With all my talk about whole foods lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people about what I eat, but the most common one is: “So you don’t eat anything packaged or processed?” While I try to minimize those times when I do, I have found that it’s handy to keep a few packaged foods on hand for the odd occasion when I can’t have a whole food meal or snack.
Between crafty marketing in ads and on commercials and the crazy claims on the packages themselves, it can be tough to know which packaged foods are okay and which are just junk food dressed up as health food. I’ve found that the only way to really know whether something is good for you is to turn a blind eye to every single part of the package label except for the ingredients list. I don’t even pay attention to calories or grams of fat/protein/sugar/etc. any more, and here’s why: Food corporations have figured out that people are starting to demand healthier products and modern science has made it possible for them to engineer in better nutrient “statistics” by using a bunch of substances that are hardly even food. Protein isolates (usually from genetically modified soy) may boost protein content, but many dieticians and doctors warn against consuming them in large quantities. Fiber is another nutrient that’s often added into processed food, rather than occurring naturally from whole food ingredients. When I read the ingredient list on a packaged product, I’m looking for ingredients I recognize and can buy whole myself. If a company uses high-quality, whole, plant-based ingredients and wants to do the work of assembling them into something I can grab on the go, I’m happy to buy and consume their product from time to time. Here are five packaged foods that get a thumbs up for meeting those criteria:
Kit’s Organic Fruit and Seed Bars
The latest product in the Cliff Bar lineup, these snack bars are made from 100% organic, whole, plant-based ingredients. I had a Dark Chocolate Peanut bar last week and here’s what was in it: dates, peanuts, unsweetened dark chocolate, sea salt and almonds. That list is typical of all of the flavors available. There are no added oils or sugars. The dates act both as binder and sweetener. They cost $1.79 apiece and are available online, at Whole Foods, REI stores and, of course, Walmart.
Trader Joe’s Just Mango Slices
Yeah, I know – this is just dried fruit. But I’ve found that mango is somehow more satiating than other dried fruit, and just a piece or two satisfies my need for something sweet whenever a craving strikes. You can get dried mango elsewhere, of course, but the packaging at Trader Joe’s makes it feel like you’re eating a snack when you’re really just eating dried mangoes. Yep, that’s the only ingredient. $2.99 for a 6 oz bag.
Explore Asian Organic Bean Pastas
Here are noodles made from beans and water – and nothing else. I am sure the beans are ground or pulverized or processed in some other way to make a “flour” that is then combined with water to make a dough that can be cut into noodles, but if you absolutely have to have pasta, make it this pasta. The texture is decidedly different than traditional pasta, but I found the flavor of a mungbean variety I had some months ago to be quite tasty when paired with a homemade vegan pesto I made from scratch. The price tag may be the only thing unpalatable about these noodles – $3.99 for a 7 oz bag which purportedly contains 4 servings. Available online and at the Lund’s across the street from me. Look for them in your local store, too!
Hillary’s Eat Well Organic Burgers
Disclaimer! I have not tasted any of Hillary’s burgers yet, but I plan to as soon as my month of strict whole food eating comes to a close. I’m pretty excited about it, because these are the only vegan burgers I’ve found that are both organic and made from real, whole food ingredients. Also, there is this excellent review from the Food Babe. Hillary’s Eat Well has a wide variety of flavors, each starring a different combo of whole plant foods. In addition to the ubiquitous vegan black bean burger, Hillary’s has some intriguing varieties like Adzuki Bean Burger, Hemp & Greens Burger and Root Veggies Burger. There are even Veggie Bites, which are tiny little vegan nuggets that would be great on a salad. The whole line-up is also gluten- and soy-free. Available at hippie stores like Whole Foods, Mississippi Market (my local co-op) and online. I saw them in the freezer case at MM today and they were retailing at around $4 for a pack of two.
Beyond Meat Beef Free Crumbles
Remember all that stuff I said earlier about so-called healthy processed food having a bunch of protein isolates in it? Yeah, this one has that. The reason I’m including it here is because I listened to a 105-minute interview with Beyond Meat founder, Ethan Brown, on the Rich Roll Podcast the other day. Brown went into great detail about the quality and sources of his ingredients (non-GMO pea protein, the peas are sourced from a nutrient-rich speck of land in the south of France, etc., etc.), then I read this article and I was totally sold. I actually drove to Whole Foods (which only happens like twice a year) in search of the burgers, but they didn’t have them, so I got the crumbles instead. Laura and I made tacos for dinner that night and I devoured the leftovers in a taco salad (no chips) the next day. I have to say, I don’t know how Beyond Meat does it, but I’m glad they do, because this guy is going to change the world for real. Sadly, this is truly a processed food and the ingredient list is too long to copy here, so I suggest you only enjoy Beyond Meat’s delicacies on your cheat days, or any time you would otherwise eat plain old boring regular meat.
P.S. You can order all of these products at Amazon.com, and if you arrive there by clicking on the Amazon ad over in the right-hand sidebar under the “Support” banner, your purchase will help cover the cost of producing this blog.