Coupon experts like to point out that with a perfectly timed combination of a coupon and a store sale, pretty much any food can cost next to nothing.
Still, no matter how low the price, certain foods aren’t worth your hard-earned cash.
While some inexpensive foods can offer great nutritional bang for your buck, others are heavy on fat, sugar and artificial ingredients.
We asked nutritionists, chefs and other experts which “deals” you should approach with caution:
“They usually contain fillers such as wheat, sugar, MSG and preservatives,” says Elika Kormeili, founder of The Center for Healthy and Happy Living.
Many also have sodium nitrate, a preservative that has been linked to digestive problems and cancer. Look for brands that are labeled “no nitrates,” or “no nitrates added.”
“The processing depletes nutrients and fiber from the wheat,” says registered dietician Lisa Hugh. “The bread is basically devoid of needed, natural nutrients and may contain undesirable preservatives.”
White bread can also contain plenty of sugar. Whole grains are the better pick — they have more fiber and will keep you full longer.
Earlier this year, Men’s Heath listed 19 of the worst supermarket meals.
Most frozen meals are loaded with trans fats, sugar, and artificial ingredients. For example, one of the meals the article cited compared it to eating 8.5 fried chicken drumsticks.
Another roasted chicken meal made Fitbie’s list of the top supermarket gut bombs with a sugar equivalent of three donuts.
Bottom line: read the nutrition labels carefully.
“Spring for the real stuff,” Hugh says. Processed American slices or “singles,” aren’t technically cheese.
This product is mostly comprised of milk and whey protein concentrates, salt and other food chemicals. (By law, they can’t even be labeled “cheese,” just “processed cheese.”)
Snack Cakes and Bars
Don’t let the size fool you – these small snacks can pack a powerful caloric punch. These packaged treats also made the Men’s Health list of worst supermarket buys. Just one of the cakes listed in the article has as many calories as five ice cream bars.
Even “healthy” choices need a look at the label, says chef George Vutetakis, director of research and development at Garden Fresh Gourmet Salsa in Ferndale, Mich. “They often contain ingredients added just for taste alone, which ultimately undermines any attempt to have a healthy diet,” he says.
Soda is a prime offender.
“Sometimes, soda is cheaper than buying a bottle of water. However, it is full of sugar or artificial sweeteners that spike people’s blood sugar levels. Then they crash and need more sugar and food to keep going,” Kormeili says.
There’s no nutritional value in this beverage – so skip it.
“Fresh milk or cream is better,” Hugh says. The powdered version contains trans fats, corn syrup, and preservatives. “Some preservatives have been linked to blood vessel disease in otherwise healthy people.”
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.