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Packaged Food That's Good for You

Some packaged food is GOOD for you.

Convenience is a big factor when it comes to the food Americans eat. We like things cheap and ready to eat. That desire has created a food industry that's responsible for giving us nutritional nightmares like Oscar Mayer Lunchables, Fruit Roll-ups and Jimmy Dean Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick.

To make food that's shelf-stable for months (or years) several sacrifices are often made. Salt is piled on as a preservative, sugar is added to mask certain flavors and fat is used to give a better "mouth feel" while holding everything together. Then million-dollar marketing campaigns are launched to convince us those foods aren't so bad. We are being sold the lie that convenience is more important than health.

Fortunately, not all packaged foods are nutritional wastelands. There are several things you can buy that will keep your body and checkbook smiling. Here are six of my favorites.

Oats are at the top of my list because it's one of the first things I reach for in the morning. It doesn't matter if you like rolled oats, oat bran, Irish oatmeal or plain old Quaker oatmeal. They all provide a similar nutritional benefit of high fiber packed into a low-calorie meal. Choose the bulk packages that don't add sugar and sprinkle on some antioxidant-rich fruit for a healthy breakfast. Oatmeal is also an ideal meal if you need more energy before a workout.

Try some of these delicious oatmeal recipes.
Oatmeal - Crock Pot (Slow Cooker)   Oatmeal - Crock Pot (Slow Cooker) Oatmeal with Maple Syrup and Walnuts   Oatmeal with Maple Syrup and Walnuts
Savory Egg Oatmeal   Savory Egg Oatmeal Oatmeal Cream and Fruit   Oatmeal Cream and Fruit

Breakfast cereal is great if you know what to look for. Start with cereals that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. This can dramatically lower your risk of a heart attack. Then eliminate anything with more than 5 grams of sugar per serving. That'll help prevent dramatic blood sugar spikes and crashes and lower your chances of obesity. Finally, make sure each serving has at least 3 grams of protein to help build muscle.

Canned vegetables with no salt added should be in everyone's pantry and here's why. Approximately 25-30% of all fresh produce purchased is thrown out. We buy it at the grocery store fully expecting to cook it up, but then we get busy, or the leftovers get shoved in a bin in the refrigerator and forgotten. A week later there's nothing left but molding food and a bad smell.

When you've got the time, nothing beats fresh for taste. But if you only go grocery shopping once a week or less, get some canned veggies to carry you through. Foods like kidney and pinto beans are also far easier to prepare than soaking dried beans overnight and making them from scratch. Just remember these two simple rules. For regular veggies always buy the no salt added varieties; and if you're getting beans, rinse them in a colander first. You'll remove about 40% of the sodium from each can when you do.

Frozen fruit and vegetables allow me to make as much, or as little as I want without waste. When I open a can, I generally expect to use it all up because it's difficult to store the leftovers. When you use a bag of frozen food, you can pour out what you need and simply put the rest back in the freezer.

Frozen food can be up to 80% cheaper than fresh, it's prewashed, chopped and preserved at the peak of freshness so you often get more vitamins in it than fresh produce that's shipped hundreds of miles. Look for fruit that has no sugar added and vegetables with no extra salt or sauces.

Dolphin safe tuna fish packed in water is another great pantry option. I keep it on hand for a quick sandwich on high-fiber bread, in a whole-wheat pita or on top of a plate of greens for an impromptu salad. Choose the low-sodium varieties and consider the single-serve pouches for portion control.

Fat-free plain Greek yogurt can be the base of some delicious shakes or as an in-between-meal snack. Top it with some fruit and a little stevia or Splenda for a protein, probiotic and antioxidant-rich food that won't hurt your waistline.

Every food has some benefits and drawbacks, but by making healthier choices when you buy, you'll end up with healthier options at home when you’re ready to eat.

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Updated 4/7/2015

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  • Instant Oatmeal is More Filling

    In a surprising study carried out at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, they tested three breakfasts against each other. Instant oatmeal, traditional old-fashioned oatmeal and breakfast cereal that was oat based.

    The volunteers who ate the instant oatmeal with millk reported feeling fuller and they had less desire to snack over the next four hours.

    Researchers believe the viscosity (thickness and stickiness) of the instant oateal is behind the filling effects. Make sure to choose instant oatmeal without sugar, like Quaker Weight Control.

    The study was presented at Experimental Biology 2013, April 21-24 in Boston.