Top 10 Best Processed Foods
By: Text: Maureen Callahan, MS, RD
In a perfect world we’d head to the farm for our locally grown, pesticide-free produce and grass-fed meats and then cook them all up from scratch. But reality dictates that most of us need, or want, a little help in the kitchen. So we scoured supermarkets looking for new beverages, frozen foods, or convenience items that deserve to be on any healthy eater’s radar. Some are brand new choices, just introduced in the last few months. Others are a little older, but just as noteworthy. Consider it a snapshot view of what’s stashed in our pantry at the current moment.
Although zero-fat plain Greek yogurt is one of the healthiest snacks on the planet, some folks aren’t keen on the tart flavor. This sweetened version of Oikos Caramel Greek Yogurt might change their minds. You’ll find in each 4-ounce container 110 calories, zero fat, 10 grams of protein, and 17 grams of carbs (about 2 teaspoons of this is added sugar). If you already prefer the tart flavor of 0% fat Greek yogurt, mix equal amounts caramel and plain Greek yogurt for a less sweet mousse-like dessert.
A splash of olive oil elevates the flavors of StarKist Yellow Fin Tuna in Extra Virgin Olive Oil making this pouch tuna great for traveling or for stashing in a lunch box. Serve with whole grain crackers and a vegetable-rich salad for a complete light meal. One single serve pouch adds up to just 190 calories, 18 grams of protein, and 13 grams of fat. Also new: StarKist Low Sodium Pouch Tuna (140mg sodium) for those watching salt.
A mixture of whole oats, brown rice, rye, hard red wheat, triticale, buckwheat, barley, and sesame seeds, Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf can wear many hats. Use it as a hot cereal, a side dish pilaf, a soup ingredient, or a main-dish grain meal. In other words, it’s a blank canvas that lets you incorporate more whole grains at mealtime. One half cup cooked delivers: 170 calories, 2.5g fat (0 sat fat), 6 g protein, 6 grams of fiber, and zero sodium.
Shell on-pistachios sprinkled with salt and pepper are all the rage these days, but we like that this combo from Planters uses sea salt, helping to knock off about 30 percent sodium when compared to other brands. Also nice: Planters sells the snacks in large pouches and convenient individual portions perfect for the lunch box, back pack, or desk drawer. The nutrition numbers: 160 calories per serving (about 46 nuts), 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 190 milligrams sodium.
Harvesting the juicy red seeds of a fresh pomegranate is a messy business. So we’re all for a product like Pom Wonderful Fresh Pomegranate Arils that does the dirty work for us, delivering a small cache of these sweet-tart gems, called arils, with no muss, no fuss. Rich in antioxidants and low in calories (70 calories per half cup), we like stirring arils into Greek yogurt, sprinkling them on salads, or just nibbling out of hand.
Low-salt products can be a bit bland, but adding just a little kick of heat takes the focus off the missing salt in V8 Spicy Hot Low Sodium Vegetable Juice. Also good at a skinny 50 calories per cup, this is a diet-friendly way to add two more vegetable servings to your day. Of course, it doesn’t provide the fiber of whole vegetables, but in a pinch it’s a great way to add a few more veggies to the menu.
Launched at the Helsinki Summer Olympics in 1952, Finn Crisp is no stranger to Finnish or European cooks. But they’re not on the US cracker radar, and that’s too bad. Made with whole grains and little else these ultra thin and very crispy crackers make for great solo munching. The original crisp has a wonderful sour rye flavor while the newer whole grain combo is a perfect plain cracker for bean dips or sliced cheese. One cracker has between 20 to 30 calories and 1 gram of fiber.
While it’s made with a rare white tea that could have promising health benefits, two things stand out with Inko’s Unsweetened Honeysuckle White Iced Tea. First, there’s no astringent tannin taste. Second, its subtle sweet flavor comes from honeysuckle extract rather than sugar. We call it a refreshing alternative to the sea of sugary bottled beverages. Also good: Inko’s unsweetened Hint O’ Mint. No calories. No carbs. No kidding.
Made by fifth generation beekeepers in Brush Prairie, Washington, tasty Honey Ridge Farms vinegar packs a lemon kick perfect for salad greens, pan sauces, and roasted vegetables. Why it tastes so good? Homemade lemongrass stock and bits of lemon peel steep with whole coriander seeds, homemade honey vinegar, lemon peel, and sea salt and the tasty end result costs a mere five calories per tablespoon. Sold in specialty food shops and online, part of the proceeds go to funding bee colony health.
Just introduced last December, the Fig Food line of organic plant-based soups makes it easy to put whole grains on the daily menu with varieties like Tuscan Bean, Split Pea and Yucatan Black Bean with Epazoate, and our favorite, a variety made with the nutty Italian grain called farro. All come lightly salted, a rarity in packaged foods. Cartons are BPA-free, recyclable and need no refrigeration. One serving has 9 grams of fiber, 180 calories, and 260 milligrams of sodium.