The Best Quality Nutrient-Dense Foods for Your Budget: What to Choose

Let’s face it: not everyone has access to the highest quality of food at all times. Nor are pasture-raised chicken or biodynamic-grown vegetables available in every area. But we can all work toward seeking the best quality we can find, whenever possible.

Here’s a simple guide. When the very best is available and within your price range: buy it. If you can’t find the optimal, then try for the next best category.

Red meat and pork

  • Optimal: Grassfed and finished meats including beef and lamb, wild game or pasture-raised pork purchased from a farmer or rancher you get to know.

  • Next best: Non-local grass-finished meat and pasture-raised pork purchased through a good-quality company. Buy online from US Wellness Meats or Tendergrass Farms.

  • Good: Organic beef and organic or natural pork raised without antibiotics and hormones.

  • AVOID or eliminate: Conventional meat from confinement operations; anything raised with antibiotics, hormones, or administered feed treated with pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, or produced with genetic modification.

  • Recommendation: If you find that choosing optimal quality meat is not possible, consider more economic cuts of meat and cuts and adding in nutrient-dense, inexpensive options such as organ meats.

Dairy foods

  • Optimal: Raw whole milk, butter and cream from grass-fed cows producing milk containing A2 beta casein. Ask your farmer whether he or she raises A2 stock as these are foundational genetic lines that contain the best nutritional profiles for milk consumption. 

  • Next best: Raw whole milk, butter and cream from grass-fed cows containing A1 (modern genetic stock) beta casein. For more information on A1 / A2 milk read The Devil in the Milk; Illness, Health and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk by Keith Woodford. 

  • Good: Pasteurized, non-homogenized dairy from grass-fed cows raised without antibiotics or hormones.

  • AVOID or eliminate: Non-organic dairy products from cows of unknown origin.  Any dairy food from animals administered hormones, antibiotics or confined to feedlots where they are consuming grains, soy, corn and may have residue from pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and grown genetically-modified organisms. Avoid ultra-high temperature pasteurized organic milk.

Fats and oils

  • Optimal: Traditional fats including raw butter from grass-fed cows, tallow from grass-fed cows, organic unrefined coconut oil, organic extra virgin olive oil, poultry fat from pastured chickens, lard from pastured pork. Non-animal fats to include organic, virgin (or extra virgin) coconut, olive oil and palm oils, sesame, nut and cocoa butter. 

  • Next best: Butter from grass-fed cows, unrefined coconut oil, poultry fat from “free-range” chickens, extra virgin olive oil.

  • Good: Organic butter, refined coconut oil, olive oil.

  • AVOID or eliminate: Canola, corn, soybean, cottonseed oil, safflower, sunflower, peanuts, or vegetable oils (excluding coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter, olive oil and flaxseed oil), and any type of “shortening”. Most soy, corn, canola, cottonseed oil are genetically-modified. The exception would be with sunflower oil that is organically-sourced and cold pressed, and not used for heat or cooking. 

Poultry and eggs

  • Optimal: Wild birds, local pasture-raised poultry and eggs from local, pasture-raised hens purchased directly from the farmer.

  • Next best: Pasture-raised poultry and eggs from an indirect source such as local health food store, local farmer’s or online market.

  • Good: Organic, omega-3 eggs and meat from chickens not raised in confinement, and preferably without antibiotics or hormones.

  • AVOID or eliminate: Meat or eggs from animals and birds raised in confinement operations such as cattle on factory farm land (no grass) or chickens raised in closed hen houses without adequate outdoor access; anything that you suspect may be contaminated with antibiotics, hormones, pesticide, herbicide, chemical fertilizer contamination, or genetic-modification.  

  • Suggestion: There may be someone locally raising chickens and selling eggs; don’t be afraid to ask around or take a trip to the farmer’s market or the country. Or, consider raising your own!

Seafood and fish

  • Optimal: Smaller, sustainable-caught fish such as mackerel, anchovies and sardines. Frequent consumption of fish eggs (roe) from wild-caught, ocean-going fish from cold waters.

  • Next best: Periodic use of fish and roe from wild-caught ocean-going fish.

  • Good: A spoon full of non-heat treated or processed cod liver oil or fish oil. Recommended brands include Green Pasture Products Blue Ice Royal or Dropi

  • AVOID or eliminate: Larger fish with high mercury content such as Mahi Mahi, shark, Ahi tuna, Tilapia, Orange Roughy, and any fish from farming operations.

Fruits and vegetables

  • Optimal: Fresh local, organic, “organic practices” or biodynamically grown vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains.

  • Next best: Fresh and frozen organically grown fruits and vegetables.

  • Good: Purchasing as much organically-grown or “organic practice” produced fruits and vegetables as possible while supplementing with conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with low-pesticide residue.

  • AVOID or eliminate: Conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables with high-pesticide, herbicide, chemical fertilizer residue or originating from genetically-modified production sources. Most canned or packaged fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen for highest ranking pesticide-residue produce list. 

For more information on knowing your farmer and understanding how the food you purchase is produced, read Questions to Ask Your Farmer

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