In the health scene, many people talk about the processed convenience foods that we should avoid. Few discuss processed foods that fit into a healthy diet. Believe it or not, nutritionists recommend some convenience food. The easier it is to cook healthy, the more likely we'll stick to a nutritious diet.
Even notorious "junk" foods, like frozen waffles and cereal, can form a healthy meal if you know what to look for. If you buy these foods, you can cut down your cooking time by up to 40 minutes. Here are processed convenience foods that nutritionists and researchers agree are actually pretty healthy.
Frozen Fruits And Veggies Are Better Than Fresh Ones
There's a misconception that frozen produce is less nutritious than fresh fruit. However, science indicates that it is the other way around. During a 2015 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers noted that frozen fruit and vegetables have as much — if not more — nutrients than fresh produce.
The fruits and vegetables are frozen at their peak ripeness. While they're freezing, a nitrogen atmosphere preserves all the nutrients. That's why you can use frozen produce in the same way as fresh fruits and vegetables. It's also healthier for you!
Frozen Waffles Can Be Healthy
Despite their negative reputation, many frozen waffles can make for a healthy breakfast. Dietitian and Nutritionist Toby Amidor says that whole wheat waffles are good for you. According to him, they contain high amounts of B-vitamins. Just stick to the recommended serving size of two waffles.
Dr. Amidor recommends Van's Totally Natural Waffles and Earth's Organic Waffles. Look for waffles without additives or high fructose corn syrup. For healthy toppings, you can use fruit, nut butter, or maple syrup made without additives.
Tomato Sauces And Pastes Are Healthy
If you want to avoid unhealthy canned food, you don't have to worry about tomato sauces or pastes. In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one study suggests that the body absorbs lycopene better from sauce than from fresh tomatoes. These levels of lycopene help your body fight cancer, according to Registered Dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade.
Researchers explain that processing tomato products breaks down cell walls. Instead of stripping the tomatoes of nutrients, processing helps the body absorb them. Cooking tomato sauce in a small amount of fat, such as cooking oils, enhances this absorption, according to the research.
Check The Label On Instant Oats
Instant oats are rolled oats that are further processed to reduce the cooking time. Many have received a negative reputation due to brands adding extra sugar and artificial flavors. But by themselves, instant oats have the same nutrients as regular oats. Dietitian Dana Angelo White estimates that most brands of instant oats add three to four teaspoons of sweetener!
Feel free to buy instant oats, but check the nutrition label first. Find oats with no added sugar and minimal ingredients. Dr. White says that rolled oats take about the same amount of time to cook, so you can opt for those too.
String Cheese Has No Strings Attached
String cheese makes a convenient and delicious snack. It isn't the cheese shape that makes a difference in health — it's the type of cheese. "From a saturated fat perspective, low-fat cheeses are better for you and can also contain fewer calories," says Registered Dietitian and Certified Nutritionist Isabel Smith.
Low-fat cheeses include mozzarella and cheddar. If you buy one of these, you'll have an already-portioned snack for less than 80 calories. They also offer protein and calcium that will benefit any diet.
Cereal Can Be Good For You
Over the years, cereal has been demonized for its high sugar content. But this easy meal can be healthy if you choose your cereal wisely. According to CNN, whole grain cereals offer as much protein as an egg and as much fiber as oatmeal. Once you add milk, you'll receive more protein and calcium.
Nutritionist Lisa Drayer recommends buying cereal with at least three grams of fiber and less than eight grams (two teaspoons) of sugar. If you can't immediately switch from sugary cereals to whole grain, sprinkle some sweet cereal over the healthy option.
Dried Fruits Offer More Nutrients
Rumors that dried fruit contributes to weight gain have been debunked. According to Dr. Anthony Komaroff of Harvard Health Letter, dried fruits provide more antioxidants and fiber than fresh fruit. As long as your dried fruit doesn't have added sugar, it'll make a nutritious snack that lasts far longer than produce.
The biggest risk to dried fruit is that they're quite small. It's easier to overindulge on sweet snacks when you can't measure your servings. If you portion your dried fruit ahead of time, you won't have to worry about enjoying your portable snack.
Microwave Your Rice And Quinoa
Did you know that you can buy microwavable grains that cook in 90 seconds? These grains are pre-cooked, and there's little nutritional difference from fresh rice, according to The World's Healthiest Foods. Opt for organic, whole-grain rice for the best nutritional value.
If you can find this on the label, look for parboiled rice. Parboiling is short for "partially boiled," which allows the nutrients to soak into the kernels. Researchers at the University of Arkansas state that parboiled rice offers more nutrition — such as vitamins B and E — than boiled rice.
No Need To Avoid Yogurt
Although yogurt comes in a container, that doesn't mean it's unhealthy. According to Rebecca Lewis, a Registered Dietitian for Hello Fresh, yogurt containers with less than 12 grams of sugar will make a healthy snack. Yogurt also gives you plenty of calcium, vitamin B12, protein, and probiotics.
If you can, buy Greek yogurt. It usually contains only six grams of sugar, compared to 39 grams in Breyers Yogurt. Some Greek yogurts include fruit, but if they don't, you can add some fresh fruit and honey to your dish.
Spice Pastes Save So Much Time
Instead of chopping garlic and onions for your dish, you can buy spice pastes at the store. Certified Nutritionist and Dietitian Jessica Levinson told NBC News that these pastes give your meals a health boost while saving time. In terms of ingredients, they're the same as homemade pastes with a little added sodium.
Spice pastes last up to three months and can be used in marinades, salad dressings, and curries. Levinson also said that you can purchase dried spices, which last between one and three years. However, you'll have to make the paste out of the dried herbs yourself.
Ready-Made Salad Mixes Will Change Your Life
Ready-made salad mixes aren't that different from fresh salads. Although vegetables lose their nutrients after harvesting, research indicated that modified atmosphere packaging might make up for it. This process reduces oxygen levels in the bag, which keeps vegetables green and prevents the loss of foliates and vitamin C.
According to the University of California, Davis, 83% of U.S. shoppers purchase ready-made salads regularly. They save so much time and hassle that it's hard not to see the appeal. Nutritionist and Dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix recommends finding 100% Clean salads, which don't include any additives.
Easy Peasy: Canned Beans And Chickpeas
Dried beans take hours to cook. Fortunately, you can heat up a can of pre-cooked beans for the same benefits. According to a 2011 study, canned beans and dried beans have the same amount of nutrients. The only difference is that canned beans contain more sodium than dried beans.
If you want to lower the sodium content, you can rinse canned beans before baking them. Researchers estimate that this will cut out half of the sodium. Low-salt varieties don't quite taste the same, so you can get rid of the juice and still enjoy your quick and easy source of protein.
Anything Pickled Is Good For You
Pickled foods, such as sauerkraut, undergo a process called fermentation. Originally, people pickled foods to increase their shelf life, but now people pickle foods to receive more probiotics. Lisa Hayim, a Registered Dietitian for The Well Necessities, says that these probiotics support your immune system and reduce inflammation.
The demand for pickled food is so high that many people ferment their own vegetables. But you can buy a jar of pickles or sauerkraut and add them to any meal. They're flavor your food well and last for a long time in the fridge.
Canned Fish Are On Par With Fresh Fish
With their healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids, fish are great for heart health. But do canned fish offer the same benefits? According to Dr. Thomas Lee of Harvard Health Letter, canned fish offer the same amount (and sometimes more) of omega-3's. Dr. Lee recommends choosing a canned fish in water since it'll retain most of its oil.
During a 2001 Italian study, researchers reported that those who ate canned fish twice a week were 30% less likely to experience a heart attack than those who ate it once a week. So there's no need to fear canned fish. If you want less sodium, rinse the fish before you eat it.
Go Nuts For Nut Butters
Nut butters receive a bad reputation for their salt and fat content. In reality, peanut butter supplies the same amount of healthy fats as olive oil. Dr. Walter C. Willett of Harvard Health Letter claims that nut butters reduce LDL cholesterol (the "bad" one) and raise HDL cholesterol (the heart-healthy one).
Nut butters don't make you gain weight, either. Research from 2014 indicates that eating nut butters in moderation helps you lose weight. Before you buy, check the label for added sugars, high fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated oils (another term for trans fats).
No Need To Make Your Own Broth
While making your own broth can be exciting, you can buy a boxed broth for a similar amount of nutrients. According to research by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, broth encourages people to eat better. Scientists found that boxed savory broths made subtle changes to the brain that encourage participants to eat healthier.
Although boxed broths offer similar protein and nutrients to homemade broths, many contain around 50% of your daily recommended sodium. You may want to choose a low-sodium broth and then add salt to taste. Seek out organic broths if you don't want the preservatives.
Choose Your Hummus Wisely
If you don't want to make your own hummus, you can purchase some from the store. Just be careful of which brand you're buying. Some manufacturers include cheap vegetable oils, such as soybean oil, in their hummus. These can inflame your body from their high amount of omega-6 fatty acids. Choose a hummus made with olive oil and few additives.
Once you have your hummus, your health may improve significantly. During a 2004 study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences, participants who chose hummus as a snack had a 51% chance of high blood sugar and a 53% lower chance of becoming obese.
Prepared Pesto Will Protect Your Heart
There's a myth that people shouldn't eat pesto because of its high-fat content. However, pesto's pine nuts and oil provide healthy unsaturated fats. According to the International Journal of Cardiology, these fats result in a lower risk of heart disease.
But is store-bought pesto worse than homemade pesto? According to Bon Appétit, prepared pesto has the same level of nutrients for half the price of homemade pesto. The only big difference is that store-bought pestos contain more sodium, and some include canola oil instead of olive oil.
Why Cook Lentils When You Can Get Them Canned?
Since dry lentils take around 40 minutes to cook, canned lentils may be your preferred option. According to Lentils.org, canned lentils provide the same nutrients as dry lentils. But like many pre-made foods, they include a lot of sodium. Rinsing your cooked lentils under running water will cut the sodium by up to 60%, according to the site.
Lentils are a low-calorie source of protein that enhances many dishes. A 2017 study in the Journal of Functional Foods states that cooked lentils release antioxidants and anti-inflammatories into your gut, both of which prevent diseases.
Rinsing Pre-Washed Greens Won't Help
The debate over whether you should rinse pre-washed vegetables has raged for a long time. While some people wash their greens again for safety, food specialists advise against doing that. According to them, your cutting board or sink could contain more bacteria than bagged greens.
In addition, if bacteria managed to survive commercial-scale washing, there's little chance than an extra rinse will get them out. In other words, washing the vegetables again doesn't make a difference. You can enjoy pre-washed and pre-chopped vegetables without the extra hassle. Of course, the only "processing" here is the wash cycle.
Opt For Whole Grain Bread
There are more varieties of bread than ever before. While white bread has gotten a bad rep for being weak nutritionally, there are plenty of high-fiber options that come packed full of healthy seeds and grains.
Oat bread, flax bread, gluten-free bread made from brown rice, low-carb bread, you name it, it's probably out there. Many have found sprouted bread to be a better alternative, as well. Allowing the grain to sprout has proven to increase the amount of nutrients in the bread.
Skip The Chips And Go For The Crackers
Like bread, crackers are not always as forboding as some may think. While some crackers are easy to overdo, they aren't all created equally. We're fairly confident that the healthier crackers you'll get bored of long before you make it through an entire box.
The trick is choosing the ones with few ingredients overall, and a higher amount of nutrious foods. Many crackers are made from nuts, seeds, various grains, and more filling foods that will leave you satisfied thanks to their high fiber and nutrient content.
The Best Bars Are Found In The Health Aisle
When it comes to energy bars, the easiest trick to picking one is to avoid the breakfast and snack aisles. No, Fig Newtons do not count as a healthy bar to start your day with. Instead, aim for one of the bars whose ingredients you can actually see with your own eyes.
Think of it like trail mix. If it's natural ingredients that are clumped together with a thin layer of honey or the equivalent, it's nutrition meets convenience. However, watch out for the ones that are high in sugar and low in fiber and protein.
Some Veggie Burgers Are Better Than Others
We know what you might be thinking: aren't those thing FULL of fillers? The short answer is yes, many of them are. Some vegetarian alternatives are so modified that you can't even tell what you're eating. However, others are made from natural ingredients that can benefit you.
The best thing to do is simply check the label. If the ingredients list may as well be in a different language, then avoid it. However, many veggie burgers are primarily grains, beans, and veggies in the shape of a patty, such as Trader Joe's Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burgers.
KRAVE Jerky Only Uses The Good Stuff
Many of us have grabbed a Slim Jim from the gas station when in a bind. And if you've ever dared to peek at the list of ingredients, you know that a lot of those inexpensive dried meats are full of preservatives and additives.
That's why companies like KRAVE went ahead and made dried meats from the lean cuts of domestic meat. They also are nitrate-free, don't contain artificial flavors, and are lower in sodium and cholesterol. It's worth the extra few dollars to know what you're putting in your body.
Choose You Cold Cuts Wisely
Back in 2017, Dr. Oz invited Dr. Kellyann onto the show to discuss, at length, deli meats. The short of it is that if you're going to eat lunch meat, the best are the ones that are nitrate and nitrite free and that are low in sodium.
Dr. Kellyman recommends these: Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh, Applegate Naturals, Boar's Head Ovengold, and Land O'Frost Simply Delicious. While they shouldn't be your main source of protein, they do offer protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Frozen Fish Is Right Off The Fishing Line
While you can get fresh fish from most grocery stores, frozen fish actually has a heaping of benefits. For one, it will last as long as you need it to and is already sealed airtight. Also, the fish is frozen as soon as it's caught, so you know it hasn't been sitting out on display.
You're getting all of the same nutrients in frozen fish as you do with fresh fish, only you have more options. With fresh fish, you have to wait until a particular kind is in season, where frozen offers any variety year-round.
Add Some Crunch With Granola
Granola is all about the brand. Some are packed with sodium and sugar while others add fiber and crunch without the bad stuff. In fact, some granola is even packed with protein, helping you meet your protien quota in the morning.
A general rule of thumb when checking the nutrition label is to try not to exceed 10 grams of sugar per serving. This doesn't mean carbs, as the grains in granola make them a naturally high-carb food.
Almond Milk Lasts Longer Than Dairy
Almond milk can sometimes contain fillers such as carrageenan, gums, and food starches. When checking the label, look for one that contains as few additives as possible. Almond Breeze's brand is already carrageenan-free.
Some almond milk is made to last in the pantry and won't go bad until it's been opened and stored in the refrigerator for about a week. It's often the milk of choice for vegetarians and those with a lactose allergy, and tends to have fewer calories that regular milk.
Stick With Organic Jelly
When it comes to jelly, they mostly all taste great, but aren't all great for you. The ones high in preservatives and anything but pure cane sugar aren't the best. Instead, aim for the kinds that are more fruit than anything else.
The good thing about jelly is that it is made from antioxidant-rich berries. These berries are packed full of disease-fighting phytonutrients. Since berries are often more nutrition-dense than other fruits and are antioxidant powerhouses, try to stick with those flavors over grape and others.
Edamame is a Healthy Snacking Food For Your Freezer
Shelled edamame makes a great snack because it keeps your hands busy without adding the extra calories that you would get from snacking on potato chips or something similar. Edamame is low in calories while high in protein, iron, and calcium.
You can keep portioned bags of the green soybeans in your freezer for whenever you get a snack attack. Just a pinch of salt is all you need to make edamame a delicious and healthy snack. Consider dipping in low-sodium soy sauce for more flavor.
Eggplant in a Can Makes It Easier To Enjoy
Have you ever heard of canned eggplant? It’s a thing! Eggplant is high in fiber and low in calories, making it a healthy snack or side dish. Eggplant has also been proven to help reduce the risk of heart disease and manage blood sugar levels.
Trader Joe’s combines eggplant, onions, and tomatoes in one can that makes it easy to whip up a Mediterranean-style dish. Stock up on canned eggplant to get your fiber intake when you don’t have any fresh veggies available at home.
Dolmas Are Full of Vitamins and Antioxidants
Overall, Mediterranean food is usually a healthy option. Dolmas make another good snack or side dish. Dolmas are stuffed grape leaves that are low-calorie and high in fiber. A can of these tasty leaves is also a great source of vitamin A and vitamin K.
Need another reason to purchase some cans of dolmas for your pantry? They have loads of antioxidants to ward away colds. There are plenty of brands to choose from and they’re easy and affordable to keep on-hand in case unexpected guests show up.
Who Doesn’t Love Soup?
Especially during the colder months, it’s a great idea to stock up on soups. There are plenty of brands that now make boxed soup that’s low and calories and fats and high in nutrients.
Roasted red pepper and tomato soup makes a zesty starter to dinner, carrot ginger soup can help you keep a cold at bay, and miso soup is magically delicious. Enjoying soup before a meal can also help satisfy your hunger so you don’t overeat starches at dinner.
Nothin’ Wrong With A Bowl of Chili
Another great food to warm you up on a cold day is a can of chili. There are a variety of healthy chili options to choose from that are loaded with beans and veggies to fill you up while also getting a serving of vegetables and fiber.
A can alone is a satisfying meal, but you can also add sauteed veggies for an added kick of freshness and crunch if you have onions or peppers handy.
Grab The Popcorn!
Not many people are aware of this, but popcorn is actually a whole grain and a great source of fiber and antioxidants! You just have to be careful when picking out your popcorn to make sure it isn’t oversaturated in butter or too much salt. There are alternatives to making this snack sweet!
Brooke Ziegler, MPP, RDN, LD, says, “This is one of my favorite snacks when I want something salty. I love buying 100-calorie packs of popcorn to help with portion control. If I want to be a little more filling, I may add some sliced almond and chocolate chips for a sweet and savory snack.”
Put Some Pep In Your Step With Matcha Powder
People are adding matcha green tea powder to an assortment of different foods, including smoothies, cookies, overnight oats. And They’re doing this for a very good reason. Matcha is a powder that comes from finely ground whole tea leaves, meaning you are getting all the leaves nutrients!
A review of 49 human trials from the journal of current Pharmaceutical Design suggests that phytochemicals like L-theanine and caffeine found in matcha improve mood, cognitive performance, and sharpness.
Switch It Up With Bean Pasta
So, bean pasta might sound very strange, but next to whole-grain bread it’s one of the healthier packaged foods you can buy. Bean pastas are higher in protein and fiber than typical pastas, both white and whole-grain. Not to mention, they’re gluten-free!
One dietitian said that “banza chickpea pasta has a good texture and mouthfeel, making it a no-sacrifice swap for refined-grain pasta. Nutritionally, it has about trie the plant protein (25 grams) and more than four times the fiber (13 grams) of standard pasta.”
Give Muesli Cups A Shot
Just think of muesli cups as the adult version of cereal, accept that it’s made with ancient grains, dried fruits, and nuts. Honestly, when it comes to breakfast foods this should be at the top of your list.
One dietitian said, “Instead of eating sugary cereal in the morning, opt for a gluten-free, on-the-go muesli cup. The are a tasty, low-sugar (less than 9 grams) breakfast that will satisfy your sweet craving.”
You're Never Too Old For Chocolate Milk
We’re here to give you a public service announcement: chocolate milk is not just for kids! In fact, many dietitians say that the drink is a great post-workout option, due to its perfect ratio of carbs and protein. Not to mention that it is a great treat after a sweaty workout session.
“Chocolate milk isn’t only for kids; it’s actually a great recovery drink for active people. The 3:1 carb to protein ratio in chocolate milk has been studied extensively and has been found to help tired muscles recover and prevent muscle soreness,” says one dietitian.