Healthy Products That Don't Break the Bank

To help you make smart choices without going broke, we identified common (and costly) products Americans buy to improve their well-being, and in many cases found that you can achieve the same benefits with the cheaper version. These shopping tips will help you lose weight, ease back pain, and more without spending a fortune -- plus, three products that are worth the splurge.

VIDEO: 5 Healthy Home Products for Less Play
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Lose Weight

FOR LESS THAN $20

BUY: Analog bathroom scale

INSTEAD OF: Body composition scale

Dieters who weigh themselves every day are better able to drop extra pounds -- and keep them off -- than those who don't, according to a study at the University of Minnesota, which tracked self-weighing practices of more than 3,000 adults for 2 years. Researchers hypothesize that for some people, daily weighing provides the immediate feedback and incentive to keep them on track. But experts agree that you don't need fancy scales that measure extras such as bone mass, body fat, or water weight and can cost more than $100. "A simple model with a rotating dial will do just fine, as long as you use the same scale every day," says Thomas Johnson, MD, an associate professor at Saint Louis University who specializes in weight control and obesity treatment. Find analog scales for $20 or less at stores like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond or online at amazon.com; one with a digital counter, if that's your preference, may cost a few dollars more.



For more health tips, check out the latest issue of Prevention, on shelves now!

Protect Your Heart Health

FOR 23 CENTS A DAY

BUY: Generic fish-oil supplements

INSTEAD OF: Brand-name versions

A survey from independent tester ConsumerLab.com showed that fish oil and fish-oil capsules are purchased second only to multivitamins among supplement users. Their rapid growth in popularity comes as no surprise, considering that the omega-3 fatty acids they contain have been shown to do everything from boosting mood to improving circulatory health and lowering unhealthy triglyceride levels. Quality capsules contain heavier doses of EPA and DHA, two fish-derived fatty acids that offer the big-time health benefits, rather than ALA, an omega-3 from plant sources that needs to be converted before the body can use it. Last summer, ConsumerLab analyzed 50 widely available omega-3 and fish oil supplements and found that all of them -- regardless of price -- were free of dangerous levels of mercury and PCBs (a concern with fish oil because these contaminants accumulate in fatty fish), and most contained optimal levels of EPA and DHA.

One great-buy brand that passed ConsumerLab's tests: CVS Fish Oil Softgels, which provide 900 mg of omega-3s daily when taken as directed and cost less than $7 for a month's supply; a designer brand also approved by ConsumerLab would set you back more than twice that much. How much omega-3 do you need? Although there's no FDA recommendation, most experts advise getting about 1,000 mg per day of combined EPA and DHA; for people with coronary heart disease, the American Heart Association suggests the same amount.

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Purify Water

FOR $50 A YEAR

BUY: Water filter pitcher

INSTEAD OF: Bottled

You know you're supposed to drink six to eight daily glasses of H2O for overall health, and new research published in the journal Obesity found that upping water intake boosted weight loss in premenopausal women who were dieting. But you've also probably heard reports of tap water containing some not-so-healthy stuff: A widely reported Associated Press investigation that was announced last year detected pharmaceuticals -- everything from antibiotics to mood stabilizers -- in the water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, and an analysis of tap-water data from 19 cities by the Natural Resources Defense Council found elevated levels of lead, arsenic, and hazardous chemicals. However, bottled water is not the solution: It's less strictly regulated than tap water -- last year, chemical contaminants were found in 10 popular brands, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group -- and home delivery of bottled water for two adults can cost almost $400 a year. The secret to safe hydration: Use a relatively cheap activated carbon filter for your tap water -- think brands such as Pur and Brita. "They'll filter out microbes, heavy metals like lead, and possibly even some pharmaceuticals," says Gina Soloman, MD, a senior scientist for the NRDC. "As long as your water comes from a municipal water supply, that's usually all you need."

The countertop pitcher and faucet attachment work the same way, and each costs around $50, including a year's worth of replacement filters. If your water comes from a well and has been found to contain contaminants such as pesticide residues or gasoline by-products, you may want to spend a little more: Zero Water, a newcomer to the pitcher-filter category, uses a more advanced high-tech filtration system and costs about $140 a year.

Relieve Foot Pain

FOR $10

BUY: Orthotic shoe inserts

INSTEAD OF: Custom arch supports

People suffering from the excruciating heel pain of plantar fasciitis will often shell out $200 or more for these specialized supports, but cheap drugstore versions are usually just as or even more effective. There's hard research to back this up: An investigation by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society determined that combining an OTC insert with some stretching exercises is the cornerstone of treating plantar fasciitis, says study author Glenn Pfeffer, MD. Bauerfeind Visco-Heel, a brand of inserts costing about $40 a pair, achieved the best results in the AOFAS study, but a runner-up brand called the Tuli Heel Cup, which also earned high marks, costs only $10. For ailments such as tendinitis and metatarsalgia (pain in the ball of your foot), OTC supports and pads also work just as well, adds Kenneth Jung, MD, foot and ankle specialist at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles.

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More from Prevention:

20 Ways to Feed Your Family for $100 a Week

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Ease Back Pain

FOR $15

BUY: Lumbar support pillow

INSTEAD OF: Ergonomic chair

During more flush economic times, the Aeron desk chair was an office status symbol for investment bankers and Internet wunderkinder alike -- at a hefty $850, it promised superior comfort, support, and performance. But a desk chair shouldn't break the bank. "To prevent and reduce lower-back pain, you need a seat adjusted to the right height, and you need good spine support -- that's it," says Robert Watkins Jr., MD, codirector of the Marina Spine Center in Marina Del Rey, CA. And research shows that a lumbar pillow can do just that. (They can be found at most drugstores for as little as $15.) Get one with straps so you can secure it in place. Then make sure you're sitting correctly: Adjust the height of your chair so your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle while you type, and sit up straight, with your chest out and your head directly above your spine, which will take stress off your shoulders and upper back, says Watkins.

Healthy Cooking For Less

Preserve Vitamins and Minerals

FOR $5

BUY: Steam Basket

Steaming retains nutrients (especially vitamin C and folic acid) better than other cooking methods do -- plus, it requires no fat.

Cut Fat

FOR $10

BUY: Oil Sprayer

Even though oils such as olive and canola are great for your heart, use them too liberally and the calories add up. "A mister lets you stretch your oil, cut calories, and, over time, save money on buying those disposable spray cans," says Bauer. "I spritz oil on veggies before I roast them and chicken when I bake it."

Control Your Portions

FOR $15

BUY: Food Scale

A mechanical model that offers pounds and ounces is all you need to measure out healthy portions, such as 1 dry ounce of cereal or 2 dry ounces of pasta (for 1 cup cooked). People typically pour double the proper amount of cereal and easily eat two servings of pasta, says Bauer. "I keep my scale front and center on my counter."

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3 Worth-It Expenses

These pricier products are worth the health investment.

Breathe Easier

1. HEPA vacuum cleaner

A mechanical model that offers pounds and ounces is all you need to measure out healthy portions, such as 1 dry ounce of cereal or 2 dry ounces of pasta (for 1 cup cooked). People typically pour double the proper amount of cereal and easily eat two servings of pasta, says Bauer. "I keep my scale front and center on my counter."

Two of Consumer Reports' top-rated vacuums with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters are the Hoover Wind Tunnel Anniversary Edition ($230) and Kenmore Progressive Upright ($350).

Why it's worth the splurge: "HEPA vacuums remove the fine dust particles that contaminate indoor air," says scientist Gina Soloman, MD. "The dust you can't see is what gets deepest into your lungs." And research shows dust has bacteria that can hurt respiratory health.

Brighten Your Smile

2. Electric Toothbrush Rotating oscillating models and vibrating sonic varieties are equally effective and cost about $100, says Doyle Williams, DDS, assistant adjunct professor at Tufts. The $5 disposable types don't get under the gums and between teeth as well.

Why it's worth the splurge: Studies found that electronic versions removed plaque 11 percent better and fought gingivitis 6 percent more effectively over a 3-month period.

Ease Asthma

3. Air Purifier

Buy a HEPA filter-equipped purifier, such as the Honeywell 50250 Enviracaire, for about $175. The cheaper ionizing models do more harm than good, says allergy and immunology expert Thomas Selvaggi, MD. "They create ozone, which can damage lungs and elevate blood pressure."

Why it's worth the splurge: Air purifiers aren't musts for everyone, but research suggests they help asthma and allergy sufferers breathe easier.

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More from Prevention:

20 Ways to Feed Your Family for $100 a Week

Buy Organic on a Budget

20 Home Remedies that Work

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