Healthier Fast Food, from the January 2016 Harvard Health Letter

Share Article

It's best to prepare healthy food in advance to avoid reaching for packaged foods during hectic meal times. If one must eat packaged foods, look for entrees with real foods on the ingredient list, and little added sugar.

The fewer ingredients, the better.

Store-bought convenience foods are usually loaded with calories, salt, saturated and trans fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates, additives, and preservatives. But somehow they don’t seem so unhealthy when people are in a hurry. Fortunately, there are some nutritious options available, reports the January 2016 Harvard Health Letter. “You just really have to look at the ingredient lists and the Nutrition Facts labels,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Packaged, prepared foods come in several forms: boxed dry goods such as quick-cook pasta and rice mixes; canned foods, such as soup or ravioli; or frozen foods, such as a single frozen dinner or a “family-sized” lasagna. To find the healthiest versions, start with ingredient lists. “The fewer ingredients, the better, and make sure that real foods are on the list, whether it’s meat or vegetables,” says McManus. If there’s any added sugar, it should be one of the last ingredients, since ingredients are listed in order of quantity.

Next stop: the Nutrition Facts label. McManus recommends looking at the label and choosing entrees with serving sizes that provide 600 or fewer calories; 5 or fewer grams of fiber; 500 or fewer milligrams of sodium; zero trans fat; 5 or fewer grams of saturated fat; and zero grams of sugar. Which foods are most likely to meet those nutrition recommendations? Dry foods, such as whole-grain cereals (shredded wheat or rolled oats); frozen or canned vegetables (without added salt); canned tuna or salmon; some frozen fish or shrimp; and some frozen entrees, usually from companies that promote the fact that they use organic ingredients (and few of them).

Read the full-length article: "Healthier meals on the go"

Also in the January 2016 issue of the Harvard Health Letter:

  •     Which tests do you need in 2016?
  •     Easy ways to rev up your thinking skills
  •     Is it a health problem or just aging?

The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).


Media: Use the contact information about for a complimentary copy of the newsletter, or to receive our press releases directly.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Kristen Rapoza
Harvard Health Publications
+1 (617) 432-4716
Email >
Follow >
Harvard Health Publications
Like >
Follow us on
Visit website