Photo: Romulo Yanes; Styling: Claire Spollen

They’re probably in your pantry right now.

Kimberly Holland
May 31, 2018

The word superfood may conjure up an image of little drawstring bags stuffed with ruby red goji berries or petite jars filled with vibrant green-blue spirulina. Rarely would you imagine oatmeal or the humble black bean.

Expensive superfoods may get the glory, but humble ones do the hard work of providing healthy benefits to you day in and day out. Here, we’ve gathered 11 superfoods that happen to be among the cheapest foods you can buy. Even better, we bet you already have them in your kitchen.

Photography: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Anna Hampton; Prop Styling: Thom Driver.

Sweet Potatoes

These delicately sweet spuds, which are delicious in everything from casseroles to brunch hashes, earn their health halo many times over. Sweet potatoes are loaded with antioxidants like beta-carotene, which boosts your eyes and vision health. They’re also a great source of fiber—one potato has four grams of the filling nutrient—and rich in potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin E, which helps your body fight off oxidative damage.

Better yet, they’re an extremely versatile ingredient and can be the centerpiece of a dish—think stuffed sweet potatoes—or in the side seat to a show-stopping main like chicken or steak.

Featured Recipe: Ham and Sweet Potato Hash

Peanuts

The humble peanut isn’t just classic ballpark fare. It’s one of the most inexpensive healthy foods you can buy. While almonds, pistachios, and walnuts get much of the health-craze credit, peanuts chock up loads of protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats.

A study from Pennsylvania State University found that dieters who ate peanuts and peanut butter lost more weight and were better able to maintain their loss longer than people who skipped the humble legume. You can snack on peanuts plain; just watch your portions. They may be healthy, but peanuts tally up over 200 calories in just one-quarter cup. If you choose to go the nut butter route, be sure to read the ingredients label. Skip any brands that add unnecessary sugar or flavorings.

Featured Recipe: Sweet-Spicy Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry

Jennifer Causey

Cabbage

Cabbage doesn’t get the love its fellow cruciferous family members like broccoli, cauliflower, or even Brussels sprouts get, but one cup has more than half your daily recommended value of vitamin C. This vital nutrient wards off invading viruses and bacteria and helps the body build connective tissues and bone. Cabbage is also rich in vitamin K, which helps regulate blood flow and boost bone health.

Like its cruciferous cousins, the real beauty of cabbage lies in the nutritional profile category. With just 20 calories per cup, cabbage is a rich source of potassium and detoxifying compounds that help fight potential diseases, too.

Look for recipes that feature raw cabbage. While the toothsome leaves of a head of cabbage can turn silky in a hot bath of broth and spices, you risk losing some of the healthy nutrients in the long, slow cook. Fresh is best when you can manage it. Grilled cabbage would be good option, too.

Featured Recipe: Cabbage Salad with Miso Vinaigrette

Brown Rice

You’ve known for a while you need to switch to brown rice from white because it’s a an easy swap that can net you more whole grains in your daily diet. Here’s another reason: brown rice is among the healthiest (and cheapest) superfoods you can buy.

Just one half-cup of brown rice has double the fiber of white rice. Plus, research shows that whole grains like brown rice may reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases.

One study found that people who eat brown rice instead of white may help lower their risk for type 2 diabetes.

Any place you use white rice, make the swap for brown. The flavor and appearance differences are minimal, so we’re quite sure no one will notice when you sneak in this inexpensive superfood over the processed white version.

Featured Recipe: Egg and Rice Salad to Go

Sara Tane

Strawberries

Don’t let the blackberry or raspberry outshine the earliest jewel of berry season: Strawberries. Indeed, strawberries are a sweet source of disease-fighting antioxidants. Just one cup of these sweet-tart fruits has 53 calories and three grams of fiber, and it packs in more vitamin C than a navel orange. Vitamin C may help lower blood pressure, control levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and boost bone health.

Enjoy strawberries as nature made them for an easy breakfast or snack, or mince them for a salsa, yogurt topper, or fruity salad.

Featured Recipe: Strawberry Summer Panzanella

Beets

These jewel-toned root vegetables can divide a dinner table, but once you know how healthy they are, you may be more willing to sidle up to a roasted beet salad or slurp up a beet soup.

Beets are rich with antioxidants, essential vitamins, and plant-based compounds that boost health and deter disease. That rich hue is thanks in part to betalains, pigments that contain anti-inflammatory properties. Beets also contain nitrates, plant compounds that, one study showed, may help lower blood pressure, promote blood flow to the brain, and reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease.

When roasted, beets turn silky and earthy. Their appealing texture is toothsome, not chewy. You can eat them alone, with a bit of salt and pepper, or pile them atop greens or grains for an extra boost of superfood nutrients.

Featured Recipe: Roasted Red and Golden Beet Salad

Bananas

The office fruit basket just became your best source for quality superfoods. At just pennies per serving, bananas are known for their potassium, which helps balance your body’s electrolytes and lower blood pressure. One study found that dietary potassium is associated with a decrease in stroke risk, too. Eating 1.6 grams of potassium per day cuts your risk for this potentially-fatal event by 21 percent. (For comparison, a large banana has one-third that amount, or about 500 milligrams.)

Potassium is just the start for these tropical treats. Bananas are also a great source of fiber, vitamin C, and tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your body produce the feel-good chemical serotonin.

Bananas are perfectly edible by design—you don’t need to cook or prepare them; just peel and devour. If, however, you need a bit more creativity to keep your daily potassium intake high, look to add bananas to smoothies or make banana-based nice cream.

Featured Recipe: Soft Serve Nice Cream

Sunflower Seeds

Baseball players may be on to something. These petite seeds pack in three grams of fiber in just one ounce. Plus, they offer up half the recommended daily amount of vitamin E, and iron delivers a boost of energy. Magnesium eases muscle contraction, and thiamin converts carbs you eat into energy you can use. (Now it makes sense why they’re so popular among athletes.)

Sunflower seeds, like peanuts, are delicious by the handful, but you do have to be aware of how much you’re eating. These little bites are filled with healthy fats, so the numbers add up quickly. Don’t hide them in batters or pestos. Instead, feature them in salads, granolas, and more.

Featured Recipe: Cherry and Sunflower Seed Kale Salad

Steak and Deviled Eggs image

Photo: Alison Miksch; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Cat Steele

Eggs

The incredible egg is a mighty superfood. One egg has six grams of protein, 80 calories, and loads of healthy vitamins and minerals. Egg yolks are a solid source of B vitamins, including choline, which plays a pivotal role in brain development. Egg whites are one of the purest sources of protein you can eat, too.

Together, the two parts also offer a rich source of food-based vitamin D, which protects your bones, teeth, and immune system. Vitamin D may help suppress cancer development as well.

To get the most from an egg, eat them simply—fried, hard-boiled, or scrambled. This way, you get the greatest concentration of nutrients.

Featured Recipe: Steak and Deviled Eggs

Black Beans

Legumes like black beans help lower your risk for heart disease, and they’re prized for their high fiber and protein counts. However, black beans deserve the superfood status because one study found that these jet-black legumes may help reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes by better controlling post-meal blood sugar spikes. Plus, just a half cup of cooked black beans has 7.5 grams of fiber, a nutrient that’s important for gut health and reducing the risk for colorectal cancers.

Whether you buy canned beans or cook your own, black beans are versatile and go from salad to soup with ease. Replace meat with beans once a week for a boost in nutrients and a reduction in calories and fat.

Featured Recipe: Garlicky Black Beans

Sara Tane

Oats

The humble oat is worthy of much superfood praise. This super-versatile ingredient boasts four grams of fiber and five grams of protein in just one half cup serving. Also in that whole grain is a load of beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that has protective heart benefits and may help reduce your cholesterol.

For plant-based eaters, oats are also a good source of iron, calcium, and thiamin, three nutrients that are difficult to find in non-meat or dairy foods.

You don’t have to cook up any fancy dishes to reap the benefits of oats. Both quick-cooking and steel-cut oatmeal deliver on these healthy benefits. Avoid instant options, which are typically loaded with unnecessary sugar. You can also sneak in extra benefits by adding oats to dishes like meatloaf and pancakes.

Featured Recipe: Apple-Oat Energy Balls

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