Is Your Prepackaged Dinner Really a Healthy Meal?

Everything Isn't Always Better With Bacon

To preserve those delicious pork slices, companies usually use nitrates or nitrites. When added to meat, these preservatives and other additives form compounds that some research suggests may be linked to cancer. Hot dogs, turkey and ham are often cured this way, too. Skip "uncured" varieties—processed meat contains naturally occurring nitrates anyway—and instead watch your intake. The ideal: less than 7 ounces per week.

The Soy in Your Mock Dog May Be Nothing Like Tofu

Fake-meat soy products can easily contain 40 or more ingredients, some of which don't exactly sound mouthwatering: disodium guanylate, anyone? What those products often don't contain: many of the health benefits of soy. That's because the soy comes in isolate form, which means you're getting the protein but none of soy's fiber or antioxidants, say self contributing experts Stephanie Clarke, R.D., and Willow Jarosh, R.D. Their advice: If you want the benefits, eat whole soy foods, like tofu, edamame and miso.

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If It's Been Enriched, It Wasn't Great in the First Place

"The word enriched on a label means that a grain has been stripped of many of its nutrients, including fiber and B vitamins, and then a fraction of those nutrients were added back in," says Andrea Giancoli, R.D., a spokeswoman for AND. Although enriched breads are a better option than regular (refined) white bread, the one word you want to see on the label is whole. Whole grains retain all their original good-for-you stuff—fiber, antioxidants, vitamins—which means they don't need to be enriched to get a passing grade.

"Organic" May Be a Mirage

Simply because a product label says it's all natural or organic doesn't mean it's healthy. But when you see these buzzwords on a package, you tend to think the product is better for you, says Giancoli. Many organic products don't contain artificial substances, but they can have plenty of added sugars, refined grains and oils. Be sure to check labels on any food you're buying. Organic or not, if it's high in saturated fat, sugar or calories, give it a pass.

More: A Healthy, Quick Breakfast With a Little Spice

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