Smart Eats: These Processed Foods Are Actually Good for You
If you’re not familiar with the term, any food that is altered before you eat it is considered a processed food. Despite what most people think, not all processed foods are guilty of providing nothing more than empty calories and strange ingredients you can't read. Whole foods may provide the best option, but that doesn't mean you can’t opt for something processed when time is short.
In general, the less processed a food is, the better. Let’s take a look at some processed foods that are actually good for you, so you can choose the right ones.
Whole Grain Pasta
If you don’t consume enough fiber each day, it can cause some unappealing health problems. Whole grain pastas provide an excellent solution to this problem. Whole grains contain a lot of fiber, so unlike white pasta with minimal nutrients, whole grain pasta provides a lot of nutrition.
Sprouted Wheat Bread
People don't usually think of bread as healthy, and white bread certainly isn’t a healthy option. In truth, even bread labeled "whole wheat" isn't always the best choice. Sprouted wheat bread, however, has a lot of nutrients, including protein and higher enzyme activity.
In the world of processed foods, peanut butter is one of the best — as long as you stick to certain brands. It’s full of fiber and unsaturated fat, both things your body needs to thrive. It still has to be eaten in moderation due to 63 calories per tablespoon, of course.
Jarred or Canned Tomato Sauce
Canned and jarred tomato sauces are packed with (surprise!) tomatoes. One of the best things about tomatoes is they contain lycopene, an antioxidant that can lower the risk of certain cancers as well as heart disease and strokes.
Beans of all kinds are not just healthy — they're considered superfoods. This is as true for canned as well as dried varieties. Beans contain tons of protein, soluble fiber, iron and complex carbohydrates — the kind that provide you with lasting energy.
Most people don't think of milk as a processed food, but commercial milk certainly didn’t come straight from the cow. If it hasn't been processed, it’s not safe to drink. Health professionals go back and forth, debating whether milk is healthy or not, but when it comes right down to it, all that calcium and protein can't be ignored.
Most people don't realize that popcorn is a whole grain. It’s rich in both fiber and antioxidants and is low in calories as an additional perk. Who would have thought such a delicious, processed snack could be so healthy?
Dark chocolate has a lot of fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, potassium and selenium, many of which are antioxidants that help keep the body's cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check. It also has less milk and sugar than regular chocolate, making it less fattening.
Despite coming in a plastic container, yogurt has a lot of nutritional value, including plenty of protein, calcium, Vitamin B12 and probiotics. With almost twice the protein and much less sugar, Greek yogurt is even better than regular yogurt.
Fortified cereals have nutrients specifically added to them, and that requires processing. Breakfast cereals that come in a box often have a lot of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to get your day started in a healthy way.
Most pickles are just fermented cucumbers, and fermentation enriches foods with probiotics, which have become famous for their ability to keep the gut healthy. Also, their calorie count is low, and they contain no fat, so they end up being a super healthy snack or sandwich add-on.
Some granola bars wrapped in plastic and sold in boxes in the grocery store can be quite good for you. The bars that contain less than 5 grams of sugar are best. You can find them infused with other healthy ingredients, like fruits, nuts and dark chocolate.
Canned food can seem like it's not healthy, but it isn't true for beans, and it isn’t true for fish. Canned salmon, tuna and sardines are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for preserving heart health and can even help you live longer.
Frozen fruits and vegetables have the same nutritional value as their fresh counterparts, so don't be fooled into thinking they aren’t good for you. The only exception is if you store frozen produce for more than a year.
Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, and it has tons of healthy attributes. The fermenting process makes it a great source of probiotics, which are excellent for maintaining gut health. Plus, it's full of fiber and contains vitamin A and vitamin C.
Like regular milk, chocolate milk is rich in vitamins, minerals and calcium. Why should all the benefits be reserved for kids? Adults would be wise to add chocolate milk to their list of healthy snacks, particularly if they just finished sweating at the gym and are feeling hungry.
String cheese can be quite healthy, particularly if it's low-fat. It’s an excellent source of protein, and it only takes a small serving to leave you feeling full. It also contains a lot of calcium, and low-fat varieties contain much less saturated fat.
Pesto may have a lot of calories and fat per serving, but the fat comes from the olive oil and pine nuts, so it's unsaturated (read: healthy) fat. It also contains other beneficial ingredients, like basil and garlic. Basil is loaded with vitamin K, and garlic is excellent for the immune system.
Whole Grain Crackers
Crackers aren't great, in general, but some varieties have a lot of nutritional value, especially for a processed food. Crackers containing a lot of protein and fiber but not much sugar and sodium are the crackers you want. To be healthy, they should ideally have a minimum of 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Some people believe that olive oil's high fat content means it's bad for you, but it's not true. The fat in olive oil is very good for you. People who consume a lot of it have a lower risk of cancer, their immune systems function better and they are less likely to be obese.
Carbonated Mineral Water
If you're thirsty but don't feel like drinking plain water, the healthiest alternative is drinking carbonated mineral water. Mineral water contains minerals like magnesium, sodium and calcium. Sometimes they occur naturally, but the water is usually fortified to add them. The end result provides refreshment and minerals without giving your body a bunch of empty calories.
Frozen Veggie Burgers
Frozen veggie burgers are more versatile than products from the past. Now, they are made with more than just the traditional soy base. Different grains and vegetables are added to provide a healthy, delicious meal. As a bonus, they have far less fat than a meat patty.
Critics have always said that canned vegetables contain significantly reduced nutrient levels, but is that true? Evidence suggests that canning vegetables preserves the majority of their healthy attributes. Vitamins C and B deplete somewhat due to heating during processing, but the rest of the nutrients generally remain intact.
Not all canned soups are healthy, but some of them are good for you. The main drawback of canned soups is that they have way too much sodium. A "healthy" can of soup should have less than 600 mg of sodium in a serving.
Does instant coffee taste as good as real coffee? Of course, it doesn't. However, that doesn't mean it doesn't have the same health benefits. Studies have shown that people who drink coffee daily have less chance of developing Alzheimer's. It also cuts their potential for liver damage in half, makes bowel movements more regular and possibly even helps them live longer.
Microwavable Brown Rice
The only reason people buy instant rice is because of its convenience. They probably don't realize it's as nutritious as regular rice, despite the processing to make it compatible with microwave cooking. The rice is essentially pre-cooked and then sealed into an air-tight package.
Most jelly has sugar in it, but if you choose organic jelly, it’s mostly made with real fruit and contains the nutrients of the specified fruit. That means your jelly is full of vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants, and it only has a little bit of sugar.
Tofu is made from soybean curds, making it rich in plant-based protein. It has 9 grams of protein for every 3 ounces and has proven to be an excellent meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans.
Unsweetened Almond Milk
Anyone with gastrointestinal dairy issues is probably familiar with almond milk. Although it’s processed, the unsweetened varieties are good for you. These milks naturally contain vitamin E, but too much sugar in sweetened versions transforms it from a nutritional beverage into something you should avoid.
Frozen pizza isn’t totally healthy, but it's not devoid of nutritious value like many other processed foods. How can frozen pizza be healthy, to some degree? It comes with tomato sauce, which is full of the antioxidant lycopene, and it has cheese, a great source of calcium.