The 10 Best Processed Foods to Eat for Weight Loss

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While it may seem like the only way to achieve your weight-loss goals is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, purchase only fresh foods and spend hours in the kitchen scratch-cooking, dietitians are here with some good news. Achieving your weight-loss goals with the help of a few bagged and boxed staples may be easier than you think. 

Yes, for a long time you’ve heard that processed foods should be avoided, especially when trying to lose weight. And we aren’t going to encourage you to stock up on cookies, chips and candy. (Although those foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern, of course.) Instead, with the help of nutrition experts, we’re going to show you how stocking your kitchen full of accessible, budget-friendly and convenient items can make meeting your health goals a breeze—and delicious, too.

If you’re intrigued, then stay with us. These 10 processed foods are in our kitchens and we encourage you to consider them for yours, too.

Are Processed Foods Healthy?

First, a quick refresher: processed simply means prepared. 

Whether it’s a salad kit that comes with pre-washed lettuce and dressing ingredients, a frozen fruit blend or a can of beans, the act of processing allows a food to be taken from its natural state and transformed to become more accessible and convenient for consumers, in addition to extending its shelf life. “The USDA defines processed foods as one that has undergone any changes or alterations from its natural form. It could be anything from chopping, boiling, freezing, cooking, canning, drying, mixing, packaging, adding nutrients and more. So, as you can see, this involves pretty much the majority of the foods we consume,”, says  Sylvia Klinger, M.S., RDN, a registered dietitian and global nutrition communicator.

Where this topic becomes a little more gray is when we talk about ultra-processed foods. For instance, the definition of this term includes foods that “contain five or more ingredients and include food substances not commonly used in culinary preparations, such as hydrolyzed protein, modified starches and hydrogenated oils, as well as additives to modify sensory qualities.” 

In some instances, ultra-processed foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern. “Food processing isn’t the issue and has allowed us to safely enjoy many foods. The issue is the types of processed food products on the market,” says Taylor Wallace, Ph.D., CEO of Think Healthy Group and an adjunct clinical associate professor at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “Many are super palatable and contain large amounts of added sugars, refined carbs, sodium and saturated fats,” he explains. But others—like nonfat yogurt—are considered healthy and packed with nutrition.

In fact, research shows that you can carefully construct a nutritious meal plan out of processed foods, such as whole-grain breads, beans, canned fish and others.  “Processed foods can be healthy—you just need to know what to look for,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Everyday Snack Tray. Read on to learn about 10 dietitian-approved processed food picks to add to your list this week.

10 Best Processed Foods for Weight Loss

1. Canned Beans

Nutrition experts continue to praise canned beans as a go-to processed food, and for good reason. “When you’re pressed for time, canned beans can help you put a balanced and nutritious meal together in minutes. With fiber and plant-based protein, beans are excellent for helping you feel full on fewer calories. Plus, they’re super economical, which means you can include them in your eating plan several times a week,” Largeman-Roth says.

For reference, 1/2 cup of canned chickpeas provides 105 calories, 5 grams protein and 5 grams fiber. Research shows that consuming more fiber helps with weight loss, given the satiety (or fullness factor) they provide. Adding beans to your diet is as easy as popping open a can, rinsing under cool water to reduce the salt content and enjoying our No-Cook Black Bean Salad.

2. Fortified Whole-Grain Cereal

Despite being one of the more commonly demonized foods in the center aisles of the supermarket, fortified breakfast cereal is actually a nutrient powerhouse. Pouring a bowl provides nutrients like iron and folate, and you’ll get a complete meal when you add milk and fruit, says Klinger.

Given that the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans have listed fiber, calcium and vitamin D as nutrients that we typically fall short on, fortified breakfast cereal can be a game-changer when it comes to getting these in. A 1-cup serving of whole-grain fortified breakfast cereal contains 100 calories, 3 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar and 3.5 grams protein. The nutrition profile differs between products, so check the nutrition label on yours.

3. Frozen Fruit

Sensing a theme yet with a dietitian’s favorite “f-word”… fiber? Then you’re onto something! Frozen fruit is another treasure trove when it comes to increasing fiber to help with weight-loss goals. “When you’re trying to lose weight, you’re likely also attempting to boost your fiber intake,” says Largeman-Roth. “One way to do that is with frozen fruit. I love frozen fruit because it’s budget-friendly, helpful for cutting down on food waste and it’s always washed, cut and ready to go when you need it. Use it in smoothies, desserts and as a topping for yogurt and oatmeal,” she adds.

A 1-cup serving of frozen blueberries, per the USDA, provides 80 calories and 4 grams of filling fiber, in addition to antioxidants like lutein, zeaxanthin and anthocyanins. Antioxidants are important for weight loss because they can also help mitigate inflammation, a common condition that’s associated with excess body weight.

4. Greek Yogurt

All of our experts are big fans of yogurt when it comes to weight loss. An earlier review suggests that consuming yogurt as part of a healthy eating plan may also assist weight-loss efforts.  “This dairy product is super helpful for getting enough protein each day, which is especially important when you’re trying to lose weight,” Largeman-Roth says. A 7-ounce container of low-fat Greek yogurt has 150 calories and an impressive 20 grams of protein. “Protein helps you feel full and satisfied and is also needed for helping to repair and grow muscle tissue when you’re bumping up the intensity of your workouts,” she adds. What’s more, yogurt is a great way to get calcium to support strong bones, as well as probiotics, which promote gut health. A simple Greek Yogurt with Strawberries can do the trick for a simple, filling snack.

5. High-Fiber Crackers

Yes, again with the fiber! High-fiber crackers provide a vehicle to enjoy a variety of other healthy foods that promote weight loss, like lean proteins, healthy fats and fresh fruits and vegetables. Aim for a fiber content that clocks in around 4 grams per serving. For reference, two servings of rye crispbread serves up around 4 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein for 70 calories. Largeman-Roth recommends topping crackers with high-protein picks, such as cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs, nut butter and canned tuna, to reap the benefits of the dynamic duo of fiber and protein.

6. Hummus

Hummus supplies two weight loss-supporting nutrients: protein and fiber. “Hummus is a delicious and nutritious plant-based snack that is portable and convenient,” says Klinger. Whether you choose to pop open a can of chickpeas and make your own Garlic Hummus, or purchase a pre-made (read: processed) option at the market, you can’t go wrong adding this gem into your weight-loss routine. 

A typical 2-tablespoon serving of hummus contains 80 calories, 2 grams protein and 2 grams fiber, making it a great vehicle to serve with baby carrots or celery sticks as a snack. Pair the crudités and dip with a few walnuts for a healthy fat source to keep hunger at bay until your next meal.

7. Soymilk

Soymilk is the only milk alternative recommended by the USDA in the Dietary Guidelines, thanks to its solid protein and nutrient content, says Klinger. A 1-cup serving of soymilk, unsweetened, contains 80 calories, 7 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber and is a good source of calcium. Depending on the brand, some are fortified with vitamin D as well. Research has found that soy products may help with weight loss in people who have body weight categorized as overweight and obese. This is believed to be due to soy protein, isoflavone and soy fiber content of these foods. Soymilk can be sipped straight, but it also makes a great base for a smoothie, like this Banana-Cocoa Soy Smoothie.

8. Tofu

Similar to soymilk, tofu is another processed food from soybeans that is stellar in its nutrition profile. Wallace is a tofu fan, and I will admit, I am too: a 3-ounce serving of tofu contains 70 calories, 9 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. Plus, tofu is very easy to work with. You can make Tofu Crumbles to enjoy as a taco or taco salad, or enjoy Air-Fryer Tofu as a plant-based nugget.

9. Peanuts

Peanut fanatics, here’s some good news: One study has found that consuming about an ounce of peanuts before two meals a day as part of a calorie-restricted diet resulted in weight loss similar to that of a low-fat diet. The authors point out that during weight loss, many people aim to avoid dietary fat and thus miss out on healthy foods like peanuts or tree nuts, but this research suggests that you may not have to. A 1-ounce serving of roasted, salted peanuts contains 170 calories, 7 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber and 14 grams of total fat (with 11 grams coming from heart-healthy unsaturated fats). Given this trifecta of nutrients, peanuts make a well-rounded snack to enjoy on their own or with a piece of fruit. For a dose of whole-grain goodness, try them in our Honey-Peanut Popcorn.

10. Veggie Burgers

With people interested in plant-based diets, we have a plethora of alternative options, like veggie burgers. Depending on the brand, Klinger points out they can deliver big on taste, texture and nutrition, containing less saturated fat than their meat counterparts. But not all plant-based burgers are equal. Check the Nutrition Facts panel to see that the product contains at least 3 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein and keeps saturated fat to a minimum.

Tips for Choosing Processed Foods

Keep these tips from nutrition experts in mind as you investigate what processed foods to add to your kitchen staples to support your weight-loss goals:

  • Aim for a colorful plate. There’s a reason experts recommend eating the rainbow, and that’s because each color often represents a different phytonutrient you’re providing your body when you eat different-colored foods. Frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables are a great way to add more color to your plate while still reaping the benefits of nutrient-dense processed foods. Be mindful of added sugars and sodium and choose options that contain only the fruit (or its juice) itself. 
  • Compare nutrition labels of products. Choose brands that have minimal added sugars and salt added. The act of processing certain foods often comes with excess sodium and sugar for shelf-stability and taste. Keep an eye out on these nutrition parameters as you explore the different brands available. 
  • Go big on protein and fiber. This dynamic duo will help keep you fuller for longer. In addition, look for products made with whole grains, which usually indicates they have more fiber compared to their refined-grain counterparts.
  • Keep taste in mind. You have to like what you’re eating. “If a food or beverage doesn’t taste good, you’re not going to enjoy it, and it won’t help you lose weight. Feeling satisfied with the food you eat is a big part of being able to lose weight and keep it off,” Largeman-Roth says.

The Bottom Line

Processed foods aren’t the enemy when it comes to achieving your weight-loss goals. As Wallace puts it, it’s all about using common sense when choosing what to include in your routine. Processed foods, including center-of-the-store canned beans, yogurt, cereal and frozen items, can fit in a balanced, healthy meal plan.

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