Healthy Processed, Packaged Foods That Are Dietitian-Approved
How to Find Healthy Packaged Foods
Registered dietitians generally encourage people to focus on real, whole foods. However, a realistic approach to nutrition is important for long-term success. Packaged foods have a reputation for lacking nutrients in favor of additives and unfamiliar ingredients. Although many packaged foods are not RD-approved, there are a few exceptions that can work within a healthy diet. (Should you really be hating on processed foods anyway?)
When scouting for healthy packaged foods, there are a few easy things to look for: a simple, relatively short ingredient list, adequate fiber and protein, minimal to no added sugar, and zero trans fat. Be sure to check out serving size, too. Portion sizes on many processed, packaged foods are much smaller than you might think—you could end up eating double or triple that amount. With these guidelines in mind, here are some of the packaged foods that can make your healthy eating habits a little easier.
Alouette Le Petite Fromage
Cheese is something most people see as an indulgence. It's easy to struggle with portion control. But this spreadable cheese from Alouette helps take the guesswork out of portions with individually wrapped cheeses in a variety of flavors. With a super-simple ingredient list, this real cheese spread has nothing to hide. And since it's blended with yogurt, each portion has only 40 calories and 3 grams of fat. (BTW, full-fat cheese is totally fine for your heart health.)
POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice
Juice has gotten a bad rap for being high in sugar. But it all depends how much of that is added (versus natural) and what nutrients it has to offer. Beverages that are only part juice or that have added sugars and sweeteners aren't the greatest choices—but the right 100 percent juice can be.
POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice serves up a concentrated dose of antioxidants (it's higher in antioxidants than red wine or green tea!) as well as being a good source of potassium, an electrolyte important to replenish after a serious sweat session. The pomegranates are whole pressed so the polyphenols (a type of micronutrient) from the whole fruit make their way into the juice. There's some evidence that pomegranate juice has heart-health benefits too: It could help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Goya Low-Sodium Beans
Canned beans are one of the most convenient plant-based superfoods. Plus, cooking beans (or processing and heating them as they do before canning) reduces the amount of lectin (a certain type of protein) in beans, making them safe to eat and their nutrients easier to absorb.
Opt for Goya Low-Sodium Beans because they have 70 percent less sodium than the original. Plus, they're an excellent source of fiber (8 grams in half a cup), along with 7 grams of protein and iron, a nutrient that's especially important for active women. Add them to salads, chilis, soups, and tacos, or use them to make dips.
Hint of Salt Triscuits
These crackers are an easy way to add a healthy whole-grain carb to any snack. Triscuits are made with just three ingredients: whole-grain wheat, canola oil, and salt. Plus, the Hint of Salt variety surprisingly provides around 30 percent less sodium than original Triscuits. You may find that your sodium intake jumps up with the number of processed foods you eat, so finding low-sodium options is important.
For just 120 calories, six hearty crackers also provide 3 grams of filling fiber. P.S. When choosing carbs such as in crackers, look for 100 percent whole grains instead of a blend of refined and whole sources to get the most fiber out of each serving. (Related: What's the Difference Between Whole Wheat and Whole Grain?)
Peanut Butter & Co. Old Fashioned Smooth Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is beloved by many—but it's not always the healthiest. It can be lightly processed (as in, nothing but ground-up peanuts) or it can be highly processed (containing hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup). The latter isn't exactly a healthy food! (Here's a full guide to nut butter.)
In Peanut Butter & Co.'s Old Fashioned Smooth Peanut Butter the only ingredients are peanuts and a hint of salt, with a 2-tablespoon serving having only 40 milligrams of sodium. (Background: Less than 140 milligrams is considered a low-sodium food.) It's made with only USA-grown peanuts and is Non-GMO Project Verified. Plus, you're getting 8 grams of protein per serving. Stir it into your oatmeal, use it to make peanut sauce and energy bites, or dip with apples and celery. Or, yup, eat it right out of the jar.
Quaker Old Fashioned Oats
Oats are an RD-favorite healthy processed food. They're milled and rolled so they're ready to use for overnight oats, for cooked oats, or in recipes. Quaker Old Fashioned Oats are made with 100 percent whole-grain oats and that's all. One serving provides 4 grams of fiber, including superstar soluble fiber. The soluble fiber in oats helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, may help reduce your heart disease risk, may stabilize blood sugar levels, and could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. (Here's more on why fiber is so awesome—and important for your diet.)
Eggland's Best Hard-Cooked Peeled Eggs
Eggs are an easy protein source because they're affordable and tasty. Two eggs provide 12 grams of high-quality protein along with nutrients such as choline and lutein. Not only does choline help transport nutrients, but it's also needed for healthy brain development and for the health of your nervous system and liver. Lutein is an antioxidant that promotes eye health and helps prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
Eggland's Best Hard-Cooked Peeled Eggs let you enjoy eggs with zero work involved. They're an ideal, quick protein to top morning toast, add to lunch salads, or pack for a healthy snack. Compared to typical eggs, this brand claims their eggs have double the omega-3s, 10 times more vitamin E, and more lutein, thanks to the "wholesome, all-vegetarian hen feed" they use.
Tasty Bite Channa Masala
This vegan, heat-and-eat meal is perfect for busy nights, which is basically any night. With 6 grams of plant-based protein, 5 grams of fiber, and 170 calories per serving, this at-home channa masala (a traditional vegetarian Indian dish) is great for pouring over cauliflower rice for a balanced and filling meal. The ingredient list is as simple as it gets with only tomatoes, onions, chickpeas, water, oil, and spices. The sauce is flavorful with a mild spiciness—and without any added sugars in sight, this meal checks all the dietitian-approved boxes.
Mother in Law's Napa Cabbage Kimchi
Fermented foods such as kimchi are all the rage—and for good reason. They're rich in probiotics, which promote a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, boosting digestive health and your immunity. Not sure what kimchi is? It starts with cabbage (a food that's already healthy, thanks to being low in calories and rich in fiber and potential cancer-fighting compounds) and then is even healthier from being fermented. Onion, garlic, ginger, and red chili flakes give it its famous heat.
Mother in Law's Table Cut Napa Cabbage Kimchi is hand-packed, uses whole-food ingredients, and is vegan and Non-GMO Project Verified. (Pro tip: It lasts up to a year in the fridge.) Try adding it to scrambled eggs, stir-fries, ramen, and rice dishes.
Dave's Killer Bread 21 Whole Grains and Seeds
Whole grains are a prime example of how processing can make a food more nutritious and easier to digest. For example, milling grains removes any contaminants as well as the outer hull that isn't digestible by humans. Processed whole grains tend to be higher in nutrients than unprocessed versions because the nutrients become easier for your body to absorb. Cooking or baking grains (like in bread) also makes them easier to digest.
Dave's Killer Bread's 21 Whole Grains and Seeds is free of high-fructose corn syrup, fillers, additives, and anything artificial—but packs an impressive 5 grams each of protein and fiber. Enjoy two slices of this bread and you're getting 44 grams of whole grains; that's a whopping 91 percent of the USDA Dietary Guidelines' recommended daily serving.
Green Giant Carrot Veggie Spirals
Carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that your body converts into vitamin A. Not only does vitamin A promote good eyesight, but it's also needed for healthy skin and a strong immune system. Cooking your carrots actually boosts the amount of beta-carotene your body absorbs. Try roasting whole carrots or having spiralized ones as a pasta substitute. Green Giant Carrot Veggie Spirals don't have any seasoning or sauces added to them, so you can add your own and control the sodium and sugar levels.
Applegate Chicken Sausage
Sausage and other cured meats are not usually found on healthy food lists. But Applegate chicken sausages, made with antibiotic-free and humanely raised chickens—and without nitrates or nitrites—make the list. Beyond the stricter manufacturing standards, this chicken sausage also keeps calories in check at around 150 per serving. Plus, the ingredient list includes little more than chicken and spices. These dinner sausages are perfect for adding to a stir-fry or grilling alongside vegetables for an alfresco meal. Versatile flavors like spinach and feta and fire-roasted red pepper mean you can make dinners that everyone will love.
Simple Mills Sprouted Seed Crackers
Sprouting seeds increases their digestibility and also the nutritional value by pumping up the amount of protein and minerals. That's why sprouted foods are another prime example of healthy processed foods.
Simple Mills Sprouted Seed Crackers are made with a blend of nutritious seeds including sprouted flax and sunflower seeds. They're gluten-free, paleo-friendly, and non-GMO. They're also rich in heart-healthy omega-3s and a good source of antioxidant vitamin E and manganese, a nutrient that helps stabilize blood sugar levels and is needed to metabolize fats.
Muir Glen Organic Crushed Tomatoes
Tomatoes are already a nutritious food, but their lycopene levels skyrocket when they're processed and heated. Lycopene is a phytochemical that may help lower the risk of some types of cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration (your eyesight getting worse as you get older). That's why tomato sauce, tomato paste, and canned or crushed tomatoes are healthy processed foods—they're loaded with lycopene!
Muir Glen Organic Crushed Tomatoes with Basil have no added sugar, are USDA-certified organic, and make it from the field to the can in eight hours or less. The fact that they use BPA-free liners also scores them extra points.
Birds Eye Chopped Spinach
Spinach is rich in fiber, iron, calcium, and folate as well as phytonutrients such as flavonoids and carotenoids. There's some research suggesting that when fresh spinach travels long distances or when you don't use it right away, the folate content drops.
Frozen spinach not only has nutrients locked in, but it's also much more concentrated than fresh—so you don't have to deal with shrinkage during cooking. Per cup, frozen spinach has quadruple the nutrients compared to fresh. Choose Birds Eye Chopped Spinach because spinach is the only ingredient (no salt or other preservatives here). Keep a few in the freezer so you can throw it into soup, pasta sauce, lasagna, and curries.
JicaChips are a healthier take on the traditional potato chip. They're baked instead of fried, boast 5 grams of fiber per serving, and contain minimal amounts of added oil. Plus, these baked chips are made from jicama, a non-starchy root vegetable filled with antioxidants and important micronutrients, including vitamin C, iron, and magnesium. Did we mention they come in single-serving, 100-calorie bags, too? (This packaged snack also made it onto another food pro's list of popped and puffed foods.)
Bob's Red Mill Cassava Flour
Cassava is a starchy root that's also known as yucca or manioc and is a popular source of carbohydrates in the Caribbean, South America, and Africa. You may have tried it as highly processed tapioca in bubble tea (which doesn't offer much nutrition, sorry to burst your bubble). Enter cassava flour, a much more nutritious way to process the plant. Cassava and its flour contain a type of fiber called resistant starch, which fuels the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Resistant starch may reduce inflammation and promote healthy digestion. This type of fiber could also promote weight loss by increasing satiety and helping to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Bob's Red Mill Cassava Flour is made from whole cassava root and has nothing else added. It's Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, and nut-free, which is great for people with allergies. Because cassava flour is also grain-free, it's super popular for people who are paleo or trying the Whole30 diet. In case you're wondering: Cassava flour is also super versatile because it has a neutral flavor and a fine texture, so it'll work fine in all your baking, from flatbreads to cookies and piecrust.
YQ by Yoplait Plain Yogurt
Sure, milk does a body good, but yogurt is the next level. Both milk and yogurt offer high-quality protein and calcium, but yogurt is a more concentrated source of protein (depending on which kind you choose) and has the added benefits of healthy bacteria to support gut health. (See: Do the Benefits of Milk Outweigh the Downsides of Dairy?)
Go for high-protein, low-sugar yogurt with minimal ingredients, like YQ by Yoplait. Their plain yogurt has 17 grams of protein and 1 gram of natural sugar per serving. Plus, the ingredients list is just milk and cultures. That's it, that's all. It's made with ultra-filtered low-fat milk and has a creamy texture.
Kirkland Signature Frozen Blueberries
Blueberries are a good source of fiber, with 3.6 grams in a cup. Fiber can help you feel satiated or full and supports healthy digestion. Including plenty of fiber in your day may help lower the risk of heart disease and some cancers. These baby blues are also a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that supports the immune system and helps protect your cells from free radical damage.
Frozen blueberries have the same nutrients as fresh ones and are individually quick frozen to lock-in the nutrients. Make sure you always buy frozen fruit that has no sugar added. (Fruit should be the only ingredient.) Stock up on Kirkland Signature Individually Quick Frozen Blueberries at Costco. They come in a big, 5-lb bag and are frozen within hours of being picked. Keep frozen blueberries in your freezer to easily add them to muffins and pancakes, smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt. (Or make a big batch of freezer smoothies that are ready to blend whenever.)
Nature's Path Smart Bran Cereal
While cold breakfast cereals can be filled with sugar, calories, and fast-digesting carbs, this is the exception. One half-cup serving of Nature's Path Smart Bran cereal provides 80 calories and 13 grams of fiber—about half the daily recommended amount of fiber for women. It's made from a blend of high-fiber ingredients, like wheat bran, oat bran, and psyllium husk. Combine a serving of this high-fiber food with a serving of fruit and a protein, like Greek yogurt, to stay full all morning. (More: The Healthiest Cereal Choices to Help You Live Longer)
StarKist Selects E.V.O.O. Wild-Caught Pink Salmon
Sometimes the convenience factor helps you eat better, and this is one of those examples. You probably know that it's healthy to eat fish a few times a week—but that isn't always easy to do. Whether you get your tuna and salmon in cans or pouches, you're saving time and getting high-quality protein into your day.
StarKist Selects E.V.O.O. Wild-Caught Pink Salmon is 100 percent wild-caught salmon packed in extra-virgin olive oil. Each pouch has 15 grams of protein and is an excellent source of omega-3s and vitamin D. Omega-3s in oily fish such as salmon promote the health of your heart, eyes, and brain. Vitamin D is important for bone health, plus it also supports your immune system and your nerve and muscle functioning.