Healthy Processed Foods: Do They Exist?

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It’s unrealistic to think that the average person, who’s faced with fast food and processed food on a regular basis, can start following a completely rigid diet of 100% “clean”, fresh, or local foods. While it may work for some people, it’s not reasonable for the masses as issues of seasonality and transportation make it difficult for all of us to access fresh and local foods all the time.

The 2010 Better Homes and Gardens Food Factor Survey revealed just how dependent today’s cooks are on convenience foods. Of 3,600 women surveyed from across the United States, 71% of them purchased convenience produce (eg, prepared salads, chopped fruits and vegetables), and 81% purchased convenient forms of fresh poultry and meats regularly.

According to Health and Human Services, the quest for convenience is leading more people to consume away-from-home quick-service or restaurant meals or to buy ready-to-eat, quickly accessible meals to prepare at home. When the wrong choices are made, the trend contributes to obesity, especially among children. However, while most people might think of processed food as something that comes wrapped in plastic from a factory across the country, many processed foods can deliver lots of nutrition without doing you any harm.

The best way to assess a food’s value is to decipher its nutrition facts panel. Besides the basics of paying attention to calories and serving size, here are tips to guide you from the Food and Drug Administration:

●Choose products with high daily value percentages (20 percent or more per serving) of fiber and of vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium and iron.

●Look for low daily value percentages (5 percent or less) of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.

●The following terms signal added sugars, which contain lots of calories but little nutrition value: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey and maple syrup.

Healthful Processed Convenient Foods Here’s a roundup of foods that, though processed and packaged, pack a nutritional punch.

Yogurt: The yogurt making process is probably also what makes it so good for you. In addition to the calcium and protein, vitamins and minerals yogurt delivers, the active bacteria cultures that give it its tangy taste are probiotics that are thought to provide digestive health benefits.

Canned beans: Beans are an excellent source of protein (especially for those who don’t eat meat) and fiber. Sure, you can buy, dry and soak them (thereby processing them yourself). But you can’t beat the convenience of canned. Look for reduced-sodium brands, or drain and rinse your beans before eating.

Jarred spaghetti sauce: The process of cooking actually improves the quality of the antioxidant carotenoids that give tomatoes their color, making jarred sauce a healthful choice. Sauces are also seasoned with herbs, which add vitamins and minerals such as potassium.

Canned salmon: We all supposed to be eating more fish — at least two four-ounce servings a week, according to federal dietary guidelines — and fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon and tuna are tops because of the omega-3 fatty acids they contain. But buying fresh fish can get expensive. Canned varieties provide the same nutrition.

Frozen fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables harvested at their peak and immediately frozen retain all their nutritional value, allowing us to enjoy their benefits year round. They’re often less expensive than fresh produce, too.

Brown rice: In a bag or frozen, this healthful choice takes only eight to 10 minutes to prepare compared with about 45 minutes the traditional way.

Individual cups of hummus: High in protein, it’s good for lunch or a snack. Hummus can be used for dipping carrot or celery sticks, or whole-grain crackers for an added nutritional punch.

Edamame: Frozen edamame can be toasted or stir-fried or added to any casserole, soup, or stew for added fiber and protein.

Prepackaged guacamole snack packs: Guacamole packets are great for topping off a prepackaged salad with healthy fats without the hassle of peeling, mashing, and seasoning fresh avocados.

Eggs: Eggs are an incredible source of high-quality protein and are also one of the only foods that contain naturally occurring sources of Vitamin D, a nutrient that most individuals are deficient in. Boil them or crack them open and scramble or make a quick omelet or frittata with precut vegetables for a healthy, convenient meal.

Nuts: Roasted peanuts, pecans, cashews, pistachios, macadamias, and Brazil nuts are portable, nutritious, and, on a per-serving basis, very affordable.

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