Doesn’t your mind just start racing with preconceived judgments when you hear that phrase?
Well I’m here to say it’s not your fault!
Society has programmed us through food fad and diet propaganda that processed food is a major no-no. The problem is our understanding of it is incredibly warped.
Yes, processed food can be some of the most unhealthy, refined, ‘junk food’ at the grocery store. Yes it can be full of ‘fake foods’, chemicals, and unnecessary additives. Yes, it is best to reach for whole foods whenever possible. BUT just because something is labeled as a processed food, doesn’t mean you should automatically write it off. Every food should be considered individually because every food has different nutritional qualities and benefits. Especially when it comes to processed foods. You’d probably be surprised at just what qualifies as a ‘processed food’…
Here’s the real definition of ‘processed food’:
Food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat. It can be as simple as freezing or drying food to preserve nutrients and freshness, or as complex as formulating a frozen meal with the right balance of nutrients and ingredients.
–International Food Information Council
As you can see, not that complicated after all! In fact a lot of foods that are considered processed are really WHOLE, HEALTHY foods that just happen to be labeled that way because of packaging minor augmentation before being put out on the market. Things like nuts, canned fruits and veggies, and even bagged salads are considered ‘processed’….but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would say those are unhealthy and should be avoided.
Some other pluses to processed foods? They allow us to eat balanced and affordably all year round! It’s not often you’re going to find fresh blueberries in the winter when they are out of season without paying exorbitant prices. But head to the frozen section and you’ll definitely find some (no sugar added) berries for a reasonable price! Also, some foods are actually MORE nutritious when after being processed. Certain forms of cooking or preserving allow for their vitamins and minerals to be more readily absorbed by the body. Some are even fortified with important vitamins and nutrients that we sometimes lack in our diets (think breakfast cereals, orange juice, etc.) Healthy processed foods are convenient, readily available, and SAFE. They have to go through more regulations and meet higher standards than other foods on the market. So for the most part you know you’re getting high quality food that is pretty darn good for you too!
Today I want to share a list of the The Healthiest Processed Foods you can pick up at your local grocery! Maybe some of these are in your cart already and maybe you didn’t even know they were considered ‘processed’! Well, I am here to spread some knowledge…
Frozen Fruits & Vegetables
Believe it or not, frozen vegetables can actually be MORE nutrient-rich than fresh because they are picked and frozen at their nutritional peak. Look for bags with only vegetables as their ingredients and you’re golden! Often time frozen fruits and veggies are cheaper than their fresh counterparts and they allow you to stock up on foods that may be out of season. Less food waste too since you’re not forced to use them up in a short amount of time. Not to mention….coupons! You usually won’t find coupons for fresh produce, but frozen? All the time!
Whole grain rolled oats are one of the best, cheap sources of dietary fiber at the store! Oats are ‘processed’ through the roasting that they undergo after being harvested and cleaned. Although they are hulled, this process does not strip away their bran and germ allowing them to retain a concentrated source of their fiber and nutrients. Studies show they lower cholesterol, promote heart health, and stabilize blood sugar.
Canned beans are low in fat and calories, but high in fiber! They make for a great plant-based protein-rich addition to any of your meals. Only cooked in water, the canning only serves to preserve them and make them shelf stable. Opt for ones that are low sodium or have no added salt. Also, choose plain beans instead of refried or ‘baked’ varieties to avoid added sugars and oils.
Plain Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is higher in protein per ounce than regular yogurt. It’s an affordable source of calcium, vitamin D, and lean protein. Also, if you opt for plain, you’re getting no added sugars. The thick texture is achieved simply through a straining process that separates out the liquid whey. This boosts the concentrations of probiotics, B12, and Potassium and reduces the amount of carbohydrates per serving!
Unsweetened Apple Sauce and Canned Fruit
If you choose no sugar added apple sauce or canned fruit in 100% juice, you’re getting fruit that is just as healthy as the fresh varieties! Sometimes there is even added Vitamin C or Calcium in these shelf stable products. These fruit options are great during seasons when the fresh versions aren’t available.
Most people think fresh is best, but when you cook them it helps release some of the disease-fighting lycopene inside. This helps with better absorption. Canned tomatoes (especially ones with no added salt) are high in potassium and vitamin C. Use canned tomato puree and add your own seasonings instead of jarred commercial tomato sauce for your next pasta dinner!
Brown rice goes through less processing than its white counterpart. It’s also a cheap, easy to cook option for whole grains and fiber. By retaining its side hulls and brans it stays rich in proteins, thiamine, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and potassium. White rice is often ‘enriched’ with these vitamins and minerals instead of possessing them naturally. Brown rice also lasts a very long time and can be stored in virtually any type of environment.,
Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milks
Non-dairy milks often come in shelf-stable packaging so they can be great for keeping on hand in case of emergencies, or just if you enjoy non-dairy milks more than cow’s milk. I do! I love cashew and almond milk the best and if you can find a variety with out many additives they can be a great alternative source of Calcium, B12, and Vitamin D. Unsweetened non-dairy milks are also free of sugar, gluten, artificial ingredients, dairy, soy, and MSG.
Nuts & Raw Nut Butters
Nuts that are placed in bags are considered processed even if they are raw. Almonds, cashews, pecans, and walnuts are some of the healthiest foods you can eat (high in fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, and all sorts of vitamins and minerals). So don’t be afraid to buy them despite their ‘packaged label’. Looks for ones without added salt or oil! Same goes for nut butters. Look for nut butters with only nuts as their ingredients! Dastony has a great line of raw nut butters and Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter is only made from peanuts. With these foods, it’s all about checking the labels.
Eggs are an amazing, cheap source of high quality complete protein. They’re one of the only foods that contain concentrations of naturally occurring Vitamin D. As far as food safety, eggs are sometimes avoided because of the potential for salmonella. However, food safety standards are constantly being improved and that combined with consumers becoming more aware of what guidelines they should be following it home, makes them a healthy addition to any well stocked kitchen.
Canned fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines are just as healthy as fresh! Not to mention a lot cheaper. The canning process does not diminish any of their nutritional properties. The fish is simply cooked in water (and sometimes salt) and then canned. Sardines provide more 50% of your daily Calcium needs, tuna is rich in Selenium, and salmon has omega 3s and healthy unsaturated fats.
The biggest things to look for when you’re choosing from processed foods?
+products with high percentages of nutrients like fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron
+products with low saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol
+products with added sugars
Basically, be choosy. Don’t automatically restrict processed foods from your diet! As I always say, healthy living is not about eliminated whole sectors of the food pyramid or the shopping market. It’s about eating moderately and being informed on what you’re putting in your cart. Check ingredients! Read nutritional labels (to some extent)! And look for so-called ‘processed items’ that are as close to their original, natural state as possible.
Do you eat processed foods (healthy or otherwise)?
Were you aware of all the HEALTHY foods that fall under the ‘processed’ label?
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