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Dr. Oz: Budget-friendly diet: The healthy foods your wallet will love

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Entertainment,Health

Another health myth bites the dust! You don't need to spend a fortune to eat good-for-you food. In fact, a new report reveals that buying healthy food saves money. That's worth celebrating (you could hear our whoops and cheers for miles when this important info made the news), because plenty of wrong-headed reports have led North Americans to believe that healthy diets are wallet-busters.

What we love most about this game-changing study is that it happened in the real world -- and got real-world results. Researchers from the Miriam Hospital and the Rhode Island Community Food Bank asked 83 people, all trying to make ends meet on very small incomes, if they'd like to learn how to cook and eat a plant-based Mediterranean diet. Yup, it's the same kind of low-meat, veggie-packed plan that we endorse in "You: On a Diet" and "YOU: The Owner's Manual" for a healthier weight, less belly fat, and a lower risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.

Volunteers took some healthy eating classes, then shopped and cooked as they pleased. Eight months later, researchers collected their grocery receipts and asked them to step on a scale. The results? The average weekly grocery bill was cut in half, saving families about $160 per month. Half of the participants lost weight. And food insecurity -- a hunger and health worry for a growing number of people -- shrank, too. With more food in the pantry, reliance on the local food bank dropped. That's a win-win-win!

What about those studies claiming healthy food is only for the rich? It's true that a steady diet of $30-a-pound, wild-caught fish, trendy grass-fed beef and fancy "natural" products can rack up a three-figure grocery bill, pronto. But you don't have to eat that way to do what's right for your body and to thrill your taste buds. If you look at the cost per gram or per portion -- more realistic measures -- for starters, fruits and veggies are an economical, smart buy. To save money, lose weight, and amp up your health and taste quotient, here's our advice.

» No. 1: Plan around plant foods. You'll save money by giving beans and vegetables starring roles at mealtime and focusing on fruit for sweet treats. Cutting back on the amount of meat, snack foods and dessert items in your cart keeps more cash in your pocket -- and can help you lose weight and improve your health.

» No. 2: Shop for these superfood bargains. These are like the "dollar menu" at a fast-food joint, only healthy and at the grocery store. Our favorites include:

» Canned salmon (that's wild salmon) runs about 50 cents a serving.

» Black rice, with more antioxidants and fiber than blueberries, at 49 cents per serving.

» Adzuki beans, with 17 grams of fiber per cup, at 57 cents per serving.

» Dark-meat chicken, packed with protein, B vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc, at 75 cents per serving (skip the skin, of course).

» Other healthy foods for less than $1 per serving include oatmeal, whole-grain pasta, canned and dried beans, kiwi fruit, oranges, bananas, real peanut butter, carrots, popcorn, plain frozen vegetables, eggs and canned tuna.

» No. 3: Be choosy about produce. Local, in-season produce is riper and tastier and costs less than buying peaches in November or corn on the cob in February. Reserve your money for organic produce that lets you dodge fruits and veggies tagged for high pesticide levels. That's apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce and kale, according to the Environmental Working Group.

» No. 4: Don't shop hungry; do pay with cash. You'll toss more bad choices in the cart if you're famished and if you pay with plastic. Studies show you'll make 30 percent fewer unhealthy, impulse buys at the grocery store if you show up after a meal and pay with cash.

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.

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