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Closeup of person pouring olive oil over bowl of salad on kitchen counter surrounded by other fresh vegetables

7 Processed Foods and Their Tasty, Healthier Alternatives

Let’s face it — life is busy. Ready-made, processed foods can make it easier to get the family fed between hauling kids from school to practice to home for homework, all after a full day’s work. Processed foods might win for convenience, but added sodium, fat and sugar (not to mention chemicals you can’t even pronounce), make them big losers as a healthy option.

When it comes to making healthful food choices, go for foods with the fewest ingredients — five or fewer (or at least ingredients you know) — and as close to their natural state as possible. Even though bagged spinach, for instance, goes through some processing, it’s still a healthy choice.

Yes, cutting back on processed foods might take more effort when it comes to shopping and meal prep. But once you get into the habit, it’s easier and usually cheaper than you think. Jump-start clean eating with these simple, healthier alternatives.

Closeup of granola bars with cranberriesGranola bars

Oats, nuts, and dried fruit make these healthy, right? Yes, until the added sugar and fat muddy up the goodness of the good stuff. Luckily, these are one of the easiest snacks to whip up yourself and tweak to match your family’s tastes.



Salad dressingMixed greens salad with olive oil being poured overtop

Salad dressings are where unhealthy fats, sugars, and artificial additives come to play. Ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, coloring, and preservatives are the red flags for processing. You can avoid them all by making your own.



Flavored yogurt
Cup package of flavored yogurt with spoon in it

High in muscle-building protein, calcium, and probiotics that help digestion, plain yogurt is a healthy winner. The flavored, fruit-on-the-bottom versions lining store shelves? Not so much, thanks to artificial colors, flavorings, and sweeteners. Stir in fresh or frozen fruit to plain yogurt for a clean, healthy version. Use a little honey, stevia or vanilla for a touch of sweetness.



Closeup of inside of potato chip bag with hand pulling a potato chip outChips

Who doesn’t love the crunch of a good chip? Although there are some store-bought versions that keep it clean with simple ingredients, this snack food can be home to a slew of questionable ingredients. Whole-grain pita bread, tortillas, and thin-sliced potatoes sprinkled with spices and olive oil bake to a beautiful crunch.



Bowl of minestrone soupStocks and soups

Most store-bought versions of stocks and soups are a haven for excess sodium (up to a third of the recommended daily amount in one serving!) and fat. Add water, meat, vegetables and herbs to a stockpot and simmer for a few hours. You’ll have a healthy stock you can use immediately or freeze, to make your own hearty soup.



Closeup of popcorn in striped boxesFlavored popcorn

It’s easy to pop a clean, flavor-filled version of this awesomely simple snack. Ditch the sky-high sodium levels, added saturated fats and chemicals of microwaved versions. Go old-school by popping kernels on the stove or in an air popper. Make a clean, microwaved alternative using a paper bag, ½ teaspoon of oil, a pinch of salt and a ½ cup of kernels. Top with your favorite seasonings or a little parmesan cheese.



Pot of tomato pasta sauce Pasta sauce

Surprise! Pasta sauce is a favorite hiding place for added sugar and salt. Tomatoes, garlic, and basil do just fine on their own, thank you. It’s simple to make a big batch yourself and freeze leftovers for later.



OhioHealth registered dietitians are available to help you make healthy choices and changes in your diet. Contact us (614-566-5000) at the McConnell Heart Health Center; we’re ready to support you!


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