How to eat healthy on a budget (VIDEO)

Watch the sodium content in any prepackaged food. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

ROCKVILLE, Md. – Most everyone knows it’s important to eat a heart-healthy diet, but too often wallets get the workout from pricey, premium organics.

But there’s good news: good food doesn’t have to break the bank.

Take some tips from Jenna Umbriac. She knows how to eat well on a shoestring: she’s the nutrition educator for Manna Food Center in Montgomery County. It’s her job to teach classes on eating nutritious meals on tight budgets.

One of the biggest mistakes everyone makes, says Umbriac, is heading for the convenience foods. Many are packed with sodium, fat and sugar, and she says shoppers are paying for that convenience.

But, with busy schedules, grabbing a pack of ramen noodles, for example, might seem like a smart move. They’re portable, cheap and laden with sodium.

Umbriac likens the noodles to eating a bowl of saltwater.

“There’s over 1,000 milligrams of sodium in a serving of ramen noodles. The recommendation for most people is 1,500 milligrams – a day.”

Another area where shoppers fumble when looking at their food budgets: continuing to lean on meats for protein. Umbriac advises to experiment with beans. They’re cheap.

“They’re loaded with fiber, they’re going to fill you up, and they give you so much of what you need,” she says.

Women know they need calcium, but anyone who’s checked the price of milk lately knows it has skyrocketed. Umbriac recommends heading to the produce or frozen food aisles for collard greens or spinach.

“You’re going to get calcium from that,” she says.

Going without meat or milk isn’t necessary, but a few substitutions here and there can save money and help the heart.

Umbriac accompanied Montgomery County officials as they embarked on the SNAP Challenge. SNAP is known to most people as food stamps. As part of the challenge, county officials are trying to feed their families on $5 a day.

Umbriac offered tips as county leaders tried to come up with a grocery list that would feed them for five days on just $25.

She will be blogging about the SNAP food challenge this week on

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WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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