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Ready meals 'healthier than TV chefs' recipes'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Keith David Barnard
jamie oliver

18th December 2012 - You'd expect home cooked food based on a celebrity chef's recipe to be healthier than a supermarket ready meal, but Newcastle University and NHS Tees researchers found the opposite.

They looked at a random selection of 100 recipes from five bestselling recipe books and 100 own brand ready meals.

Jamie, Nigella, Lorraine and Hugh vs Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco

The recipes tested included 30 Minute Meals and Ministry of Food by Jamie Oliver, Baking Made Easy by Lorraine Pascale, Kitchen by Nigella Lawson and River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The ready meals were from Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

In the study published on, the celebrity chef recipes were found to contain more calories and fat than the ready meals and less fibre.

Nutritional content was calculated from the raw ingredients listed in the recipes and ready meals. If they'd been sold in shops, the chef's recipes would have been more likely to carry 'red traffic light' labels under Food Standards Agency guidelines.

Counting calories, the chefs’ meals averaged 605 calories against 494 from the supermarkets.

Although the ready meals came out of the analysis better, no recipe or ready meal fully complied with World Health Organisation recommendations for avoidance of diet related diseases.

Only 4% of the ready meals met the WHO recommendation on salt content. The recipes were better with salt, but the study couldn't account for people adding more salt once the meals were served.

Healthier cook books

The researchers suggest including nutritional information on recipes in cookery books. They also point out that the advertising of food that's high in fat, salt or sugar is banned during TV programmes which might appeal to children, but no such restrictions apply to recipes on cookery programmes.

Jamie Oliver's representatives said they welcomed any research which raises the debate on healthy eating. They point out Jamie's latest book, 15 Minute Meals, includes calorie and nutritional information per serving for each recipe.

Encouraging healthy eating

The British Dietetic Association says that anything that encourages us to think about and enjoy what we eat and have a go ourselves is to be encouraged.

In an emailed statement, Sian Porter, consultant dietitian and spokesperson for the BDA says: "Having a celeb chef treat is one thing, but eating these dishes as they stand regularly could bump up your fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar intake considerably. Many chefs are creating healthier dishes e.g. The Hairy Bikers diet cook book, but there is still some way to go. Cooking from scratch means you are in control of the ingredients (what goes in) and how the dish is cooked. Simple steps such as adapting recipes by swapping less healthy ingredients and using healthier cooking methods means you can enjoy cooking from scratch and look after your health."

Although ready meals are something we may all choose from time to time, Sian Porter recommends trying not to have them most of the time: "Compare choices and choose those with lower fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. Choose a main meal with around 450kcals if it includes rice/pasta/potatoes/bread and serve with plenty of extra vegetables and/or salad. If you are adding the rice/pasta/potatoes/bread then choose a meal around 300kcal and serve with plenty of extra vegetables and/or salad."

Reviewed on December 11, 2012

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