EDITOR's NOTE: Welcome Dr. Michelle Cardel, PhD, RD to the Gainesville Lunch Out Blog Staff as our resident expert on all important food information that is healthy, smart, and good for your body, mind, stomach and waistline. Dr. MC will share smart food advice with us on a regular basis and looks forward to answering, discussing any food questions you might have.
Prepackaged meals useful in losing weight
As obesity rates continue to climb, a potential culprit could be portion size: Over the last few decades, portions have been getting larger. Therefore, controlling portion size might help people lose weight. Now, a new study published in the journal Obesity reports that prepackaged meals can be an effective tool for weight loss because they have set portion sizes, and by prepackaged meals, I am talking about ready-made meals you can find in the grocery store, usually in the frozen section.
In the study, 183 persons were randomized to one of three diet groups for 3 months: Two groups ate prepackaged meals twice a day, and, for one of these groups, the prepackaged meals were high in protein (at least 25% of calories). A third group ate whatever they wanted for the 2 meals. For all the groups, there was a counseling session with a registered dietitian, who discussed eating a low-calorie diet. All participants were also instructed to engage in at least 60 minutes of purposeful, physical activity every day.
At the end of the 3 months, participants who ate the prepackaged meals lost about 8% of their body weight compared with 6% lost by those who ate whatever they wanted. The prepackaged meals also lowered LDL cholesterol ("bad cholesterol") and triglycerides. Further, satisfaction with the food and meals did not differ between the groups. This is important because if people aren't happy with a meal plan, they aren't going to stick to it. While these results are promising, longer studies are needed to see if portion control by using prepackaged meals can be effective for long-term weight loss.
Admittedly, I have never been one to consume prepackaged meals, but I have seen them help some patients lose weight. One of the advantages of prepackaged meals is that they eliminate the need for planning and preparation, which can be challenging to fit into a schedule. Further, long gone are the days when a prepackaged meal equals a TV dinner with food that tastes as packaged as the box it comes in. Today, a variety of companies specialize in healthy, good-tasting prepackaged meals with a range of options such as low salt, gluten- and allergen-free, ethnic options, and organic.
When it comes to prepackaged food, however, always read the nutrition label and the ingredients, and pay special attention to the following:
Sodium (salt): High sodium is a common offender in many prepackaged foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily for the average healthy adult, and no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily for those who are salt-sensitive or who have been put on a low-salt diet by their physician. Select a meal with no more than 600 mg of sodium.
Calories: To lose weight, select a meal with less than 500 calories.
Fats: Avoid trans fats such as "partially hydrogenated oil," which are bad for the heart.