While they may taste great, recipes created by TV celebrity chefs have more calories, saturated fat, and total fat than the average ready-made meal you find in supermarkets in the U.K., according to a study in the British Medical Journal.
These pre-cooked, packaged meals are sold in the refrigerator section of most U.K. supermarkets and can be heated in minutes. Researchers at Newcastle University analyzed 100 supermarket-brand ready meals found in three of the leading UK stores and compared them to 100 dinner recipes from the cookbooks of UK television chefs, including stars like Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. The researchers found that none of the recipes or ready-made meals–none!–met with all of the World Health Organization’s standards for a balanced diet.
However, a celebrity chef creation proved to be the less healthy option by virtually every standard, especially when it came to calories. On average, the celebrity recipes delivered 605 calories per portion, compared with the less belt-popping 493 per serving in the pre-cooked meals.
Although the study focused on British food, registered dietitian Alysa Bajenaru says it’s quite likely it’s the same deal in the U.S.
“Many TV chefs make their living by offering up comfort food so you have to be a little choosy when deciding what to make,” she says. “Some meals are healthier than others and by looking at what ingredients go into the recipes you should be able to make some judgment calls.”
If you plan carefully and use some common sense, Bajenaru says that cooking your own meals is still usually the healthiest option. But you do need to become a bit of a nutrition detective.
“If you’re thinking about trying out a made-for-TV recipe and nutritional info doesn’t appear in the book, go onto the chef’s website and search for it there. Most will list that sort of information somewhere,” she advises.
As for grab-and-go, Bajenaru says read the labels carefully. In recent years, instant meal makers have reformulated their recipes in response to consumer demand and stringent food labeling, but they still often contain too much sodium from the preservatives used to increase shelf life. Indeed, only 4% of the prepped meals analyzed in the study met acceptable sodium standards, compared to 36% of the chef meals.
One major surprise from the report throws a little egg on the face of Jamie Oliver, the celeb chef made famous for his crusade against unhealthy eating both in the U.K. and U.S. His recipes were found to be among the biggest nutritional offenders.
According to the British newspaper, The Guardian, Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals recipe for meatball sandwich, pickled cabbage and chopped salad, for four people, delivers just under 1,000 calories per serving. His mini shell pasta with a creamy smoked bacon and pea sauce from the Ministry of Food cookbook has 125 g of fat and 63 g of saturated fat.
A spokesman for Oliver said in a statement, “We will soon also be re-launching the Jamie Oliver website with nutritional information on the recipes. However, we would regard the key issue to be food education so that people are aware of which foods are for every day and which are treats to be enjoyed occasionally.”
All in all, sounds like if you love to watch TV cooking shows, you’re also going to need to watch your weight.