We’ve all heard that processed foods are bad for your health. Eating a diet filled with nutritionally poor snacks like potato chips or packaged foods also increases sodium levels, which can be harmful to the heart. The American Heart Association found that 70% of the sodium in the standard American diet (SAD) comes from highly processed foods. No wonder it is called the SAD diet!
According to AARP, it is possible to eat processed foods and get a nutritional boost. “The milk you drink and the baby carrots you snack on are both processed foods,” says Christine Rosenbloom, a registered dietitian and coauthor of Food & Fitness After 50. “Processing helps keep foods safe and affordable, and on our shelves a little longer.”
Here are some examples of healthy, processed choices:
1. Canned beans. Handy, healthy, and so good for you, canned beans should be a staple in your pantry. “These have two to three times more fiber than brown rice or quinoa,” says Rosenbloom. Opt for low-sodium varieties or rinse the beans under cold, running water for a few seconds to remove excess salt.
2. Dairy or soy milk. You don’t want to drink milk straight form the cow, so milk is indeed processed to ensure safety. For vegetarians, Rosenbloom recommends drinking soy milk because it is the only plant-based milk that has complete protein. Milk is rich in calcium, protein, vitamin D, potassium, and phosphorus.
3. Yogurt. Yogurt may come in a container but it is an excellent source of protein, vitamin B, calcium and a source of probiotics, according to Eat This, Not That! Look for yogurt that has less than 12 grams of sugar per serving and add your own fresh fruit for flavor. Greek yogurt has double the protein and often contains half the sugar of regular yogurt.
4. Frozen vegetables and fruit. These time-savers are minimally processed and retain most of their nutrition. In some cases, frozen veggies are better for you than fresh because they are processed at their nutritional peak.
5. Tomato sauce. Heating tomatoes increases the amount of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene that the body can absorb. Look for varieties with the least amounts of sugar and sodium.
6. Sauekraut. “This fermented cabbage is full of health benefits,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, a nutritional expert and author of Belly Fat for Dummies. “Thanks to the fermenting process, sauerkraut is a rich source of probiotics which help to aid digestive health. It is also rich in fiber, while providing a source of vitamin A and vitamin C.”
7. Frozen or canned fish. Fresh fish may not always be available in some parts of the country, says AARP, so frozen can be an excellent alternative. Like vegetables, fish is frozen right after catch, so it is as good as fresh and much easier to store. Canned fish are also convenient to have on hand, but look for brands that are lowest in sodium.
8. Nuts, seeds, and nut butters. Protein is important to help maintain muscle mass as we get older. Nut butters have plenty of protein and heart-healthy fats. Check the labels for brands with no added sugar, salt, or preservatives.
9. Rotisserie chicken. When there is little time to cook and you want to avoid fast-food chicken, try a rotisserie chicken for dinner. Experts advise removing the skin to reduce fat and serve with a green salad.
10. Fortified cereals. Although they are processed, fortified cereals have added vitamins and minerals that ensure you get the recommended amount of daily nutrients. Look for whole grain cereals fortified with B6, B12, and folic acid. Aim for cereals that contain no more than 6 grams of sugar per dry ounce.
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