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?