Process foods have always had a bad rep for being a determent to your health. And to be fair, a lot of that criticism is warranted.
But not all of it. There’re actually quite a few popular processed foods that you can indulge in without worry, in moderation of course.
Nutritionists were asked which processed foods they approve of, and this is a shortlist of what they gave the thumbs-up. Don’t be afraid of throwing these items into your grocery cart on your next re-stock.
The first item is arguably the most eye opening on this list. You’ve probably associated pizza with being unhealthy for you, never mind a frozen one with preservatives.
Okay, it’s not the healthiest choice, so this isn’t the green light to fill your freezer with pizza. The Nutrition Twins do have it on their approved list thanks to the calcium-rich cheese used in frozen pizzas.
“Plus, the tomato sauce is a concentrated source of tomatoes, and the antioxidant lycopene that comes with it,” the Twins say. “But always skip the processed meat add-ons like pepperoni and sausage that are high in saturated fat and that may increase your risk for certain cancers. Go for plain cheese pizza or cheese pizza with veggies.”
Another surprising addition to the list, who would expect processed cheese to make the cut?
Not all string cheese is recommended, though certain brands are okay. Mozzarella or cheddar are your best bets, and top brands like Horizon Organic are even better.
“From a saturated fat perspective, low-fat cheeses are better for you and can also contain fewer calories, which is good because it can be all too easy to get a lot of calories from cheese,” says Isabel Smith, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition.
Peanuts and nuts can find a place in a healthy diet, and that doesn’t discount peanut butter. It’s a strong source of fiber and unsaturated plant-based fats, both of which are welcomed by nutritionists. Like everything on this list, moderation is key – one tablespoon also packs seven grams of fat, and 63 calories.
“When buying, read the label and ensure there are no added sugar or high fructose corn syrup, and that there are no hydrogenated oils, which is a fancy way of saying trans fats,” advised Rebecca Lewis, RD for HelloFresh, a healthy meal kit delivery service.
A lot of people swear by homemade sauces. These are always preferred if you have the time (and have a good recipe). If not, tomato sauce from a jar or can isn’t too bad – tomatoes are a different animal in that regard.
“Tomato products, such as tomato sauce, contain higher levels of cancer-fighting lycopene than fresh tomatoes,” said Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies.
Opt for processed sauces with low added sugar and sodium.
Just because they’re in a bag next to the chicken nuggets and ice cream frozen sections, don’t let that fool you. Frozen veggies, despite being labeled as processed, are actually minimally tampered with, retaining a lot of that fresh veggie value.
In fact, they may be more nutritious and nutrient-rich than fresh vegetables, as they’re frozen when the veggies are at their nutritional peak.
Pickles are considered processed thanks to the fermentation process. This was done to preserve shelf life, though it doesn’t dumpster the nutrition found in this acquired-taste vegetable.
“Fermentation helps create probiotics—the good bacteria in your gut which help support the immune system and reduce inflammation in the gut,” explained Lisa Hayim, registered dietitian and founder of The WellNecessities.
They’re also low in calories, so if you dig the taste, they’re a fine between-meals snack.