Why not start by checking out our thrifty alternatives for some of the pricier but popular ‘superfoods’?
1. Swap wheatgrass for spring greens
What is wheatgrass?
Wheatgrass is a popular health food and typically consumed fresh as a juice or purchased as a powder and added to smoothies, sauces or dressings. The fresh young leaves of the Triticum Aestivum grass, as wheatgrass is officially known, are loaded with chlorophyll, vitamins A, C, E and K, minerals and plant compounds, such as flavonoids. The grass also contains amino acids, the building blocks of protein, which we need for growth and repair.
Swap for: spring greens
This alternative young, leafy green promises not to break the bank yet is similarly rich in chlorophyll, provides minerals like iron as well as vitamins A, C, E and K. Like wheatgrass, spring greens contain beta-carotenes, including lutein and zeaxanthin which are famed for promoting skin and eye health.
An extra bonus is that these young leaves also contain the natural plant compounds sulforaphane and indoles. A growing body of evidence suggests these compounds have a significant anti-cancer action, are anti-inflammatory and may help protect against heart disease and stroke.
2. Swap maca root for broccoli
What is maca root?
Maca is a cruciferous vegetable and native to the Andean region of Peru; in its whole form it looks a little like a pale-coloured radish. Used as a supplement, maca root is typically available in powder, liquid or capsule form. It is rich in fibre, contributes a wide range of amino acids, plus vitamin C and the minerals copper, iron and calcium. Although evidence is scant, maca is often taken for its perceived improvements to reproductive health and its energising properties.
Swap for: broccoli
Broccoli comes from the same cruciferous family of vegetables as maca (as do cauliflower and cabbage). As well as vitamin C, calcium, iron and copper, broccoli is also a useful source of folate. Like many of its cruciferous relatives, it is rich in anti-cancer compounds and when included regularly in the diet may help balance hormones, most notably oestrogen. Like maca, broccoli may support your energy levels through its action on the beneficial bacteria that reside in the gut.
Broccoli bought loose tends to be cheaper than the cellophane-wrapped alternative. For a slightly pricier alternative – but still much cheaper than maca – choose purple sprouting broccoli. Studies suggest it contains higher levels of anti-cancer compounds, protective flavonoids and vitamin C.
3. Swap pomegranate for beetroot
What is pomegranate?
A round fruit with a hard, shiny red skin, hidden inside is a mass of jewel-like seeds, known as arils. These seeds are either eaten raw or juiced – as a juice it provides better antioxidant protection than either red wine or green tea.
These health accolades are down to powerful plant compounds which include anthocyanins; it’s these that are responsible for pomegranate’s protective and anti-inflammatory properties including its heart-friendly effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Swap for: beetroot
This familiar root vegetable is also rich in plant compounds including a family of pigments called betalains, as well as nitrates. It’s these that make beetroot so helpful, protecting us from the damaging effects of day-to-day stressors and helping to regulate blood pressure and circulation. Like pomegranate, beetroot is a source of fibre and vitamin C but it provides more heart-friendly potassium and folate. The leaves can be added to a salad and make a useful contribution of vitamin K.
Buy loose, with the leaves intact if possible. Try our recipe for these bright pink beetroot falafels and fill up on heart-friendly folate and nitrates.
4. Swap goji berries for dried cranberries
What are goji berries?
Also known as wolfberries, these tiny red berries are native to Asia and have an unusual sweet-sour taste and chewy texture. They are most often purchased in dried or powdered form and are famed for their protective properties, which are said to slow the signs of ageing, support eye health and strengthen immunity.
Providing a useful source of fibre, goji berries contribute iron, potassium as well as vitamins A and C. Unusually for a berry, they are a complete source of protein which means they supply all nine of the essential amino acids we need for growth and repair.
Swap for: dried cranberries
Like their superfood alternative, these bright red berries are rich in protective antioxidants, including anthocyanins, which are good for the heart and have anti-ageing properties. Cranberries contain carotenoids, including beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A for healthy skin, eyes and a strong immune system. They also provide lycopene, which may help protect the skin from UV damage and are a useful source of iron, potassium and vitamin C.
Look for unsweetened, dried cranberries to snack on, or try our Persian-inspired cranberry, sprout & pecan pilaf.
5. Swap coconut oil for butter or ghee
What is coconut oil?
Although coconut oil is popular as a ‘health’ food, some of the claims associated with it are controversial. Extracted from the kernel of mature coconuts, there are two main types of coconut oil – refined and virgin coconut oil. Both have similar fatty acid profiles, however the virgin oil contains higher amounts of nutrients such as vitamin E as well as plant compounds, including polyphenols.
Much of the publicity around coconut oil centres on its fat composition and, in particular, the primary fatty acid found in this oil: lauric acid. Lauric acid is classed as a medium-chain fatty acid (MCT), a type that is easily converted to energy, making it less likely to be stored in the body as fat. That said, more recent studies suggest lauric acid behaves as both a medium- and long-chain fatty acid, meaning the evidence relating to the benefits of MCTs in their pure form may not be as applicable to coconut oil as we once thought.
Swap for: butter or ghee
In fact, with 63% saturated fat compared to coconut oil’s 92%, butter contributes less saturates. It also supplies some of the useful MCT fats that coconut oil is famed for, although at lower levels. It has another distinct advantage: butter contains butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that may have the power to improve gut health, prevent disease and regulate the immune system. Butter also provides a wider range of vitamins: as well as vitamin E it is a good source of vitamins A and D.
Having had the milk solids removed, ghee is a more concentrated fat source than butter. Its low level of moisture combined with the higher saturated fat content (approximately 66%) gives ghee its high smoke point and long shelf life. Like coconut oil, ghee is free of lactose and the milk protein casein, making it a suitable option for those with lactose intolerance or a milk allergy.
Don’t forget that, like all fats, these should still be consumed in moderation.
Be sure to buy ghee made from butter not vegetable oils, the latter may be considerably cheaper but won’t offer you the same benefits. Try our buttered sweetcorn & squash recipe for a delicious side.
6. Swap chia for flaxseeds
What are chia seeds?
These are the edible seeds of a flowering plant and a member of the mint family. Despite their tiny size, they are loaded with fibre, protein and are a useful plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the fibre content of chia outweighs many other healthy foods including beans, figs and plums. Chia seeds also contain a range of minerals including zinc, iron and calcium, vitamins including the B group and they offer protective, anti-inflammatory and potentially anti-cancer properties.
Swap for: flaxseeds
Also known as linseeds, these are the golden seeds of the flax plant. Although they don’t quite match the fibre contribution of chia seeds, they are still an excellent source compared to many other foods. Like chia they are a valuable plant source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as minerals including zinc, iron and calcium. They are a richer source of folate and potassium and contribute slightly more protein than chia seeds.
Another bonus is that flaxseeds are one of the richest sources of phyto-oestrogens in the form of lignans; these compounds have been studied for their cancer protective properties as well as their value for women transitioning through menopause.
Buy whole flaxseeds because they will store for longer. Start the day well with our apple & linseed porridge.
7. Swap quinoa for millet
What is quinoa?
Although actually the seeds of the amaranth plant, quinoa is typically used as a grain. It is gluten free and a useful source of fibre, B vitamins and minerals including the bone-strengthening ones like phosphorus, calcium and magnesium. It is also a complete plant source of protein, meaning it supplies all nine essential amino acids.
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Swap for: millet
These are the seeds of a cereal grass. Like quinoa, millet is gluten free and a good source of the B group of vitamins. It is especially rich in vitamin B3, which is important for energy production and blood sugar control. These little seeds provide more fibre and are a richer source of phosphorus than quinoa. However, they are not a complete source of protein so combine with lentils or beans to compensate for this.
Make your millet last longer by storing in an airtight container, in a cool, dark store cupboard or pantry. And enjoy our delicious millet porridge every morning.
8. Swap açaí for blackberries
What are açaí berries?
These small dark-coloured berries grow in the Amazon rain forests. They are rich in protective plant compounds including resveratrol and anthocyanins, both of which are anti-inflammatory and may protect against age-related conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Loaded with fibre, vitamin A and manganese, açaí berries are also a useful source of iron and calcium. The ripe berries are typically pulped and freeze dried and available as either a purée or powder.
Swap for: blackberries
Like açaí, they are a rich source of protective plant compounds including anthocyanins (which are responsible for their deep purple colour as well as many of their health benefits). Packed with vitamins A, C and K, as well as manganese – a mineral that we need for strong bones and a healthy immune system – blackberries are also a valuable source of fibre, like açaí.
In season blackberries can be foraged for free from the hedgerows; buy frozen at other times of year. Whether it’s your first meal of the day or the last, we’ve got you covered – check out our pear, nut & blackberry bircher and our pan-fried venison & blackberry sauce.
9. Swap baobab for dried mango
What is baobab?
Known as the ‘tree of life’ in its native Africa, baobab fruit are found inside hard pods that hang upside-down from the tree. The pulp of the fruit is especially rich in vitamins, including vitamins C and the B group, as well as the minerals iron, zinc, potassium and calcium.
Baobab has a sour taste so tends to be blended with other ingredients to create a tangy flavour. It is typically available to buy as a supplementary powder and is often added to yogurt, breakfast cereals, juices, smoothies and herbal tea. The powder may also be added to baked goods.
Swap for: dried mango
Mango is a useful source of protective antioxidants including plant compounds called polyphenols, as well as carotenoids. Dried mango is a source of vitamin C and folate and makes a valuable contribution to your fibre intake. Mango is also available as a ground powder called amchur or amchoor, a popular addition to Indian cooking. An added bonus to using the dried mango powder is that, when eaten with grains, it appears to increase our uptake of minerals, including iron and zinc.
Look for unsweetened, dried mango. ‘Chunks’ of dried mango are often cheaper than the larger slices or strips. Or you can try dried mango powder (amchoor) in our tasty curry.
10. Swap spirulina for spinach
What is spirulina?
An algae grown naturally in mineral-rich waters, spirulina is purchased as a dark-green, supplementary powder. It is said to be nature’s richest and most complete source of nutrition, making it hard to substitute. Nutritionally, it’s rich in minerals, most notably potassium, which helps promote heart health and fluid balance. It also provides vitamins including the B group, vitamins C and E and many as-yet-unexplored plant compounds.
Swap for: spinach
Available in its fresh, frozen or dried form, this green leaf is from the same family as quinoa. Rich in chlorophyll, leafy greens like spinach are recognised as having substantial health-promoting properties. It has a diverse nutritional profile which includes vitamins like A, C, E and K, and minerals including potassium and calcium. Beyond its basic nutrition, spinach is rich in plant compounds that promote energy production and heart health.
Frozen, chopped spinach is usually the cheapest way to buy these greens. When buying fresh, look for bright greens leaves with no yellow or wilting leaves. Give them a go in our delicious soup or smoothie.
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Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post-graduate diploma in personalised nutrition & nutritional therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.