10 Healthy Processed Foods

Yes, you read that right.

In an ideal world, we’d step into our backyards for fresh produce, whole grains and organic eggs, or into our aromatic dining rooms after our personal farmers and chefs did on our behalf. Busy work and home lives, finances and that little thing called reality seldom allow for that, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reap similar benefits.

‘Healthy processed food’ can seem like an oxymoron, but there are nutritious options available. By incorporating them into our diets, we can reap benefits ranging from improved nutrient intake and immune function, to sharpened creativity, weight control and moods. I’m not affiliated with the companies below, but I dig their products.

10 Processed Foods Worth Eating

1. Ezekial Bread When I first began studying nutrition 10-plus years ago, I had to venture to a health food co-op for Ezekial bread. Now most large grocery chains carry Ezekial bread. Thank goodness, because the sprouted grain bread is chock-full of whole grain nutrients, including protein, fiber, B-vitamins and potassium. Tip: If you haven’t yet adjusted to sprouted grains, toast Ezekial bread for enhanced texture and flavor. Your taste buds will gradually adjust.

2. Yogurt Yogurt is a rich source of protein, calcium, vitamin D and probiotics—healthy bacteria associated with healthy digestion, fewer yeast and H. pylori infections and, most recently, less anxious moods. Even people with lactose intolerance can often digest it with ease. And it’s scrumptious. Tips: Choose natural yogurt low in added sugars, such as organic Greek or Dannon Pure. Add fresh fruit to plain or vanilla yogurt for a naturally-sweet treat.

3. Nut Butters What Americans lack in healthy fats, we make up for 10-fold in unhealthy saturated and trans-fats. Nut butters can add healthy fats, fiber, protein, antioxidants and flavor to your meals and snacks. Tips: Reduced-fat varieties often contain hefty amounts of added sugars. Choose the most natural, regular varieties you can find. For a healthy snack, top Ezekial bread or fruit slices with almond or peanut butter.

4. Mango Veggie Naked Juice I’m not generally a fan of commercial juices; they tend to contain rich amounts of sugar and little, if any, fiber. Many bottled “green,” aka “superfood” juices consist of apple juice with some kale, wheat grass or other vegetables added in. This pretty little number provides 2 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of fruit per serving—all the fiber, pulp and antioxidants of whole produce included. Tip: When purchasing prepared smoothies and juices, choose those that list whole fruits and pulp. They should also contain fiber.

5. Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf Rice that appears brown isn’t necessarily nutritious. This mix by Kashi, however, contains brown rice, oats, hard red wheat, triticale, buckwheat, barley and sesame seeds—top sources of whole grain nutrients. It’s a versatile mix that can be used in soups, side dishes, as an entree and even as a hot cereal. Tips: Prepare a large batch of whole grain rice or pilaf to last for several days, or freeze portions in air-tight containers for quick, healthy meals later on. For a gluten-free option, try this wild and brown rice pilaf with butternut squash and cranberries recipe. It’s simple and DELISH.

6. Canned Fish Yeah, the name doesn’t thrill me either. But canned fish, particularly salmon and tuna, provide the omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D and other fish-containing nutrients so many of us lack. The American Heart Association recommends eating 3.5 ounces of fish at least twice per week for improved heart health, and choosing fish more often than red and fried meats. Tip: To cut back on salt, choose low-sodium varieties or rinse the fish well before eating it. If you eat an overall low-sodium diet, regular canned fish is typically fine.

7. Frozen fruits and vegetables Because frozen produce is flash-frozen at its nutritional prime, it contains as much, if not more, nutritional value than produce sitting on the raw shelf. Tips: Add frozen fruit, without added sugar, to fruit smoothies and baked goods, and frozen vegetables to casseroles, soups, pizzas and mashed potatoes. You’ll feel more satiated on more nutrients and fewer calories and start craving fruit and veggie-containing meals in general.

8. Amy’s Organic Lentil Soup Most of us can stand to increase our legume intake. Beans, lentils and split-peas are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They’re rich in protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates, as well as a slew of micro-nutrients. Amy’s lentil soup is great to keep on hand for days when you don’t have your crock-pot and dried legumes handy, or the hours lentil-preparation can take. Tips: Spice Amy’s soup up with natural herbs or other seasoning. Serve it with fresh fruit salad, stone-ground whole grain crackers or toasted Ezekial bread.

9. Old-fashioned or steel-cut oats Oats are a hearty whole grain that can help keep you energized and full throughout the morning. Steel-cut oats, which consist of the inner kernel of the oat plant, take an hour-plus to make. Tips: Either prepare a pot in advance to last a few days or make old-fashioned oatmeal, which takes 2 to 5 minutes via stove or microwave. For added nutrients, prepare oats with low-fat soy or cow’s milk and top it with fresh or dried fruit.

10. Natural microwave popcorn Popcorn is a whole grain that contains more antioxidants than many fruits. (Seriously? Yep.) If you don’t have time to pop kernels over the stove and don’t have an air-popper, packaged microwave varieties are just as nutritious. Tip: Avoid the gooey buttery varieties. Natural, low-fat and herb-seasoned varieties are healthier.

Now if you really want to make like that organic farm resident, you’ll also partake in a few valuable behaviors:

  • Eat mindfully, in a pleasant atmosphere with your food served on nice dishes—yes, even processed foods.
  • Choose whole, fresh foods as often as you can. Shop at your local farmers’ market. Interact with the sellers.
  • Learn to cook or expand your skills.
  • Dine with loved ones when you can. Savor solo meals, too.
  • Say please and thank you.
  • Stay active and spend time outside.
  • Do your best to sleep well.

It sounds so easy, right? It actually is, once you get the hang of it. Taking steps—even tiny ones—is all it takes to get us moving in the right direction. And since the way we approach food and eating can say a lot about how we approach our lives, the benefits can extend well past our plates and pantries. Just a little food for thought. 😉

I’d love to hear from you. What healthy steps are you working on? Any challenges I can support you with? What healthy processed foods top your list?

Leave a comment


  1. Mmmm, toasted raisin Ezekiel bread with a little almond nut butter is one of my favorite ‘treats’. I like to have it after a tough workout with a glass of green tea. I am so excited that all of the foods you list are now available in almost any grocery store. Like you, I had to find a health food store that sold these items, which usually meant driving all over town looking for them.

    When I saw the title of your post I giggled. It’s easy to forget that some packaged food really can be healthy for us. The trick is to eat everything as plain as possible. If you’re going to load up your steel cut oats (yum!) with maple syrup and butter, well you might as well have a Snicker’s bar.

    Great post, August. It’s all about small changes that have a huge impact. I think I’ll make oatmeal for breakfast for the family. We try to eat together as many meals as we can, which I absolutely love. Have a great Monday!

    • It really is easy to see the word “processed” and expect Ho Ho’s and doughnuts, right? 😉 Without food processing, lots of foods we eat today wouldn’t be as healthy or safe. That said, the super nutritious options are often hidden within the not-so-healthy… Dang. But once we find them, those plain foods (I like the words ‘natural’ and ‘whole’ ;)) are super tasty, particularly once we shift to an overall healthier eating patter. It becomes exciting on multiple levels, as you know. So grateful you do!

  2. I’ve never heard of Ezekial bread – that’s something I’m going to have to try. Right now I eat a 12 grain bread that’s delicious, but I’m always looking for something new. I eat Greek yogurt as well as a lot of fruit, and I’m glad to hear you say that about the frozen variety. I use those for smoothies and always wonder if it’s bad because they aren’t fresh.

    Thanks for the tips!

    • Sounds like you have some awesome habits in place, Stacy. Ezekial also makes cereals and tortillas—all 100 percent sprouted grains, no flour or goofy fillers. The bread is much more filling than standard whole grain breads, and tasty to boot. Hope you enjoy it!

  3. I practically live on Ezekiel bread!

    I agree, not all processing is bad. It makes eating more enjoyable. It’s when too much is stripped, or too much weird stuff is added that the problem comes in.

    My biggest challenge lately is eating often enough to keep my blood sugar steady. It sounds simple, but with two kids it can become a challenge. I can’t neglect my health needs, otherwise I slowly lose my ability to cope with all their noise!

    • Eating well amidst a hectic lifestyle can be tough. I’ve found that preparing a large dish and other foods (cutting up fruits, vegetables, etc.) to last for several days or more helps. You can also make a large dish, like whole grain/veggie lasagna, and freeze single or double portions for quick meals on the fly. Keeping healthy snacks that promote blood sugar control, such as nuts, yogurt and protein-rich smoothies, also helps.

      Kids often love getting involved in healthy food prep, so depending on their age, you might try that. How we treat ourselves teaches kidlets a lot. Glad you’re an Ezekial fan! 🙂

  4. Dave’s Killer Bread gives Ezekial a run for its money. My favorite: Good Seed Spelt, but their sprouted wheat is good. Probably isn’t as good for you. Yogurt is processed? Dang. Since it is in the outside ring of the grocery store I categorize it with vegetables. Never mind the plastic container. I’m on a kefir kick as a substitute for yogurt. Usually has inulin added, also lots of good bacteria. Since no one in my family will touch it because it sounds weird, I drink it right out of the bottle like a 10 year old. Thank you for the go-ahead to the middle sections of the grocery store, even if it is only for popcorn and kashi and not potato chips.

    • Ha, yes—venturing into the inner aisles can definitely suit a healthy lifestyle. Heading in with a plan or list, even better.

      Yogurt being processed isn’t a bad thing. If it wasn’t, we might not be able to consume it safely. Food processing plays an important and healthy role in some cases. Just keep those foods full of tough-to-pronounce ingredients that sound like something we’d put in a car to a minimum. 😉

  5. I love Ezekial bread, August. And anything Amy’s is good. Love her bowls in the freezer section. Frozen fruits and veggies are a lifesaver, too. Some of this other stuff…..hmmmm… I’ll have to give it a try and see.

  6. Good info, oh Food Guru. Glad to see I’ve been doing some of the right things.

  7. At first I read the title and was like “what?!” But you are right. There are SOME processed foods that are actually pretty awesome for you. I think plain Greek yogurt is one of my favorites. I also love cottage cheese.

  8. Ezekiel’s bread was a favorite of mine for years. With my current food sensitivities–gluten, yeast, starches–bread has not been part of my life in the last few years. However, I recently discovered http://www.julianbakery.com, which offers a low-carb bread (also yeast and gluten free) substituting inulin for refined starches.

    The taste requires some adjustment but toasted with tuna (mixed with brown mustard made from apple cider vinegar and just a bit of plain yogurt) and slices of almond cheese, it makes a fairly tasty sandwich. Sometimes, I add cucumbers or onions as well. The bread is quite pricey, however, and if it is not available locally, it can really cost to purchase online. Still…..

    Also wanted to mention that I found a Red Hills Farm organic, plain yogurt made from goat’s milk that is very low in sugar content. Mixed with unsweetened almond milk and SweetLeaf Stevia, the yogurt makes a great shake.

    Really fine post, August!

    • Great tips, Karen. Thanks! So glad you’ve found healthy sensitivity-free substitutes—makes life and eating more fun. I’m definitely going to keep that shake in mind. 🙂

  9. EllieAnn

     /  June 25, 2012

    Such a helpful article, as always! I love Annie’s soups. Her tomato is my favorite. I also love making oats for me and my kids for breakfast. And I love blending frozen fruit and yogurt to make a yummy drink. Mmm. You’re making me hungry.

  10. Fantastic post August with tons of great tips and tricks. I’m definitely going to look for the bread and have been DYING to try the almond butter. And great info on the frozen fruit and veggies – I often wondered if they were just as good and worried sometimes about frozen fruit having too much sugar. My BFF just gave me a great recipe for making a yogurt breaky the night before using plain greek yogurt, oats, and frozen fruit. I’ll get the recipe to share with you – I am picking up the ingredients tonight and can’t wait to try it!
    It’s also great to hear about canned fish. It’s an easy and quick way to incorporate it into salads for lunch but I’ll definitely watch the sodium.
    Now…what about sandwich meats? Hubby and I like to take a sandwich for lunch and using processed meats with mustard is so easy. I recently switched to “all natural” (ingredients I can read and understand) but still wonder. Is there such a thing as decent processed meats for sandwiches?
    FAB post – thanks luv! 🙂

    • Great question, Natalie. There are some all-natural, less processed deli meats available. Hormel natural meats aren’t bad: http://www.hormelnatural.com/.

      Your best options would be canned tuna or salmon (mix with light or natural mayo and chopped celery for a creamy salad). If you prefer poultry, try baking a pan-full of chicken breasts. Then dice them up for use in sandwiches throughout the week. Hummus and veggies also makes a tasty sandwich, on Ezekial or whole wheat pita bread. Yum. 😉

  11. I’ll look for the Kashi 7 Wholegrain Pilaf the next time I’m in the grocery store, August. While I’ve seen Ezekial Bread in the frozen food section, I’ve never tried it but will give it a go.

  12. I can’t eat Ezekial bread because I can’t have wheat, but I just discovered a gluten free nread that actually has nutrients instead of just white rice flour. Frozen fruit, yogurt, and oats are also on my eat regularly list. I’ll have to try canned salmon. I OD’d on tuna in college, so I’ll have to try another fish. Thanks for the suggestions & making me feel healthy in my eating choices.

  13. Hello August!
    What a perfect post! I want to eat better. I am a vegetarian (I do eat seafood & fish for my MS) & struggle to find high protein, easy foods. I shop in the healthy sections of our great supermarket, but cannot always get to that store because it is a 25 minute drive away. The good news is that I do eat some of the food listed above. I CRAVE greek yogurt, so portion control can be a problem. I also eat Amy’s soups, especially her lentil & black beans. I often add frozen cut up veggies to the soup to have more taste. I eat other Kashi items like their this crust pizza. I’ve never tried that pilaf – which looks delicious! I will eat more tuna now that it’s summer…
    Basically, I am open to all the foods above, although I don’t drink juice very much – just water. I need to find a way to go to that store more often. Thank you so much for all these ideas. I will print this page & put on fridge for next time I make my list!


    • Glad you found it helpful, Monique! Some of those products, including Kashi mixes, are available to order online. You might also look for unsweetened, plain or vanilla Greek yogurt, which might be less crave-inducing. If not, you could try keeping them in the freezer and thawing out one at a time. (Partially thawed, it’s delicious – like natural, lightly sweet ice cream. ;))

      Juices aren’t necessary, but fiber-rich varieties like the NJ Mango Veggie are useful when eating on the run or don’t have the energy or desire to cook. (Same for natural smoothies.) Best of luck!

  14. I love using refined organic coconut oil. I use it in place of butter! My mom bought some and bakes with it now. She swears it makes everything taste better!
    Great post August! Thanks for sharing!

    • Mmm… Yes, coconut oil bakes well, too. Great idea, Susie. Sounds like smartness runs in your family! 😉

      • Thanks August!
        Once in a while my mom listens to me! Usually the information has to come from a friend… Hahaha!

  15. Love this list! i would add Morning Star Farms veggie burgers to this list. I can’t stay away from them and they are a great way to curb my cravings for things like white rice.

    • Good deal, Natasia! FYI, basmati rice is the only white whole grain rice—another healthy way to feed those cravings, while helping you meet your whole grain needs.

  16. Good list August.

    I’d add Morning Star veggie bacon to natasiarose’s burgers. If you haven’t eaten bacon for thirty years it tastes just like the real thing.


    • Thanks, Nigel! I like the taste of some meat substitutes better than the “regular” stuff, and I’m not even a veggie. Sure your arteries are thanking you. 🙂

  17. Old fashioned oatmeal is my breakfast every day of the week. I love breakfast. It’s my favorite meal of the day, probably because I wake up hungry. Add a half a grapefruit or strawberries or watemelon, and I’m a very happy writer. 🙂

  18. I’m happy to report that most of these foods are my staples 🙂 I used to eat Ezekiel bread, since the sprouted grains are so much easier to digest and provide much more nutrients. But I am allergic to wheat so I simply bake my own gluten free bread now.

    The only thing that I want to point out is that we need to be careful with corn. I never buy corn in any form that is not organic. Genetically engineered corn is not what I would ever recommend to eat.

  19. mgedwards

     /  June 26, 2012

    Interestingly, when I eat local foods (e.g. Thai food here), most all of it is organic and only some such as coconut milk is processed. To eat processed, unhealthy foods, I have to indulge my craving for western food. For example, one night we will eat Thai green curry made with organic chicken, curry and local vegetables over organic jasmine rice, and the next we’ll have lasagna made with sauce in a jar, lasagna noodles, and processed cheeses. It really makes you think about why people in places like Thailand are generally fit while many Americans (including me) struggle with our weight. I don’t think I could find any of the food you’ve listed overseas, but I am thankful that there are many local alternatives to processed foods.

    • Great point. One of the unfortunate aspects of the Western diet is its lack of fresh, whole foods. Glad to hear that you practice moderation and balance. (LOVE Thai food, by the way. :))

  20. Raani York

     /  June 26, 2012

    Oh, August, I soooooo enjoy those blog posts.
    Part of them do confirm that I’m doing at least SOMETHING right… sometimes they’re giving me excellent hints on what I’m not yet paying enough attention to. (like that “sleep-thing”)
    In the meantime I’m feeling sometimes like a lady of 95 years… sitting down and falling asleep go hand in hand LOL
    Thank you very much for an excellent blog post and your really great advice!!

    • Happy to hear that! I’ve found that many people who are hard on themselves regarding what they eat have more attributes than they realize. Focusing on the positive can really help emotionally and physically. (And yes, that sleep-thing is pretty darn important. ;))

  21. Running from Hell with El

     /  June 26, 2012

    I love the Naked Juices, as well as another form of Kashi cereal (Kashi Crunch)–both always make me feel good. And Amy’s soups (and so many other products) are top-notch. We eat from the healthy food aisle a lot, both because of my daughter’s allergies and the running I do (good input leads to better output); that said, I am far from perfect and appreciate the recommendations above!

    • I’m glad you’re not perfect, El! Wiggle room is key. 🙂
      Thanks for being such a great mother. Eating well as a whole family is vital, especially when one member has allergies or other issues.

  22. Oh how I love my Ezekiel bread and peanut butter! Another great post August! Keep up the amazing work. I appreciate all of your posts and use all of your recommendations.Mwah!
    God bless,

  23. Reblogged this on Kimberly McPherson's Blog and commented:
    Another great post by August McLaughlin!

  24. Kourtney Heintz

     /  June 26, 2012

    I love old fashioned oats, canned tuna, and frozen fruit and fage yogart. 🙂 Glad some of my favs made this list. Thanks for another informative post!

  25. Excellent list. Love the steel cut oats…my fave, hands down 🙂

  26. We even have some of these in Canada. yay!!!

  27. Fab tips, August! I’m not much of a sprouted/whole grain/brown rice/legume kind of gal, but I’m trying to make better choices, and look carefully at the nutrition info. This time of year, it’s way easier to eat more healthfully – I’m the grillin’ queen of my domain, so a lot of fish and chicken, seasoned with olive oil and garden herbs, make it onto our plates (along with a nice juicy steak from time to time, LOL). Once the tomatoes and peppers come in, we’ll have some fresh salsa, too!

    Thanks for the great info!

    • Grilling is a great way to eat tasty, healthy food. And those occasional steaks are fine! 😉

      • Thanks! I know this is off-topic, August, but have you done any posts on artificial sweeteners? Even though they help folks cut down on their sugar intake, I’ve been hearing that they are bad for you, and that people even GAIN weight using them. Yikes!

      • Great question, Kathy. Artificial sweeteners are a complex topic, but in short, they may contribute to blood sugar and appetite spikes in some people—partly because most of them are about 300 times sweeter than sugar. Also, people who consume lots of artificial sweeteners are often dieting, which promotes hunger and weight gain——so it could be overall lifestyle issues causing most problems. In moderate, occasional amounts, they’re generally fine, especially if you combine them with other foods.

        I personally prefer natural sweeteners, like agave nectar and pure maple syrup. They contain calories, but are lower glycemic (less impact on blood sugar) and promote an overall non-diet-y, whole foods approach. They’re also more expensive, but very little goes a long way. For a non-caloric sweetener, I recommend stevia——a sweet leaf that contains antioxidants. Hope that helps!

  28. Daphne Shadows

     /  June 26, 2012

    For me, finding sleep is the hardest thing. Grrr!

  29. This is a great list with good reminders! I love Ezekial bread. Every few years I try to like yogurt and I just can’t get into it–Greek or otherwise. I’ve tried really hard to eat better these past few months and I’ve seen a huge difference in how I feel. I still drink coffee every day. Bad?

    • Drinking coffee daily isn’t bad unless you have a major sensitivity to caffeine or go overboard. It actually offers some health benefits, so as long as you drink it in moderation (usually 1 – 3 cups maximum per day—normal-size, not Starbuck cups ;)), enjoy.
      So glad to hear you’re reaping the benefits of healthy foods. We usually get more perks than anticipated.

  30. Catherine Johnson

     /  June 27, 2012

    I love the fact about yoghurt and anxiety, I wish I’d known that before. What a wealth of info you’ve found for us August. Thanks!
    I always add mixed beans to taco mince that’s my only tip lol. Mash them first to hide them.

  31. Reetta Raitanen

     /  June 27, 2012

    Thank you so much for these recommendations, August. One of my kids is really picky so I got some new ideas for healthy snacks. I think that peanut butter bread will become a new favorite. Thank goodness they love Greek yoghurt. I’m especially delighted to hear that low fat popcorn is good for you 😉

  32. Fabulous and informative post! I must try the Kashi because I really don’t like brown rice.

    I took my first healthy step today by grilling organic free-range chicken. I found an affordable vendor at my local farmers market and whoa – what a flavour difference. I feel so good about eating meat that doesn’t have chemicals or anti-biotics in it!

  33. Thanks, August, for expanding our healthy food options. Great advice for enjoying them, too!

  34. Hey August great share. I have been avoiding having any bread in my house for cutting calories sake. I have never tried Ezekiel bread. Will take a look and taste.

    On steel cut oats. I have them every morning. They take less than 40 minutes depending how high I put the heat and the frequency I am willing to stir. The higher the heat, the more you have to be there to stir. I love them with Honey, Cinnamon, fresh ground Flax, and Walnuts – A few times a week I alternate and put frozen berries in them with honey and walnuts. Such a great source of energy all morning, helping me to reduce weight and manage cholesterol.

  35. I just made homemade almond cinnamon butter today! Soo yummy! I also eat oatmeal every morning or breakfast! Love this post.

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