healthy meal
Diet & Nutrition

On the Hunt for Healthier Meals

Most of us associate “convenience food” with junk food, but it doesn’t have to be that way, according to an article in the Harvard Health Letter.

You can find some healthy food in this category,”but you really have to look,” registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in the article.

The piece cites the several forms prepared foods come in: packaged, canned or frozen. Even if the main ingredient is supposed to be healthy, this kind of food is often high in calories, salt, sugar and saturated fats (among other no-nos).

“It’s not the worst thing if you eat this kind of fast food once in a great while, but if you start eating a lot of it, it can lead to weight gain and the health risks that come with it, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease,” says McManus.

The same is usually true of takeout food.

But there are ways to figure out which foods are healthier, according to the article. “The fewer ingredients, the better, and make sure that real foods are on the list, whether it’s meat or vegetables,” says McManus. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, so if sugar is first, that’s not a good sign.

Additionally, McManus told the Harvard Health Letter, you can look at the Nutrition Facts label. In the article, McManus recommends: a serving that is no more than 600 calories with at least 5 grams of fiber; no more than 500 milligrams of sodium; no more than McManus recommends looking at the label and choosing entrees with serving sizes that provide 600 or fewer calories; 5 or more grams of fiber; 500 or fewer milligrams of sodium; zero grams of trans fat and sugar; and no more than 5 grams of saturated fat; and zero grams of sugar.

Or you can take it to the next level by thinking in terms of fresh food you can easily prepare, healthy meals you can make ahead of time and freeze.

Additionally, McManus suggests, keep health snacks such as low-fat yogurt, fresh fruit and hummus. You can also put together snack packs, she says, with nuts, whole-wheat crackers or chopped vegetables.

 For more health information, click here to subscribe to the Harvard Health Letter.

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