An inconvenient truth: Health experts reveal ready meals not so convenient for good health

14/11/2017

As featured on Today Tonight.

Time poor West Australians are helping to fuel an increased demand for ready meals on supermarket shelves. Moving from the frozen food aisle, ready meals are now also available in the chilled aisle and considered an affordable meal option for many WA families.

Yet, as LiveLighter’s recent Convenience Meal Survey reveals, despite the perceived cheap healthy option, ready meals can come at a health cost with some containing as many kilojoules as a fast food meal deal.

 “With our busy lives, a growing number of options in the supermarket and clever marketing, it’s not surprising people are increasingly turning to convenience meals,” says LiveLighter Dietitian Amelia Harray, “However, they should be aware they may be consuming more than they bargained for”.

McCain Man Size Bangers, Onion, Gravy and Creamy Mash contained nearly as many kilojoules as a McDonalds Big Mac, medium chips and medium coke put together. This ready meal was the largest serve size, contained the most amount of saturated fat per 100g and contained an entire day’s maximum salt allowance* in its one serve.

“LiveLighter surveyed 154 varieties of frozen and chilled meals and, while most met recommendations for sugar, there were significant differences in their energy (kilojoule), fibre, saturated fat and sodium (salt) content,” says Harray.

“It’s important to read the Nutrition Information Panel when purchasing processed meals,” says Harray, “Of the meals surveyed, only 39% met fibre recommendations of 3 grams or more per serve meaning fibre requirements of 25-30 grams per day are unlikely to be met and you could be left feeling hungrier sooner”.

With most of the ready meals surveyed containing the maximum amount of sodium an Australian adult should eat in the day, Maria Szybiak, LiveLighter’s Campaign Director says, “Diets high in salt increase the risk of heart disease and stroke”.

When it comes to price, don’t be tempted by supermarket promotions. The price of meals surveyed varied from $4.80 to $24/kilo compared to healthier options such as frozen vegetables ($1.60/kilo) and frozen fish fillets (from $6/kilo).

Being prepared and planning ahead is key when it comes to managing a busy lifestyle. While the price promotion may seem ‘cheap’, in reality this is rarely the case.

“We understand it’s not always easy to be prepared, yet meal planning and preparing meals at home can be really helpful when trying to reduce the amount of ready meals being consumed, says Harray, “It doesn’t need to be fancy or complex but preparing meals at home allows people to increase the amount of veg and reduce the amount of saturated fat and salt”.

“Preparing meals at home using whole ingredients increases your chances of eating a healthier diet. Cooking when you have time and freezing individual meals can provide a healthier alternative to pre-packaged frozen meals,” Harray says.

Among the convenience meal salt offenders, containing too much sodium were Birds Eye Hoisin Pulled Pork with Hokkein Noodles with 553mg of sodium per 100g**, Coles Moroccan Spiced Lamb with 514mg sodium per 100g, Super Nature Super Lunch Middle Eastern Chicken with Quinoa Tabbouleh with 504mg of sodium per 100g, Super Nature Super Lunch Chicken Pad Thai with rice noodles with 490mg sodium per 100mg.

LiveLighter’s Meal Tips:

  • Where possible, prepare meals at home. See the LiveLighter website for free healthy and convenient dietitian approved recipes.
  • Read the Nutrition Information Panel and look for convenience meals with less than 400mg of sodium per 100g and more than 3g of fibre per serve.

LiveLighter’s Convenience Meal Worst Offenders

McCain Man Size – Bangers, onion and gravy with creamy mash

McCain Man Size – Grilled Chicken and Bacon

McCain Man Size – Chicken Kiev

McCain Tuna Mornay

McCain - Fettucine Carbonara with bacon and mushroom creamy sauce

Coles - Tuna Bake

Kraft – Mac Four Cheeses

Kraft – Mac and Cheese Cheesy Bolognese

Coles – Beef Lasagne

 

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Media contact:

Michelle Weall, Marketing and Communications Manager, on 08 9382 5917 / 0430 465 657 or Michelle.Weall@heartfoundation.org.au

 

Note to Editor: Findings are based on the nutrition information panels found on products for sale in Coles and Woolworths in Subiaco, Western Australia on 27th September 2017. Full data set available on request.

[i]* Daily sodium upper limit for adults 2000mg based on the Australian Nutrient Reference Values

[ii]**Based on serving size listed on each product’s label.