Almost a month ago, I was sitting on my back patio in 40-degree weather, comfortably warm without my socks. It’s not that my fluffy robe was keeping me warm, nor was it my quickly cooling coffee. My blood might as well have been boiling, when this article came across my feed: Don’t Be Fooled: TV Chefs’ Recipes aren’t Healthier than Supermarket TV Dinners. All I could think was to wonder how much money Monica Antonio got paid,and by whom (Tesco’s?), to push along the completely false statement that prepackaged foods are as healthy as – let alone healthier than – a homemade dinner.
These thoughts followed: What are they saying? Is she REALLY telling the world that? Who did the study? Is it peer-reviewed, or did she just grab from the Reuters bank of maybe-true things? Can their findings be replicated? There’s literally no way that prepackaged anything is healthier than something homemade. What did they compare? Oh, only calories and saturated fat. I have to do the label analysis to set the record straight.
So, here we are, nearly a month later, and I’m still so upset that anyone would have the gall to push that story along as fact. Let’s be clear on some facts. The minute you say something is categorically good or bad for you because it has sugar, soy, salt, carbohydrates, protein, fat, bullets, or bad actors, is the minute you’ve stepped right off the ledge and into the world of partial truths, pseudo-science, clickbait titles, and unhealthy eating habits. Unless, of course, we’re talking trans fats; science confirms that no amount of trans fats are safe for consumption.
So, put down your cupcakes, donuts, frozen pizza, breakfast sandwiches, microwave popcorn, cream-filled candies, cakes, pies, or cookies, and listen up! Throw out that margarine-soaked bagel, light your oleo tub on fire (use it to rewarm your coffee), and get cozy. Grab a notebook to take notes. I’m gonna break this down for you.
You cannot categorically dismiss any food group because it’s bad for you without tests and a doctor’s note (except anything containing trans fat). Doing otherwise is supremely unhealthy, and your body will probably suffer. You also cannot take the word of any “study”, unless it has been replicated under the exact same circumstances, with the exact same results, more than once. I can’t even go see what those parameters are, because the link to the study in the other article takes me to a 404 page – usually the first sign of bupkis. I am forced to go with what Ms. Antonio wrote about, and break it down to the nitty-gritty of what your body requires based on a 2,000 kCal diet, and with those labels side by side, ingredients included, show you how wrong wrong wrong her statement is.
A few parameters:
- That article spoke only of calories and saturated fats. That’s simply not enough information for a judgment call on what to/not to eat. You can’t base the labels healthy and unhealthy off only saturated fat and calorie content.
- While it is true that there are plenty of REALLY BAD FOR YOU recipes floating around in recipe books, it is far more likely that you would eat an entire TV Dinner than something that resembles an actual recommended portion of something you cooked. The discrepancy in food consumption is amazing.
- Prepackaged foods use tons of chemicals to preserve their content, and keep them “fresh”. I am personally suspicious of any food that doesn’t go bad after a short while.
I chose to use Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall’s recipe for Gill’s Poached Leek and Blue Cheese Tart, assuming that’s the correct recipe from the article, because the name is different. It’s the closest I could come, anyway, to finding ANY of the books listed in her article anywhere, and I had to drive to a far-away library to borrow it. It was also the only one I found on Amazon.
YES! Tesco’s Chicken Tikka Masala DOES have less saturated fat, based on the recommended 4-serving label. Saturated fats aren’t great for you, but they aren’t solely responsible for making this healthy or unhealthy. The sugar industry lobbied to make fat the demon, and so it has been for many years. There is a TON of sugar in the Tesco’s dinner, not much protein, more calories (about 1/3 of your daily intake). There was no vitamin content listed, so I can’t show you that without guessing at measurements and popping them into my recipe analyzer. It still looks to me like the one on the left is supremely unhealthy, compared to the one on the right. The tart is rather huge, though, and you can adjust your serving size pretty easily. How many of you are going to save the rest of your TV dinner for later? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Let’s look at the nutrition content of the leek tart, cut down into 8 portions instead of 4.
The sugar content here is not from added sugar, as in the Tikka Masala; it’s from milk solids. In fact, here are all the ingredients in this recipe:
- all-purpose flour
- unsalted butter
- egg yolks
- heavy cream
- blue cheese
Consider, not only vitamin content, but also trace minerals you’re getting here. There are tons!
Here are all the ingredients in that TV dinner:
Cooked Pilau Rice, Marinated Chicken (25%), Onion, Single Cream (Milk), Tomato Purée, Yogurt (Milk), Rapeseed Oil, Garlic Purée, Ginger Purée, Ground Cashew Nut, Honey, Butter (Milk), Spices, Cashew Nut Paste, Coriander Leaf, Sugar, Salt, Black Pepper, Bay Leaf, Lemon Oil, Colour (Paprika Extract), Cooked Pilau Rice contains: Water, Basmati Rice, Rapeseed Oil, Salt, Concentrated Lemon Juice, Cumin Seed, Cardamom Pods, Colour (Curcumin), Cardamom, Bay Leaf, Marinated Chicken contains: Chicken Breast, Tomato Purée, Yogurt (Milk), Water, Ginger Purée, Garlic Purée, Soya Oil, Palm Oil, Cornflour, Salt, Green Chilli, Spices, Colour (Paprika Extract), Black Pepper, Basil, Sunflower Oil, Cashew Nut Paste contains:Cashew Nut, Rapeseed Oil
- There’s a ton of added sugar in this.
- Rapeseed oil is used as biodiesel and has high levels of erucic acid, which can be damaging to cardiac muscles
- also contains glucosinolates, which have been shown to have toxic effects in humans AND animals.
- DID YOU SEE HOW MUCH RAPESEED OIL IS IN THIS?!
I could go on; I think you get the idea. All of that to say this:
- If you try to decide what’s healthy based solely on one or two things, instead of looking at the big picture (the food as a whole), you need to rethink how you’re addressing what you eat.
- Fresh foods contain both macro- and micronutrients that are often lost and replaced with worse ingredients in processing and packaging.
- Consult your doctor or a registered dietician, if you’re truly concerned about your fat intake and don’t know where to start.
- Yes, the 5-Ingredient Rule is a fantastic rule of thumb, but there are plenty of really great and healthy recipes that have much more than 5 ingredients in them – like my Cheap & Easy Ceviche.
If you’re going to make a fuss about what your food contains, know where those nutrients are coming from, and what they provide your body. Calories and saturated fat are not enough to make a decision.
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