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Healthy foods aren’t for the wealthy. Low-cost, low-sodium choices are readily available

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HEALTHY foods are for rich people.

And even if you could find some well-priced nutritious items, you just don’t have the time to prepare them.

These are common excuses Canadians tell themselves to justify filling their grocery carts with frozen, deep-fried french fries, cubes of salt that pass for soup stock and processed cheese slices that bear little resemblance to anything found in nature.

But these excuses aren’t based on reality, says Winnipegger Gina Sunderland, a registered dietitian with CancerCare Manitoba.

The mother of two teenage sons is a master at finding healthy foods for good prices.

"It just takes a little bit of planning," she says.

Sunderland headed to a local grocery store with the Free Press in search of healthy foods that are actually cheaper than their junkier counterparts.

This is Part 2 of our findings:

 

If your family has a packaged food they love, such as mac & cheese, it's worth the effort -- and cheaper -- to make it from scratch for better taste and fewer preservatives and unknown ingredients.

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If your family has a packaged food they love, such as mac & cheese, it's worth the effort -- and cheaper -- to make it from scratch for better taste and fewer preservatives and unknown ingredients. (BILL HOGAN / CHICAGO TRIBUNE / MCT)

Cheese-flavoured pre-popped popcorn (Cost: $3.49 for a 220-gram bag) vs. stove-top popcorn (Cost: $4 for a nearly two-kilogram bag)

Dietitian’s Assessment: With 16 grams of fat for a three-cup serving, bagged, flavoured popcorn is more fatty than a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Even worse is its sodium content — 400 milligrams a serving, or 17 per cent of what you should consume for the day. Not good for your heart and blood pressure.

Sunderland warns that if you’re like most North Americans, you don’t usually count out serving sizes for your favourite bagged snack food such as chips, nachos or popcorn.

"You keep eating it until it’s gone and wonder why you’re so thirsty after," she says, noting the salt content is not only bad for the cardiovascular system, it’s dehydrating.

Stove top popcorn popped the oldfashioned way is low-fat and full of fibre, says Sunderland, who regularly cooks popcorn in a pot with a drizzle of hearthealthy canola oil so various herbs and even some fresh black pepper will stick.

Her version contains no sodium and is a real bargain at 22 cents a serving (100 grams of dry product). "That’s awesome," she says. Microwave popcorn, on the other hand, is full of chemical flavourings, salt and fat.

 

Processed cheese slices (Cost: $3.50 for a 500-gram package) vs. avocado ($1.69 for one large fruit).

Dietitian’s Assessment: Processed cheese slices contain about 200 mg of sodium in each slice as well as food colouring and other ingredients that don’t contribute to health. Even though processed cheese slices contain some calcium, Sunderland says she prefers brick cheese over processed cheese slices since brick cheese contains less things "your body doesn’t need."

Sunderland suggests turning to avocados.

"Avocados are absolutely one of my favourite foods. Not only do I love the taste of them, I love their nutrition profile. They contain fibre. They contain all the heart-healthy fats. They even contain some of the plant-based omega-3 fats," says Sunderland. "Because they are so creamy and rich… a little goes a long way. Use a bit on sandwiches in place of cheese. Refrigerate the rest and cover with lime juice and plastic wrap to slow down oxidation and add a zing."

 

Boullion stock cubes (Cost: About $3.54 for a 63-gram pack.) vs. homemade stock (made of chicken bones, a large onion, parsley and a few carrots, Cost: $2 to $3 for several litres)

Dietitian’s Assessment: People add boullion stock cubes, little, square flavour-boosters to their soups, stir-fries and stews without realizing that a mere half-cube (5.75 grams) contains nearly half of your day’s worth of salt while only yielding one cup of stock.

"That’s out of control," says Sunderland, noting that any food that contains 15 per cent of your daily value of sodium is considered a high-salt food. Meanwhile, boullion cubes contain virtually no valuable nutrients. Using your own homemade stock — rather than just cubes of packaged salt — adds flavour and nutrients to any meal, says Sunderland, who saves chicken bones and carcasses in her freezer until she’s ready to make a stock, made of just a few ingredients. She says slowly simmering chicken bones, fresh parsley (which costs 99 cents for a giant bunch) and a few vegetables for several hours results in a collagen, vitamins and mineral-rich broth that can feed a family for days. "This goes a long way," she says, noting that you are in control of the salt content of homemade stock.

 

Ramen noodles (Cost: $2.08 for a 64gram serving) vs. whole grain pasta (Cost: $2.62 for a 375-gram box)

Dietitian’s Assessment: Ramen noodles contain 290 calories, 12 grams of fat (six of which are saturated), 1,290 milligrams of sodium (54 per cent of your recommended daily intake) and only three grams of fibre. Sunderland notes that ramen noodles are deceiving; they are actually high in fat because they are deep-fried before they are packaged. Moreover, the little flavour packs they come with are nothing more than salt, dried herbs and chemicals such as monosodium glutamate.

 

An 85-gram serving of whole wheat pasta contains 310 calories, 1.5 grams of fat — all unsaturated — 12 grams of protein, no salt and a whopping eight grams of fibre. Sunderland loves the fibre content of whole grain pasta; one serving, she says is equal in fibre to four slices of whole grain bread. The fibre not only keeps you full longer, it keeps your colon healthy and your arteries free and clear of heart-attack inducing plaque.

Sunderland’s pasta tip: Top it with a bit of olive oil and Parmesan cheese — or make a quick sauce out of canned tomatoes.

 

Red potatoes (Cost: $2.50 for a fivepound bag, about 15 potatoes) vs. frozen french fries (Cost: $4.41 for a 650-gram bag)

Dietitian’s Assessment: "This is a super bargain. You can make your own ovenbaked fries, you can make mashed potatoes, you could make baked potatoes.

The sky’s the limit. I think a lot of people look at the potato as the lowly potato, but they are loaded with potassium and vitamin C," says Sunderland, noting the type of fibre that’s good for the colon resides in the skins of potatoes.

Frozen french fries are deep-fried and full of sodium. Each 16-piece or 85-gram serving contains 4.5 grams fat, 140 calories and 170 mg of sodium.

 

Have an interesting story idea you’d like Shamona to write about? Contact her at shamona.harnett@freepress.mb.ca

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