Every day, FoodFacts.com looks into the benefits and drawbacks of hundreds of different food products in our database. Sometimes we surprise even ourselves with the information. And sometimes, we know that the measure of nutritional value of a food product is really determined by the lens through which it’s being observed.
For instance, when it comes to frozen diet meals, there are a few different ways to observe nutrition. You might say that would be a simple matter of calories and fat — and then all the brands would qualify as healthy options for those seeking to reduce their weight. But there are a few other manners in which to look at these frozen meals and determine whether or not they should be part of a diet plan at all.
FoodFacts.com has a “rule of thumb” — that is to be wary of any food product with a long list of ingredients. Generally speaking, the longer the list, the more likely you are to find ingredients you don’t recognize and that may, in fact, be controversial. And generally speaking, in most cases, frozen diet meals feature these long ingredient lists. There are certainly exceptions, but the majority of frozen diet meals contain ingredients that you wouldn’t find in your fridge or your pantry. We thought we’d take a look at four common ingredient concerns for these meals.
The recommended daily allowance for sodium for adults is about 2300 milligrams. That’s about a teaspoon. You’ll find that most diet frozen meals contain about 30% of the RDA for a 2000 calorie per day diet. That’s a lot of salt — especially when you consider the portion sizes of the diet meals This can vary slightly up or down depending on meal content and brand. Excessive sodium consumption can lead to high blood pressure, or hypertension, which is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.
BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)
BHT is an antioxidant that is used as a preservative, keeping foods from oxidizing and spoiling. You’ll find BHT in a wide variety of processed foods. It is popularly used in frozen foods. BHT may be carcinogenic. Other side effects of this food additive include elevated cholesterol, liver and kidney damage, infertility, sterility, immune disorders, increased susceptibility to carcinogens, and behavioral problems. While BHT isn’t present in every frozen diet meal, it’s not an uncommon additive and something you may want to carefully watch out for.
Manufacturers have used sodium benzoate for a century to prevent the growth of microorganisms in acidic foods. The substances occur naturally in many plants and animals. Sodium Benzoate can cause hives, asthma, or other allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Again, not every frozen diet meal contains sodium benzoate, but it’s a fairly common ingredient and one you want to keep an eye out for.
An expensive flavor enhancer usually used with the cheaper Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) alternative. It comes from the nucleotide Inosine monophosphate (IMP) commonly found in mushrooms and meats. Nucleotides are information-carrying molecules (seen in DNA) and help with the body’s metabolic processes. It is approved by the Food and Drug Administration but like MSG, is associated with certain allergic reactions after consumption. Again, if you’re purchasing diet frozen meals, read the labels carefully – this is not an unusual ingredient.
While it’s certainly tempting to go the route of frozen diet meals while trying to lose weight, we all need to keep in mind that it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to cook lasagna with meat sauce for 270 calories per serving. Even if you use skim-milk cheeses and 97% lean ground beef, you’ll have a problem bringing it in at under 300 calories. The point is it’s not diet food. Most of the food featured in frozen diet meals, regardless of brand, isn’t meant to be diet food. Hence, the food additives and ingredients you can’t pronounce and the high levels of sodium. They have to add to the food to make it appetizing.
So if you’re trying to lose weight, the healthiest option would be to stick to foods that will work within your diet goals. Grilled chicken and turkey, fish, and lots and lots of fresh vegetables will fill you up, nourish your body and help you to reduce your caloric intake. The additives you’ll find in diet frozen meals won’t do any of that for you.