The question of nutrition in prepared foods has long been debated. As food manufacturers try to convince more people to patronize their products by labeling them as “heart healthy,” “enriched” or “vitamin-fortified,” nutritionists and health experts try their best to warn the public of the dangers of the ingredients found in these boxed or canned food options as well as the manufacturing process itself which have stripped the nutrients from the raw materials originally used and added preservatives to prolong their shelf life. It is a never-ending battle as both sides present their pros and cons. The public, on the other hand, understand why the nutritionists are so concerned. They certainly know that “partially-hydrogenated oils” are the culprits behind obesity and heart problems faced by many people today. But the convenience offered by these prepared foods is just too hard to resist. In a lifestyle where time is such a precious commodity, many families who can’t cook find solace in microwavable meals that offer ease, variety and flavor in one package.
However, this “conflict” between sides is not necessarily a “choose one or the other” proposition. There are prepared nutritious foods available that have vegetables, grains, fiber and other nutrients that are crucial to good health.
Cereals are one of the most common prepared nutritious foods available in the market. But not all cereals are healthy. Choose the kinds made up of whole grains and not merely “enriched” ones. By choosing the kind made of whole grain, you get your share of dietary fiber that is needed for heart health. Look for one that is low in sugar content. Those with dried or dehydrated fruits in the mix give you added vitamins and minerals. Meanwhile, avoid the glazed or frosted varieties. The frosting alone is simple sugar that only gives you unneeded calories.
Pasta sauces, as long as they are not cream-based, also pass the standards of prepared nutritious foods. Tomato pasta sauces are made of tomatoes (of course) that have lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that fights against cancer. Other vegetable-based pastas are generally low in calories with none of the trans fats so common in packaged meals. Make sure that you check the sodium content, though, and choose the kind that is low-salt.
Another prepared nutritious food is canned soup, again, for as long as they are low in sodium. Opt for one that is MSG-free since monosodium glutamate has been implicated in the development of many diseases such as cancer and other degenerative ailments. Also, cheese and cream-based soups have more trans fats and are thus less healthy compared to those made with chicken noodle broth or beef stew. Those with added vegetables are also more nutritious.
Dried fruits also belong to this category. They still contain the vitamins and minerals you need for good health in the convenience of a pack. They also give a ready burst of energy when you feel the need to snack.
The options for packaged meals that are also nutritious are admittedly limited. But by knowing that they exist, you provide yourself with a much healthier alternative.