8 Fitness Foods You Can Find On The Cheap

Swap expensive items for cheaper options without sacrificing your wallet — or your waist.
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Drumsticks

Drumsticks

Splurge: Chicken breast

Cost: $4.49/pound

Save: Chicken drumsticks

Cost: $1.49/pound

Wow! You save: $3

When it comes to your poultry, why not march to the drum of a different beat? While America’s favorite cut of chicken can be a little bland to say the least, drumsticks have richer flavor and their juicy meat is less likely to dry out during cooking. Even better, it turns out that dark poultry meat is not nearly the nutritional downgrade many believe it to be. In fact, ounce for ounce, drumsticks contain only a measly extra gram of fat but just as much muscle-friendly protein (6 grams per ounce) and the same range of vital nutrients like niacin, energy-revving iron and the supercharged antioxidant selenium.

Need to know: Cooking drumsticks with their skin adds great flavor, but pitch it afterwards for fewer tagalong fat calories.

Kitchen Tricks: Count on two drumsticks for each serving. They can be roasted in the oven or flame-licked on the grill. Or try gently simmering drumsticks in a large skillet in a poaching sauce such as mixture of canned tomatoes, broth and spices until the meat is deliciously fork tender.

Mussels

Mussels

Splurge: Wild salmon

Cost: $14.99/pound

Save: Mussels

Cost: $3.49/pound

Wow! You save: $11.50

Most people overlook budget-friendly mussels. That’s a shame as they have great briny flavor and meaty texture, not to mention a boatload of nutritional perks that penny-pinchers are sure to appreciate. With 20 grams of protein in just 3 ounces, mussels are muscle food. As a bonus, the “poor man’s oyster” is brimming with vitamin B12, selenium and iron to help keep you bouncing around the gym floor. Like salmon, mussels are a source of heart-chummy omega-3 fats, which have been shown to also help quell muscle soreness after a hard workout.

Need to know: The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch programs gives mussels a “best choice” ranking as they are farmed using environmentally sound methods without the use of antibiotics or chemicals. Mussels will keep for a day or two in the fridge if placed in a bowl and covered with a damp paper towel. Don’t store them in a plastic bag or you risk suffocating the little guys.

Kitchen tricks: Mussels are absolutely a cinch to prepare. Simply steam them in some simmering liquid (which can range from broth to wine to beer to coconut milk) until they pop open, which only takes about five minutes. You can eat mussels straight from the shell or remove them from their shells and toss with pasta or incorporate into soups.

Millet

Millet

Splurge: Quinoa

Cost: $7.99/pound

Save: Millet

Cost: $2.79/pound

Wow! You save: $5.20

While quinoa is the whole-grain du jour, it can still be a spendy addition to you grocery cart. In the US, millet is most often associated with birdseed. But inexpensive millet isn’t just for the birds; it’s a nutrient-dense staple grain in Africa, India and Asia. As with other whole-grains like quinoa and oats, millet contains a powerful bundle of fat-fighting fiber, B vitamins and bone-building magnesium. More great news: Research shows that the often-overlooked little yellow beads are a stellar source of age-avenging antioxidants.

Need to know: Ancient millet has a mild corn flavor, chewy texture and is naturally gluten-free. Unlike quinoa, there is no need to rinse millet prior to cooking.

Kitchen tricks: Because of their small size, millet grains are relatively quick to cook. Simmer 1 of cup millet in 2 cups of water and a couple pinches of salt until tender and water has absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, let stand covered for 10 minutes and then fluff with a fork. Use as a side dish like rice or toss with vegetables and vinaigrette for a healthy lunch salad. To make a nutritionally charged breakfast porridge, increase the liquid to 3 cups and stir millet every few minutes as the grains simmer for a creamier consistency. Before simmering in liquid, toast the grains in a dry skillet or saucepan over medium heat until golden and fragrant to bring out their nutty flavor. Tossing raw millet into cookie or muffin batter can add crunch.

Pork Tenderloin

Pork Tenderloin

Splurge: Beef tenderloin

Cost: $15.99/pound

Save: Pork tenderloin

Cost:

$5.49/pound

Wow! You save: $10.50

Resulting in much less pain at the checkout, pork tenderloin brings plenty of succulence to the dinner table and some notable nutrition credentials. It has about a third less fat than its beef counterpart but the same amount of protein — 18 grams in a 3 ounce serving — to support your training. Pork also delivers healthy levels of thiamine, a B vitamin necessary for converting carbohydrates into the energy you need to power your workouts.

Need to know: At the meat counter, look for unseasoned pork tenderloin to sidestep excess salt and other questionable ingredients used in the seasonings at the store.

Kitchen tricks: A great way to prepare this frugal cut of meat is to sear first and then finish in the oven. To do so, cook the whole tenderloin in an oiled ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until brown on all sides. Place skillet in an oven preheated to 450 degrees and roast until a food thermometer registers 145 degrees, about 15 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Slices of tenderloin can also be quickly pan-seared for harried weeknights. Pork tenderloin picks up the flavors of marinades, rubs, sauces and salsas marvelously.

Pears

Pears

Splurge: Blueberries

Cost: $4.99/pound

Save: Pears

Cost: $1.99/pound

Wow! You save: $3

Nothing beats plump local sun-kissed blueberries, but come sweater weather consider loading up on priced-right cold-weather fruits like pears. Each juicy pear delivers a hefty 6 grams of dietary fiber — more than what you’d get in a cup of blueberries. While few gals nail their daily fiber quota (25 grams for women), it’s a good idea to get what you need as it takes a sledgehammer to your hunger pangs by slowing down digestion. The upshot is that snacking on a pear can help you feel full for longer, thereby putting the brakes on those vending-machine and cookie-jar raids that can spiral into fat gain. The quintessential fall fruit is also plush with vitamin C, which is needed to keep your fat-burning furnace going during exercise.

Need to know: Keep the peeler in the drawer. The skin of the pear is home to a laundry list of antioxidants with inflammation fighting powers.

Kitchen tricks: Beyond being a great out-of-hand snack, sliced pears can also add a sweet appeal to yogurt, oatmeal, salads, sandwiches and pancakes. Also try them in pureed soups and smoothies to add natural sweetness.

Dried Lentils

Dried Lentils

Splurge: Ground Beef

Cost: $5.49/pound

Save: Dried lentils

Cost: $1.19/pound

Wow! You save: $4.30

For the sake of your bank account, consider embracing Meatless Mondays more often. And what better way to load up on plant protein than with ridiculously cheap lentils. A single quarter cup of the dried legumes has a whopping 13 grams of protein to make building a lean, mean you easier. What’s more, lentils provide a payload of fiber (15 grams for a serving) to keep your physique more buff than flabby and a vast range of nutrients like folate, magnesium, potassium and iron. Researches in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who get the more iron from plant-based sources are up to 40 percent less likely to suffer PMS misery than those who consume the least.

Need to know: Unlike dried beans, lentils do not require an annoying pre-soak before cooking. Simply simmer dried green or brown lentils in a pot of water until tender, about 20 minutes.

Kitchen tricks: You already know that lentils can anchor nutritionally overachieving salads and soups, but try them as alternative to meat in tacos, burritos, burgers, pita sandwiches, meatballs and even sloppy Joes.

Cabbage

Cabbage

Splurge: Baby spinach

Cost: $5.99/pound

Save: Cabbage

Cost: $0.99/pound

Wow! You save: $5

We all know the pain of opening the fridge to a plastic container of expensive mushy greens. Thankfully, a hearty head of cabbage can go a long, long way. As a member of cruciferous vegetable family, cabbage is rich in phytochemicals called glucosinolates that rev up detoxification enzymes to help eliminate carcinogens from the body. For this reason, studies show that a generous intake of cruciferous veggies offers protection against various cancers. If you choose red cabbage, you’ll get a bonus of the same anti-aging anthocyanin antioxidants found in dark berries. And ringing in at less than 30 calories in each cup, cabbage is seriously waistline-friendly.

Need to know: Wrapped tightly in plastic, a head of cabbage will keep for about a month in your crisper. Can’t get through a whole head? Shredded cabbage can even be frozen for up to four months.

Kitchen tricks:

Not just for cabbage rolls, shredded crunchy raw cabbage is a great addition to salads, slaws and lunch sandwiches. Also use whole cabbage leaves as a low-calorie alternative to tortillas on taco night. You can even sneak red cabbage into smoothies made with frozen cherries or berries, frozen banana and Greek yogurt.

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Sunflower Seeds

Splurge:

Walnuts

Cost:

$21.00/pound

Save:

Sunflower seeds

Cost:

$4.59/pound

Wow! You save:

$16.41

While nuts take all the glory, the humble sunflower seed is indeed a stealth health food that won’t break the bank. Even though sunflower seeds are lower in calories than walnuts, they are actually packed with higher amounts of several nutrients including magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, B vitamins and vitamin E. As a potent antioxidant, studies are quick to praise vitamin E as ally in the battle against cancer including breast cancer. The seeds also supply plenty of heart-healthy unsaturated fats and 6 grams of protein in a single ounce serving, to boot.

Need to know:

To keep your sodium intake in check and beat the bloat, be sure to purchase unsalted shelled sunflower seeds. Their oils can go rancid fairly quickly, so to preserve freshness store the seeds in the fridge or freezer.

Kitchen tricks: Really, anywhere nuts go so to can sunflower seeds. So toss them onto your morning oatmeal, snack-time yogurt and dinner salad for a nutritional boost. Or go all Martha Stewart and make homemade velvety sunflower butter by blending two cups of shelled sunflower seeds with a touch of sunflower oil in a food processor or high-powered blender until smooth.

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