Microwave meals healthier than Jamie and Nigella's recipes

A new study says TV chefs' recipes are worse for you than ready-made supermarket meals

LAST UPDATED AT 10:12 ON Tue 18 Dec 2012

IT'S ENOUGH to make foodies choke on their truffle oil. When it comes to saturated fat, fibre and calories, many of the home-cooked meals promoted by TV chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, are less healthy than supermarket meals cooked in the microwave.

The study of the nutritional qualities of 100 recipes taken from some of the UK's bestselling cookbooks found they were "less healthy" than a random selection of 100 brand-name ready meals from Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco, reports The Guardian.

Neither the TV chef's recipes nor the ready meals met "national or international guidelines for a balanced diet", but the University of Newcastle study found the homemade meals were less healthy according to "several metrics".

The cook books in question will be familiar to anyone who knows their mozzarella from mortadella and include Oliver's 30 Minute Meals, Lawson's Kitchen and Fearnley Whittingstall's River Cottage Everyday.

Per portion, the recipes chosen from these books contained "significantly more energy, protein, fat and saturated fat" and "significantly less fibre" than the ready meals. They would be more likely to attract red "traffic light" warning symbols under Food Standards Agency criteria, says the study that is published in the British Medical Journal.

For example, Oliver's meatball sandwich, pickled cabbage and chopped salad is just under 1,000 calories per serving. Lawson's beer-braised pork knuckles with caraway, garlic, apples and potatoes has 1,340 calories per person and 102g of saturated fat.

By comparison, the most belt-busting supermarket meal was Tesco's chicken tikka masala and pilau rice which clocked up 870 calories per serving.
 
A spokesman for Oliver – a stickler for healthy food when it comes to school meals - said the chef welcomed any research "which raises debate on these issues" and pointed out that his most recent book, 15 Minute Meals, contains calorie content and nutritional information per serving for every dish. · 

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Define "healthier".

Lower in fat? This is usually because ready meals substitute butter for margarine, real cheese for processed cheese etc - these have bad health implications of their own which are rarely taken into account.

Less protein? How is "more protein" a bad thing - replacing (expensive) meat and bulking dishes out with (cheap) carbs is a standard ready meal trick to keep costs down. What no one ever mentions is that carbs (especially the refined carbohydrates found in ready meals) cause spikes in blood sugar which lead to obesity and diabetes, not to mention troughs which leave you feeling hungry and reaching for more unhealthy food.

I (not a food expert or nutritionist, just a citizen who believes we should eat REAL food and that ready meals are the dietary equivalent of plastic) also suspect that, like for like, a ready meal cottage pie or lasagne etc would contain far less vitamins and minerals then its fresh cooked equivalent.

And don't even get me started on the artificial colours, flavourings and preservatives which are pumped into pre-prepared food!

Well done, mainstream media. Now there will be a move away from the "fresh is best" mantra, new lines of "healthy" mircowaved meals released just in time for the summer swimsuit season and thousands of obese and unhealthy people the length and breadth of the county tucking into ready meals with virtuous feelings! Heck, they're so good for me, I might even have two...

Sigh.

Well done Laura P, couldn't have said it better! Ready meals keep the machinery of industry and big Pharma going! Fresh veggies and stuff you cook yourself is no longer 'green' will be the next ruse, you see :)

This is just a load of sensationalist nonsense. Within a chef's book there are going to be all sorts of indulgent treats whereas a supermarket is mainly trying to provide balanced meals day in, day out. Selecting them at random is just a daft thing to do. Bottom line is that this is a paid advert for the food business to help them offload bucket loads more of cheap ingredients and ultimately gmo.

if you have read the actual BMJ article then you would know the authors have declared no affiliation with the industry or any of the companies concerned.

"Within a chef's book there are going to be all sorts of indulgent treats whereas a supermarket is mainly trying to provide balanced meals day in, day out." That might be true and the research findings probably reflect exactly that. And please note the the authors have declared no affiliation with the industry or any of the companies concerned, so your final comment is false.

The actual BMJ article stated that the measure for how healthy a meal is was defined according to WHO recommendations, and the proportion of nutrients was classified as red, amber, or green using the UK FSA’s “traffic light” system for labelling food. These measures are objective and are based on widely used standards. The authors did discuss the omission of details such as micronutrient (flavoring and preservatives) contained in a ready meal and it was noted as a shortcoming of the study. Science simply repots facts and it is the media and industry that manipulate facts to their advantage.

"Science simply reports facts and it is the media and industry that manipulate facts to their advantage."

I agree, and that's my point. Rather than explore the issue, journalists have chosen to present the findings in a dangerous light - they're essentially giving people permission to eat as many ready meals as they like, because they're "good" for you.

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