Petroleum byproducts. Silicon-based stabilizers. Wood chips. Fungicides. Sounds like a home-reno binge at Lowe’s, right? In fact, you don’t have to go to a hardware store to find these creepy ingredients: You’re bringing home bags full of them every time you go to the grocery store—at least, if you’re buying a lot of processed foods.
And you are. Processed foods—packed with salt, sugar and calories, as well as bizarre ingredients like what’s listed above—now make up more than 60 percent of the calories in the foods we purchase, according to research conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And that’s a problem, considering that studies link the intake of processed foods with heart failure and high blood pressure. The (maraschino) cherry on top? The more processed the food (i.e. the higher in added fat or refined carbohydrates), the more addictive it is, says a recent study out of the University of Michigan.
Related: 8 Most Addictive Foods in the World
But processed foods are too convenient—and often too delicious—to swear off for good. Fortunately, there are actually plenty of options that are low in creepy additives and pack a high nutritional value — like protein, fiber and healthy fats. Here’s a list of some of the healthiest processed foods around, courtesy of The New York Times bestselling Zero Belly Diet.
BEST NUT BUTTER
Justin’s Classic Almond Butter, 2 tbsp
190 calories, 16 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 3 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 7 g protein
With two ingredients (total!) in each of these jars, it’s no wonder Molly Kimball, registered dietitian with Ochsner’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans recommends them. Not only that, but two tablespoons clock in at 190 calories, with enough satiating fiber and protein to keep you full through until dinner. Swapping out your nut butter may sound like a minor change, but it can help get you to a flat belly, which is why it’s one of Zero Belly Diet’s exclusive 14 Ways to Lose Your Belly in 14 Days.
Mini Babybel Cheeses, Original, 1 piece
70 calories, 6 g fat, 4 g sat fat, 160 mg sodium, 0 g sugar, 5 g protein
Proof that good things come in small packages: these little cheese rounds. Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet, calls them a “wholesome snack” since they’re made of 98 percent milk. Plus, the originals have a mere 70 calories, so they won’t mess with your calorie count.
BEST FROZEN ENTREES
Kashi Chicken Florentine, 1 entree
290 calories, 9 g fat, 4.5 g sat fat, 550 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 22g protein
When it comes to freezer meals, Kimball sticks to Kashi because the company uses whole grains instead of white, processed carbs. Her favorite? This grilled-chicken-and-veggies combo that comes served over a bed of 100% whole-grain pilaf. The finishing touches: a drizzle of white wine sauce and Parmesan cheese–and all that only sounds caloric.
Cheerios, 1 cup
100 calories, 2 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 3 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 3 g protein
When it comes to cereal, nothing trumps a classic. Lisa Young, PhD, RD, author of The Portion Teller Plan, recommends plain Cheerios boast whole grains, low sugar counts and a respectable serving of belly-filling fiber per serving. Not a cold cereal person? You have plenty of slimming options as long as you don’t turn to these 7 Foods You Should Never Eat for Breakfast.
BEST FROZEN DESSERT
Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars, Chocolate, 1 bar
80 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 1 g fiber, 11 g sugar, 6 g protein
When you opt-in to eating a dessert, upping your calorie intake is a given, says Gans. But that doesn’t mean you have to derail an entire day’s worth of eating just to satisfy your sweet tooth. Enter, these straight-from-the-freezer treats. One of Gans’ go-tos, this bar from Yasso has nonfat milk and Greek yogurt listed as its first two ingredients, meaning two wholesome foods are the main components of this dessert. Plus, with 80 calories per pop, it’s a guilt-free way to get your fix.
Newman’s Own Lite Caesar Dressing, 2 tbsp
70 calories, 6 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 420 mg sodium, 2 g sugar, 1 g protein
Normally, “Caesar dressing” is code for “don’t you dare eat me.” Not so with this dressing—Gans suggests turning to it when a DIY version just isn’t in the cards. It has enough fat to help your body absorb important fat-soluble vitamins, but not enough to counteract your healthy salad selection. Stash a bottle in your desk so that, when you’re on the run, you have it on hand when you need to grab one of these 8 Best Fast-Food Salads for Weight Loss.
BEST NUTRITION BAR
Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond KIND Bar, 1 bar
200 calories, 15 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 7 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 6 g protein
All three of the experts we talked to agreed that this is the way to go if you’re reaching for a bar. And it’s no wonder: If you’re choosing from their Nut & Spices line, each one’s a good source of fiber and low on sugar. A standout flavor to try? Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond—Gans grabs one of these when she’s craving something sweet.
Beanitos Original Black Bean Chips, 12 chips
140 calories, 7 g fat, 0.5 g sat fat, 55 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 4 g protein
Who says you have to cut chips altogether? Keep the crispy snacks coming, just opt for these bean chips, suggests Kimball. Though they are fried, you get more protein and fiber than you would with a regular chip, she says. Or pick up their nacho cheese flavor. For tasting like Doritos — without all the harmful chemicals — they made our Eat This, Not That!-approved list of 10 “Clean” Junk Foods.
BEST CANNED FOODS
Blue Runner Creole Cream-Style Red Beans, 130 grams
130 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 35 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 9 g protein
Fact: Between the sifting and draining and actual cook-time, making fresh beans can be a bummer. That’s where these guys come in. They’re flavorful, high in fiber (6 grams per serving) and antioxidants and don’t have added salt, says Kimball.
Back to Nature Graham Crackers, 8 crackers
110 calories, 2.5 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 2 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 2 g protein
While those Double Stuf Oreos should probably be kept off the menu, not all cookies will wreak havoc on your waistline. One brand that offers a great variety? Back to Nature. Just stick to the ones that list whole grain flour as the first ingredient (like the Golden Honey Oat Graham Crackers and the Triple Ginger Cookies), suggests Kimball.
Fage 2% Yogurt, 7-ounce container
150 calories, 4 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 0 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 20 g protein
Practically a Holy Grail of healthy eating, yogurt certainly counts as a processed food. Stick to the variety with 2 percent fat and pair it with fresh fruit, recommends Gans. To find the best yogurt for your body, look for a container that has more protein than sugar, even for unflavored varieties. Get more delicious options in our essential guide of the 9 Best Yogurts for Weight Loss.
STRIP AWAY BELLY FAT and lose up to 16 pounds in just 14 days—while eating the foods you love—with Zero Belly Diet—order it now!
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