menu BoardEnlightened smoothies. How did they do it? They look the same. They're the same size. Yet these average around 300 calories, about 250 of which are sugar. To reduce the calorie count, these beverages are made with nonfat milk, whey protein, and Splenda®. This does boost their protein content a bit, an improvement over the classics, but you have to deal with Splenda.

    Analysis: Do two pluses offset a minus? You get fewer calories and more protein, but what's with the Splenda? This somewhat disgusting artificial sweetener (basically chlorinated sugar, as we discussed in "Nutrition 911, Part VI: Sweeteners"; refer to the Related Articles section below) has a lot of negative press surrounding it. It's probably fine in small doses, but it raises this question: why? Surely there are healthier options. If Jamba Juice is so into health trends like açai and maca, couldn't they have sweetened these "enlightened" smoothies with yacon?

  • All-fruit smoothies. These beverages don't use dairy products and stick to fruit juice and fruit. But they're sweetened fruit juice, so their 300 plus calories are nearly all sugar, with about a third as much fiber as a comparable amount of whole fruit.

    Analysis: Another sugary sports drink. Sure, there are vitamins and antioxidants in this stuff—it's made of fruit, after all. But you're far better off with a piece or two, or three, of whole fruit, which is healthier, more filling, and doesn't cause a sugar rush.

  • Chocolate SmoothieGood Moo'ds. These are the chocolate "anythings" that invariably show up on the menu. They're advertised as being "made with nonfat milk," or some other hollow promise. But a medium "Peanut Butter Moo'd" contains 21 grams of fat (or 190 calories of fat), 122 grams of sugar, 480 milligrams of sodium, and 840 calories.

    Analysis: You might as well go for the ice cream. If that's what you want, there's not much trade-off here. These have no place in a healthy diet, except as some kind of reward. They are decadence, pure and simple.

Starbucks®, et al.

Coffee chains have gotten in on the game too. Sometimes called smoothies, coffeehouse options are also referred to by various other names. Coffee and tea don't have any calories and give you a rush. But people seem to want their rush with other assorted items, like sugar and fat. So now when you order a black coffee at one of these places, you often get a strange look, or you're asked, "Are you sure?" I guess that's not what the cool kids are ordering. So let's have a look, shall we? Because the kids won't stay cool if they keep eating like this.

  • FrappuccinoFrappuccinos. An average 24-ounce Starbucks Frappuccino® (the large or Venti® size) has around 700 calories, 25 grams of fat, 100 grams of sugar, 400 milligrams of sodium, and 70 milligrams of cholesterol. You can save a few hundred calories by ordering "light," which substitutes artificial sweeteners for sugar.

    Analysis: These are dessert items. There is no other way to categorize them.

  • Lattes 'n' such. These are slightly less caloric and vary quite a bit. A Grande Nonfat Cappuccino might only have 100 or so calories, but a Venti White Chocolate Mocha with whipped cream has over 600 calories.

    Analysis: There's a lot of variance here, and I believe most of you know the good from the bad. Here's a quick rundown:

    • Coffee or tea: Zero calories; the best option is to drink them unsweetened and without milk or cream.

    • Milks and cream: Nonfat is best. Low fat is the second best option, and last is whole, which is highly caloric and loaded with fat. Half-and-half or cream is even worse. Soy milk is a good option for the lactose intolerant, but it has fat and calorie contents similar to regular milk. Most nondairy creamers are filled with sugar and hydrogenated junk. You're better off with the real stuff.

    • Chocolate, caramel, vanilla, etc.: All of these flavorings are sugar—a lot of sugar.

    • Whipped cream: 100 percent fat and condensed sugar and almost zero nutritional value.

    • Chai TeaChai and other holistic-sounding stuff: These follow the exact same pattern as the Frappuccinos. The only difference is that they use tea instead of coffee as their base. Often touted as "a taste of Asia," or some such nonsense, these have long ago lost any trace of their "exotic spices" and are flavored by the same junk that's in all the unhealthy stuff.

Today we learned that we may not need to steer clear of these establishments, but we definitely need to be careful about what we order. We touched on the "natural" fruit claim but could probably stand to go into the issue more thoroughly. So next time, let's look at the difference between whole fruit and fruit juice.

Related Articles
"Nutrition 911, Part X: What's in Your Water?"
"Nutrition 911, Part VIII: Pop Goes the Diet—The Worst Food in the World"
"Nutrition 911, Part VI: Sweeteners"
"Nutrition 911, Part II: What to Eat"
"Nutrition 911"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this coming Monday, May 4th, at 8:00 PM ET, 5:00 PM PT, in the Beachbody Chatroom!

Steve EdwardsIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Test Your Sweetener IQ!

By Joe Wilkes

True or False?

  1. False: SweetenersOf Equal®, Splenda, and Sweet'N Low®, Equal is sweeter than sugar. Splenda (sucralose) is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Sweet'N Low (saccharin) is 300 to 500 times sweeter, and Equal (aspartame) trails the pack at 200 times sweeter.

  2. True: Aspartame turns into formaldehyde in your body. Aspartame breaks down into phenylalanine (which can affect people with phenylketonuria), aspartate, and methanol. Methanol is broken down further by the liver into formaldehyde and formic acid, both toxic. Fortunately, the toxic effects of methanol and its byproducts are caused by prolonged exposure. The belief is that the amount of methanol exposure and the length of time that methanol is in the body make aspartame reasonably harmless in small doses. However, some warn that a cumulative effect of aspartame consumption may exist, which could cause long-term health problems.

  3. False: Saccharin causes cancer. In the 1970s, studies showed that saccharin caused bladder cancer in lab rats. This led to a warning being placed on all products containing saccharin stating that the product may cause cancer. Subsequent studies showed that the cancer was caused by biological mechanisms present only in rats, and that no evidence existed that saccharin caused cancer in humans. In 2000, the federal government delisted it as a carcinogen, and products containing saccharin no longer carry the warning.

  4. Liquid SucraloseTrue: Sucralose is made from sugar. It's essentially true. It begins as a sugar molecule with its hydrogen-oxygen atom groups replaced with chlorine, which turns it into something else entirely. It's like saying glass is made from sand. It's true, but you probably wouldn't let your kid play in a box full of glass.

  5. False: Stevia is banned in the U.S. Stevia was banned in 1991 from being imported to the U.S. The ban was revoked in 1995 after the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 was enacted. No reason has ever been given for why stevia was banned. Many suspect it was due to political pressure from the artificial sweetener industry. A plant-based sweetener, stevia is currently only available as a supplement. It is not recognized as a food additive by the Food and Drug Administration, because it has not been proven to be safe. It hasn't been proven to be unsafe, however, and has been used as a sweetener and additive in other countries, including Japan, for years with no harmful effects reported.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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