When you’re eating for metabolic health, whole foods reign supreme. But that doesn’t mean all convenience foods are off-limits. This ongoing series highlights some of the most metabolically friendly packaged foods found in popular supermarkets—often suggested by Levels members.
Trader Joe’s is a go-to store for the health- and budget-conscious. The chain’s branded line of products includes plenty of whole foods at affordable prices, as well as snacks with healthful ingredients. Although packaged food provides convenient nutrition, be sure to check the labels to avoid surprise ingredients and excess added sugar.
Here are 10 items available at Trader Joe’s that pass that test.
When you’re craving a lower-carb taco or burrito, skip the flour tortillas. Ultra-processed foods have been shown to be easier to overconsume and often contain less fiber than whole-food alternatives. These jicama wraps contain a single ingredient: jicama. Sometimes called Mexican yam, this crunchy root vegetable has a mild flavor that won’t distract from tasty fillings. The wraps are low-carb (two have just 1 gram of net carbs, the number of total carbs minus fiber) and a source of potassium, a key electrolyte that helps muscles contract, move nutrients into cells and keep the heart and nerves functioning properly.
Per serving (2 wraps): 15 calories, 0 g fat (0 g sat), 3 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 1< g sugars, 0 g protein, 0 mg sodium
Price: $4.49* for 12 wraps
Tahini, a sesame seed paste, has a nutrient-dense profile similar to other nut and seed butters: plant-based protein, healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and a handful of vitamins and minerals. Research has also found that consuming polyunsaturated fat, the main type of lipid found in tahini, may enhance glucose metabolism and have a positive effect on blood sugar levels. Plus, tahini’s rich flavor works in everything from salad dressings to desserts. TJ’s tahini contains one ingredient, ground sesame seeds. You’re not likely to find a 100-percent sesame seed spread as inexpensive as this one anywhere else—which is convenient because tahini isn’t as simple to DIY as nut butters since sesame seeds are so tiny.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 190 calories, 17 g fat (2.5 g sat), 7 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 6 g protein, 10 mg sodium
Price: $3.99 for a 10.6-ounce jar
Have this portable, brine- and mess-free snack on hand when a salty craving hits. Olives are one of the lowest-sugar fruits around and have the added benefit of healthy fats and plant compounds called polyphenols. Some research has found that olive polyphenols may help improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.
Per serving (5 olives): 25 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g sat), 1< g carbs, 1< g fiber, 0 g sugars, 0 g protein, 220 mg sodium
Price: $0.99 for a 1.05-ounce pouch
Nutritionally, turkey burgers are a worthy option: Compared to veggie-based patties, they typically have less added sodium and more lean protein. And compared to beef, turkey has less saturated fat. These patties are a simple mix of kosher salt, rosemary extract, and a combination of dark and light meat. Serve wrapped in lettuce or on top of a salad for a lower-carb meal option, or deconstruct the patties to make a ragu or taco filling.
Per serving (1 burger): 180 calories, 10 g fat (2.5 g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 22 g protein, 280 mg sodium
Price: $3.29 for a 16-ounce package
Not only will this option’s low carb count and fiber help keep your blood sugar stable, but you’ll also get essential minerals, including calcium and potassium. Seasoned with cumin, cayenne, and lime and dotted with tomatoes, bell peppers, and pickled jalapeños, this rice alternative is full of flavor. Use it as a base to build burrito bowls, or serve it as a vegan side.
Per serving (1 cup): 50 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g sat), 5 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 2 g protein, 270 mg sodium
Price: $3.29 for a 16-ounce package
Salads provide fiber and valuable micronutrients, but dousing them with bottled dressing can add a surprising amount of fat and sugar. Not this one. It gets its umami flavor from a combination of vegan ingredients. And the creamy, spicy-sweet profile works on many things besides salads: grilled tofu or other lean proteins, chilled pasta alternatives, and nori wraps.
Per serving (2 tablespoons): 40 calories, 2.5 g fat (0.5 g sat), 4 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugars, 1< g protein, 135 mg sodium
Price: $3.99 for an 11-ounce bottle
Regular soda and other sweetened beverages are common culprits for blood sugar spikes, and artificially flavored alternatives don’t always make the flavor cut. Cue Spindrift’s lightly carbonated drinks, which get their flavor from real fruit juice, including strawberry, orange-mango, or raspberry-lime.
Per serving (1 can): 0 calories, 0 g fat (0 g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 0 g protein, 0 mg sodium
Price: $5.99 for 8 cans
Shelf-stable meat products provide quick, easy access, high-protein snacks but can contain a lot of sodium. Chomps sticks are made with beef, poultry, or venison humanely raised and grass-fed. There are plenty of flavors to choose from, none of which contain added sugar (commonly found in pre-packaged jerky), and each provides nine grams of protein to fill you up and keep your blood sugar steady when you’re on the go.
Per serving (1 stick): 90 calories, 6 g fat (2.5 g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 9 g protein, 290 mg sodium
Price: $1.79 each
Tinned fish are pretty much straight protein, especially when packed in water instead of oil. That packaging also keeps the flavor of these sustainably wild-caught sardines mild and the meat plump. Best of all, they’re a great way to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Some research suggests that consuming more omega 3s may improve insulin sensitivity in some populations, such as people with metabolic dysfunction. Plus, because you eat these small fish whole—including the bones (they’re so tiny you won’t even notice)—you’ll get up to one-quarter of your daily calcium at the same time.
Per serving (1 tin): 130 calories, 7 g fat (1.5 g sat), 0 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 17 g protein, 200 mg sodium
Price: $1.49 for a 3.75-ounce tin
This pasta sauce is not only a major bargain compared to premium brands, it also has no hidden sugars or surprise ingredients. Instead, you get healthy fats from the olive oil, minerals, and even a small shot of fiber and protein.
Per serving (½ cup): 80 calories, 4 g fat (0.5 g sat), 9 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 5 g sugars, 2 g protein, 250 mg sodium
Price: $3.49 for a 24-ounce jar
* The prices in this article reflect those listed by the retailer at the time of publication. Prices and local store availability may vary.