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Healthy Processed Foods (they do exist!)

I've become a compulsive label reader. I used to just buy whatever tasted good and ensure I had a good variety in my diet and assumed all would be good. I didn't realize how much junk companies are adding into processed foods and how much better I would feel and how much healthier I would be if I started being more careful. Now that I check labels to look for trans fats, high sodium levels, high sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup, also known as glucose/fructose), artificial sweeteners, MSG, and other ingredients I cannot pronounce, I end up putting a lot more things back on the shelf and opting for more fresh foods instead. Overall, that is a good thing for me and my family and keeps us eating more whole foods instead of processed foods.

Every once in a while though, I am surprised to find a food that is both convenient and healthy, which proves that it is possible and that all of the companies that are stuffing our foods full of crap, really don't need to be. I know there are a lot of better options in the organic section or in natural food or organic food stores. But even there I compulsively read labels, both because we have to avoid nuts in anything going to school (school rules) and because there are some organic brands that are just as packed full of sugar and sodium as the non-organic brands. But there are many good ones too.

What I want to talk about today, however, is three food products I've found at Costco that I really liked. Not at a specialty store, not even in a specialty organic section, but in the mega bulk food store. This means that even on a budget and even without going into special stores, it is possible to make better choices and to demand better options.

Boulangerie St-Methode Sliced Bread

The Boulangerie Ste-Methode in Adstock, Quebec makes a great tasting sliced sandwich bread that has no fat added and no sugar added. We buy their multi-cereal bread, which is one of the products approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check Program.

This is the only bread that I have been able to find that isn't full of unnecessary amounts of sugar or high fructose corn syrup. I don't see the need for bread itself to be sweet. In a lunch sandwich, it is completely unnecessary. If I'm making toast for breakfast, adding something sweet on top (e.g. jam) makes it sweet, so the bread doesn't need to be.

Bon Matin Healthy Way ProCardio Squares

When I was doing the back to school shopping, I picked up two kinds of Bon Matin's Healthy Way ProCardio recipe squares. They are cereal bars that are high in fibre and have an ingredient list that makes me smile instead of cringe. Recently I went through every single type of granola and cereal bar they had in both the organic and regular section of a Loblaws Superstore and there was only one brand that was free of both nuts and high fructose corn syrup and it was a gluten free bar that we've tried before that tastes like cardboard. These Bon Matin bars that we got at Costco taste great and don't contain any nasty ingredients. They use organic agave syrup as a sweetener and have tons of grains and seeds in them. The only thing to watch though, since they don't contain all sorts of nasty preservatives, is that the expiry date is much sooner than what you would expect if you are buying typical cereal bars, so don't buy more than you can eat.

White Linen Marinara Sauce

So many pasta sauces in stores have extremely high sodium levels and all sorts of unnecessary ingredients. So I was thrilled when I found the White Linen Marinara Sauce (made in Brooklyn, New York) at Costco. While it does have some salt in it, the sodium level is not astronomical, and it tastes so fresh and delicious. The ingredients list is simple and short and mimics what would go into my homemade tomato sauce.

I've used this sauce on its own and I've also added things to it like additional vegetables to make a primavera sauce or some ground beef for a bolognaise sauce. It is great both on its own or as a base for making other things.

Read the Labels

When you are out shopping, read the labels. It can be eye-opening, frustrating, and rewarding. I've learned so much just by looking and I've discovered some great products that make my life easier on the days when I don't have time to cook or bake from scratch.  I read recently that there are some changes planned to the nutritional labeling regulations in Canada and I hope that they will continue to make the labels more usable for Canadians who want to better understand what is going into their food. Reading labels is part of my pledge to think about food and I hope you'll consider making it part of yours too.
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Reader Comments (20)

A word about bread - and I only mention this because I read A LOT about sugar and bread during the sugar fast. Baking is chemistry, and some kinds of bread need a sweetener in order to rise and make a proper loaf, that's all. That being said, I avoid breads with glucose/fructose in them too. And this is VERY hard to do. I've had success with german rye breads and sourdoughs (which don't need sugar during the rising/baking process)!

November 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterandrea from the fishbowl


I've heard that too, which makes me wonder how Boulangerie St-Methode gets such a nice fluffy loaf without any sugar in it. But somehow they do.

November 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

There are some real gems at the grocery store. I found some perogies (not exactly a health food but every once in a while a dinner saver) at the store, read the label and was pleasantly surprised. All the ingredients could be found in my pantry or fridge. Thanks for sharing this and reminding me to check labels before my monthly shop (tomorrow!)

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLizette

I just discovered this bread at Farm Boy (they have it at both Kanata locations) and am thrilled about it! It's very good, too. The granola/cereal bars are tough because of the nut-free requirement at school. We have found the EnviroKidz Crispy Rice Bars have good ingredients, though they are quite high in sugar (not HFCS, though). I give those sparingly as a snack for DD to bring to school. Apple sauce in little cups (easy to find organic, no added sugar), yogurt (Stoney Field or PC Organics) are convenient, pre-packaged snacks, too.

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Coote

Grocery shopping these days requires a degree in investigative journalism and a detective hat. It's great when you can find a ready made product that measures up.


I mostly make my own granola bars (using the recipe I referenced in my http://www.phdinparenting.com/2010/09/07/social-media-school-snack/" rel="nofollow">Social Media School Snack post), but when I do send some to school it is the ones I mentioned in this post (which are nut-free).

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

When it comes to bread, Food for Life brand (known for their Ezekiel bread) is pretty much the gold standard. Heavy, hearty, and healthy, although the taste may take some getting used to.

I guess some of the varieties may have nuts or seeds that violate your school rules - you'd have to check on that.

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJames

Thanks for this too. I'm at roughly the same place you're at - trying hard to eat less processed foods (and succeeding for the most part). But it IS tough, and even with me at home, some days it's nice not to have to make something from scratch. I've given up on granola bars and make my own; we rarely buy cookies any more, and my husband makes our bread. Which is awesome. But sometimes... we just want to "grab something". Our downfall is breakfast cereal - I love it, but it's hard to find one that's really healthy without paying some astronomical price for a tiny box!

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJuliette

My husband has a degree in grain science and, as part of his degree, had to take baking science. Since college I have read most of his baking textbooks. No bread "needs" sugar to rise. There is plenty of yeast food in wheat flour for the yeast to raise the bread. The reason it is such a commonly used ingredient in commercially made bread is because 1) it disguises the flavor of bitter wheat bread, and 2) it make the bread raise faster, therefore allowing the factory to produce more bread in a shorter period of time (hence making more money). The brand you name likely only uses a longer proofing and rising time, which also makes for a better tasting loaf.

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrandis

Lately I've been finding it downright depressing to read the labels. My youngest is teething, and although the homeopathics were working, she was still waking up all night, so I thought I'd try infant tylenol or advil. I spent 30 minutes searching for a brand that didn't have questionable ingredients, and in the end I gave up. Why does an infant care if their medicine is colored pink? Yet most have artificial colors; as well as sodium benzoate, artificial flavors, propylene glycol etc.

I dream of a day where manufacturers that add something you wouldn't normally expect to find in the food, have to have a sign on the product. Example "Purple Brand Cream Cheese, now contains propylene glycol" Wouldn't that make it easier for all of us? I don't need Propylene glycol in my cream cheese, tartazine in my granola bars, or artificial colors and flavors in my ice cream.

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Why can't they make it illegal to include any trans fats, artificial sweeteners, MSG etc in foods? It certainly would make it easier to go grocery shopping. One of the things that bugs me is that I'm finding it harder and harder to read the labels on grocery items even when I'm wearing my glasses. Either I'm going blind or manufacturers are deliberately making the labels harder to read.

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaryn Climans

I had to giggle about "White Linen" as a brand name for tomato-based pasta sauce! :-) Seems like two things between which I'd prefer to keep some distance!

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKellyBeanTalker

I think the misconception about bread needing sugar comes from the fact that that most recipes tell you to proof the yeast with sugar. It produces that quick five minute proofing time. But if you find older recipes, maybe from a time when people had more patience :), doughs are overwhelming proofed with a couple tablespoons of flour.

November 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhypatia

I think there is some controversy whether agave really is any better than HFCS. :(

November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

It's nice to know that there can be healthy processed foods. Earlier this year I wrote a short post about Cool Whip you can see here: http://familybed45.blogspot.com/2010/06/cool-whip.html. Word clouds are a great way to get a sense of what is in something or some types of food. I also love Michael Pollin's suggestion. If your grandmother (or great grandmother) wouldn't recognize an ingredient as food, it probably isn't.

November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

I've been experimenting with the breadmaker lately and trying recipe switches. I've found that most recipes call for about 1/3-1/2 cup sugar per loaf. I do add about 1 tsp and still get a fluffy non-bitter loaf. I'm willing to bet I don't even need that tsp. Just don't want to waste the flour on an experiment like that unless I've got the makings for bread pudding at hand.

November 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDara

We've pretty much given up on processed foods altogether. However the ONE thing we still buy regularly and serves as our convienance meal is frozen pizza. It comes down to a balance between budget, convienance and health. For us, frozen pizza is our go-to on those nights when we want to eat out. It's a lot cheaper and less stressful than eating out too. So I've read all the labels on all the frozen pizzas readily available. I thought the Dr. Oetker ones would be the closest to natural, but it turns out it's McCains.
Not that I'm recommending them as a major part of your diet, but when you looking at occasional use, I do agree, there are some processed foods that are not horrible. The McCain pizza still has more sodium and fat than I'm comfortable with, but as a once a week at most treat and in place of things like McDonalds, fried chicken or take-out pizza, it's a good compromise.

November 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDara

I've finally resolved that some processed food is inevitable (we buy cereal and crackers etc) but for the kids snacks, I really try to limit the junk.

I did find Late July cookies - mini, bite-sized filled with a creamy chocolate centre. They are sweetened with Cane juice. And it's all I can do not to eat the whole box!!

November 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Yes, and Ezekiel bread is sprouted, which is reported to have better health benefits. It should also be noted that there's also a Canadian bakery called Silver Hills who have just started making sprouted bread, and it costs less (Big 16 and Flax have 615g, the rest have 600). I've yet to try it though.

Sorry about the thread resurrection, been reading a lot about sprouting lately... got here via the breast pump lawsuit entry. >_< Squirm!

March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMandy

[...] deep fried. Things that should be sweet are instead sickeningly sweet. I wrote recently about some better processed food brands that we have found and like, but they are few and far between.  I lost weight when we moved to [...]

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