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updated: 1/18/2011 12:23 PM

How do you eat healthy and still stay on a budget?

Ask the Nutritionist

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Q. If studies show that healthy foods cost more than unhealthy ones, what hope is there for someone with limited income to eat well and reach a healthy weight?

A. Sure, it's easier to eat healthfully if you have more money to spend on food, but there's more to it than that. One recent study showed that although people who eat the healthiest diets do tend to spend more on food, groups who spent the most and groups who spent the least both showed wide variations in how healthfully they ate.

Those who spent more on beans, whole grains and nuts ate more nutritious diets; those who spent more on red and processed meats and high-fat dairy products had the least healthy diets.

To eat healthfully with limited money: eliminate the soda and fruit punch; eat more meatless meals that use beans for protein; snack on a piece of fruit instead of a highly processed snack bar.

Plan to cook at home without turning to high-priced convenience foods, cooking whole grains and seasoning them yourself, and choosing vegetables and fruits that are in season (compare fresh, frozen and canned for the best deal).

Other steps to health and weight control don't cost money at all: rather than cleaning your plate, stop eating when you're no longer hungry; rather than eating when you're stressed, call a friend or relax with deep breathing; rather than watching endless hours of TV, unwind by walking or dancing to the radio.

Q. I keep hearing about the cancer-fighting effects of a compound in the spice turmeric. But does the amount used in cooking actually contain enough of this compound to matter?

A. Curcumin is the compound in turmeric that is receiving so much attention: it shows an ability to decrease inflammation and increase self-destruction of abnormal cells, which could help to prevent cancer.

Curcumin makes up about 2 to 8 percent of turmeric, so it could take about four teaspoons of turmeric to get the amount of curcumin found in some lab studies to show cancer prevention benefit.

What we've learned about the protective compounds in vegetables and other plant foods is also likely to pertain to curcumin; when we get these compounds from plant foods, the "synergy" of many compounds in these foods all working together seems can provide more overall health benefits than the single compounds.

Commercial curry powder blends vary in how much turmeric they contain, so if you use such a blend you could try adding some extra turmeric to boost curcumin content.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Learn about its New American Plate Program at