5 Reasons Frozen Meals Won't Help You Lose Weight
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
LifeTime WeightLoss in BPA, Nutrition, Tom Nikkola, healthy meals

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

Frozen meals have come a long way since the 1950s, at least in the way they are marketed. Unfortunately, most don’t provide much for quality nutrition. However, they seem to be a staple in many people’s nutrition plans, especially for those trying to manage their weight. Most of the premade meals found in your grocery store’s freezers pale in comparison to whole food meals. If you’re still buying these foods each week, consider the following five points. Here’s why it might be best to leave  frozen meals in the freezer.

1. Frozen meals are highly processed foods

The following list of ingredients comes from a baked chicken frozen meal, which is supposed to be baked chicken with stuffing and creamy white potatoes:

RED SKIN POTATOES, WATER, CHICKEN BREAST WITH RIB MEAT CARAMEL COLOR ADDED (COOKED CHICKEN BREAST WITH RIB MEAT, WATER, ISOLATED SOY PROTEIN, CITRUS FLOUR, SEASONING (DEHYDRATED CHICKEN BROTH, CHICKEN POWDER, FLAVOR, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE), POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, SUGAR, POTASSIUM AND SODIUM PHOSPHATES, SALT. GLAZED WITH: WATER, CARAMEL COLOR, MODIFIED CORN STARCH), BREAD CRUMBS (ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR (ENRICHED WITH NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), NATURAL CANE SUGAR, SOYBEAN OIL, SEA SALT, YEAST, NATURAL FLAVOR), CREAM, ONIONS, 2% OR LESS OF CELERY, MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, DEHYDRATED SOUR CREAM (SOUR CREAM (CULTURED CREAM, NONFAT MILK)), CHICKEN FAT, SOYBEAN OIL, BLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR, SALT, SEASONING (AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, FLAVORS, WATER, CHICKEN POWDER, CHICKEN FAT, SUGAR, SODIUM LACTATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, LACTIC ACID), SPICES, SOUR CREAM FLAVOR (MALTODEXTRIN, SOUR CREAM SOLIDS, CULTURED BUTTERMILK, NATURAL FLAVORS, CITRIC ACID, YEAST EXTRACT), POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, PARSLEY, TURKEY FLAVOR (FLAVOR, SALT, DRIED TURKEY STOCK, MALTODEXTRIN, SESAME OIL (CONTAINS SOY)), DEHYDRATED ONIONS, GARLIC PUREE, YEAST EXTRACT, SUGAR, CARAMEL COLOR, DEHYDRATED GARLIC, XANTHAN GUM, CARRAGEENAN WITH DEXTROSE, LACTIC ACID, CALCIUM LACTATE.

Remember, the meal is supposed to be chicken, stuffing and potatoes. That’s quite a list of ingredients for the meal! Notice that the chicken has added soy protein in it, meaning that “chicken-looking “ piece of meat isn’t 100% meat after all. The soy protein helps to increase the protein content of the meal so manufacturers don’t need to use as much actual chicken. Soy is a common allergen and most soy in our food is genetically modified. In addition, you can see the meat has added caramel color. The caramel color is added to make it more visually appealing, even though it’s not good for you. Soybean oil is found in a few spots on the list. Autolyzed yeast extract can cause migraines in some people. There are other ingredients we could pick out as well, but the point is, the meal is not just chicken, stuffing and potatoes. Unfortunately, we don’t truly know what eating most of these ingredients and chemicals do to our metabolism. For space, I only used one example above. If you have some frozen meals in your refrigerator, check the label. You might be surprised what you see when you look close.

2. Frozen Meals Are Limited In Protein

The meal above sounds like it would have enough protein in it since the meal is “baked chicken,” but it only provides 14 grams of protein. In addition, since part of the “chicken” is actually soy protein isolate, it’s uncertain how much of the protein actually comes from chicken. Many frozen meals are higher in carbohydrate, which is a much cheaper ingredient than meat. If you’re shorting yourself on protein at lunch or dinner, you’re probably going to be quite hungry within a couple hours. Finally, the quality of the protein is not close to the same as cooking a real piece of chicken, especially if it’s from a pasture-raised chicken.

3. Frozen meals are limited in quality fat

Many of the “weight loss” frozen meals are low in fat, still following the misguided approach to weight loss of following a low-fat diet. Fat is important for delaying hunger along with being critical for many functions in the body. The added fats in the meal example come from soybean oil and sesame oil – not good sources of fat. Don’t expect to find frozen meals with healthy options like olive oil, coconut oil, butter and other good fats. They’re too expensive.

4. Frozen meals are packaged

Bisphenol-A (BPA) has come under growing scrutiny. BPA is used in cans and plastic containers. It has been linked to health problems including endocrine problems, increased rates of obesity, nervous system problems, thyroid dysfunction, and heart disease. Some of the issues related to BPA could directly affect one’s ability to lose weight. That would be ironic if people are ingesting BPA through foods designed to help them lose weight. Unfortunately, food packages do not have to declare whether there is BPA or other questionable chemicals in them, so you won’t know if BPA is in what you’re eating.

5. Frozen meals try to control calories

If you’re buying these foods because they are labeled as 300 or 400 calorie meals, you probably won’t be successful long-term trying to control your weight this way. We’ve talked about calorie counting before in articles like More than Just Calories In, Calories Out and Food Is More Than Just Calories “In”. It can be painful to try to manage weight through calorie counting alone. Eating 1200 calories of processed foods might work for a little while, but eventually people get sick of the constant hunger and thoughts about food. Willpower can only last so long. Instead of processed frozen meals, eat a lot more non-starchy vegetables, quality protein like chicken, grass-fed beef, fish and eggs, and healthy fat like coconut oil, nuts, seeds, butter and fats naturally found in their protein source. If you’re short on time, have a protein shake, not a frozen meal. When you eat quality food, you don’t have to worry so much about counting calories. You’ll find you’re much more satisfied than when you rely on processed foods.

Summary

If you’re buying frozen meals out of convenience, it takes me less time to reheat leftovers in my glass containers than it takes to microwave a frozen meal. It usually takes one to two minutes to reheat my leftovers, rather than the five minutes it takes to cook most frozen meals, not to mention how much healthier the leftovers are. Stop buying frozen, processed “food” and start eating real food. Forget about the calories; eat what you should eat and you’ll find your weight comes off the way it should. No one ever became overweight from eating too many vegetables and too much protein.  

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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