You’ve likely heard numerous times that you should avoid eating processed foods. In general, that is true particularly for foods that have sodium and sugar added during processing. The type of processed foods being referred to are highly (or overly) processed, such as sausages, potato chips, candy, and countless other convenient-type foods. By definition, a processed food is any food that has been altered in any way during preparation or processing, such as freezing, canning, drying or even cooking. Foods like pre-washed bagged lettuce, applesauce, olive oil and canned fruit all count as processed foods, but that doesn’t mean they should be avoided.
Here is a list of healthy processed foods that can be incorporated into your everyday meals and snacks and come recommended by dietitians:
Brown Rice: This whole-grain staple is higher in fiber than white rice and contains several nutrients like magnesium, which helps with blood coagulation and bone development. Add brown rice to stir fries and protein bowls.
Canned Beans: Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber and can easily be added to soups, stews and salads. Look for canned beans with lower or no added sodium and rinse them to remove additional sodium before adding them to a recipe.
Frozen Fruit and Vegetables: Frozen produce is one of easiest ways to consume nutrient-dense food. Look for frozen fruit without added sugar to include in smoothies or enjoy as a simple snack. For the healthiest option, choose frozen vegetables without any added sauce or dressings.
Bagged Greens: Buying packaged spinach, romaine lettuce or other dark-green leafy vegetables is a simple way to increase your intake of daily greens! Look for pre-washed greens for an easy salad mix or include them in a smoothie.
Canned Tomatoes: This processed food is actually one that has an increased nutrient content from the canning process. The amount of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, is enhanced during processing.
Canned Tuna and Salmon: Most Americans do not eat the daily recommended amount of seafood weekly to meet the body’s omega-3 fatty acid needs. Look for canned tuna and salmon in water and add them to the top of your salad.
Frozen Salmon: Salmon is high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, low in saturated fat, and can even be cooked from frozen, making it even easier to add it to your weeknight meal roundup!
Greek Yogurt: Both regular and Greek yogurt are nutritious choices. However, Greek yogurt can have twice as much protein and generally lower sodium than regular yogurt. Just be sure to pay attention to the added sugar content in either type of yogurt or choose the lower-added sugar or plain options.
Broths and Stocks: These are useful bases for tons of dishes like homemade stews, soups or slow-cooker meals with chicken breasts. Choose no-sodium, lower-sodium or reduced-sodium options.
Nut Butters: Spreads like peanut butter, almond butter and soy butter are easy sources of protein and healthy fats. Spread them on celery or whole-wheat crackers for a healthy snack.
“19 processed foods nutritionists swear by,” nbcnews.com, accessed April 5, 2021.
“Processed Foods: Problem or Panacea?”, todaysdietitian.com, accessed April 5, 2021.