Nutritionist Identifies 8 Ultra-Processed Foods That Are Health-Friendly

Many foods have been clouded by the phrase “ultra-processed” in recent years. This phrase may immediately conjure up the phrase “avoid at all costs.” It is true, of course, that studies have linked ultra-processed foods—known for their high processing levels, which include added sugars, flavours, colours, and preservatives—to a number of harmful health effects.

Most recently, 45 research involving almost 10 million patients were reviewed in a review that was published in The BMJ in February 2024. It found a worrisome link between eating a lot of ultra-processed food and thirty-two health issues.

However, the fact that some foods can go through multiple processing steps and still be healthy is something that is frequently overlooked in the conversation. High processing content is undoubtedly a warning sign for a food’s overall health effects. Nevertheless, many food options maintain their health advantages even after going through a drawn-out journey from farm to table.

Some meals that are marketed as “ultra-processed” may surprise you by being healthy. These are eight instances.

1. Bread

Is bread a healthy food? You might feel that store-bought bread is bad for your health because it frequently contains additives like emulsifiers, preservatives, and fillers, if ultra-processed food lists are to be believed. Bread, however, continues to rank among the healthiest foods available when baked with whole grains. Whole grain-rich diets have been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Select a bread that is mostly prepared with whole wheat or other grains to avoid the too processed grain. (Using whole grains as the primary ingredient, such as whole wheat, is encouraging.) For an abundance of nutrient-dense whole-grain options for your toast and sandwiches, check out Dave’s Killer Bread.

2. Soups in Cans

Foods in cans have always been stigmatised. Some claim they contain excessive amounts of sodium, and some (such creamy chowders and bisques) are heavy in saturated fat. However, it is truly unfortunate that people are assigning responsibility for canned soup. Not every can has the same amount of nourishment in it, nor are all cans equally ultra-processed.

Amy’s Organic Lentil Soup is one that’s pleasantly low in sodium—not to mention that it’s full of vegetables and plant-based protein. A 1-cup serving only supplies 12% of your daily salt requirement.

3. Granola Bars

Granola bars have several health benefits, especially when they are produced mostly from nutritious grains like oats and minimally sweetened with added sugar. To find out exactly what you’re getting, check the nutrition facts label for added sugars (aim for 7 grammes or fewer per bar). You can also glance at the ingredient list.

Kind’s Cinnamon Oat Bars are a favourite of mine as a nutritionist. They have only 5 grammes of sugar and 22 grammes of whole grains, such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and millet.

4. Mocktails

Candid cocktails and other sugar-sweetened drinks definitely belong in the ultra-processed group. Fortunately, there are plenty of options available to you that have less sugar and no alcohol content when you’re seeking a sweet, fizzy drink. Even though canned mocktails could have extra colouring, sweeteners, or preservatives, many of them are far healthier than hard lemonades or neon-colored wine coolers.

Certain mocktails really have less sugar and calories than you might think. Personally, I like Mingle Mocktails the most. With only 60 calories and 11 grammes of added sugar, these are guilt-free delectable treats.

5. Cereal for breakfast

There are breakfast cereal brands that start your morning on a healthy note, while others contain classic signs of ultra-processing, such as ridiculously high sugar content and an abundance of preservatives. Unbelievably, they can serve as an excellent source of essential vitamins, protein, and fibre for your daily diet. Multibran Flakes from Nature’s Path are a boxed breakfast cereal that is packed with health benefits. It has only five grammes of added sugar, five grammes of protein, and seven grammes of fibre.

6. Dinners in Frozen

Because many frozen meals contain a lot of sodium and other preservatives, they have a reputation for being overly processed. However, not every frozen meal available is unhealthy for you. Certain manufacturers purposefully create their dishes with few ingredients and little preservatives.

Consider Daily Harvest as an example. Vegetables, lentils, and whole grains are just a few of the nutritious organic ingredients that go into their frozen dinners, which include grain bowls, soups, and flatbreads.

7. Crispy Jerky

Sure, flavoured jerkies are ultra-processed when they’re packed with extra sugars and salt. Nevertheless, dried meat can make a high-protein, nutritious snack. Seek for brands that have a limited number of ingredients if you want a less processed jerky. Or go for one that’s salmon-based! Alaska Smokehouse sells all-natural salmon jerky that is rich in heart-healthy omega-3 lipids.

8. Packed Muesli

One of the healthiest foods available is oats. It all comes down to how you set them up to succeed. Choose a muesli that provides enough fibre and protein (without being overly sweet) instead of the prepackaged varieties that are packed with sugar and preservatives. Do you need a list of the top brands? See our guide to the top-rated and bottom-rated bagged muesli options found in supermarkets.