If you cannot be bothered to cook, there are always ready meals. Popping these meals in the oven or microwave is the answer to your prayers. No shopping, no chopping up onions and crying, no frying, and no washing up. Sounds great!
If you work in this sector, your job looks safe as this industry in the UK is already worth £2.3 billion ($3 bn) and a 20% growth is forecast by 2017.
But is it really healthy? Here are 7 reasons you should stop eating these ready meals and start preparing simple, nourishing food again.
1. They contain fake vitamins and minerals.
Look at all the trouble you take to get your vitamin supplements every day and here you are gulping down fake ones in ready meals. Processing food means all the original nutrients get stripped out. The other bad news is that most multivitamin supplements we take are also processed!
Food manufacturers make cheap vitamins in laboratories and pump them into fortified foods and ready meals. They last a long time, but are synthetic vitamins and minerals good for you?
No, because we will have trouble in digesting them and they may contain chemical compounds which were never meant to be eaten by humans. They are not natural and that is why home-cooked fresh food is always better. Here are some great recipe ideas to make your cooking faster and healthier.
2. The portions are rather small.
This is a massive industry and the economies of scale are just mind boggling. Tons of chicken tikka or half a million kebabs are processed in one day. Ingredients are assembled and stored in massive quantities.
Have you noticed how small the portions are? This might console you in that you are eating a smaller amount of preservatives and additives. The problem is that you will feel hungry soon and you will start snacking on more unhealthy stuff. It is a vicious circle.
3. They contain too many vegetable oils.
One way to avoid this is to make sure that any ready meals you must have (because of an emergency or the occasional bout of laziness) are more protein and plant based. That is certainly a healthier option.
If not, then you are going to get a rather nasty dose of additives such as unhealthy vegetable oils. Lots of vegetable oils are around such as canola, sunflower, corn, and cottonseed oil. They contain lots of polyunsaturated fatty acids which are bad for you. Vegetable oils can cause inflammation and may contribute to heart disease. You will notice that none of these meals contain olive or coconut oil which are healthy but, of course, cost too much for this industry.
It is no secret that many vegetable oils are processed using highly toxic solvents and industrial chemicals.
4. They contain too many chemicals.
There are lots of other ingredients which you can see on the label which lengthen the shelf life but not yours! I often see chemicals on the label such as:
- Artificial flavor
- Chromium amino acid chelate
- Mono and diglycerides
- Dipotassium phosphate
- Sodium caseinate
Do any of these sound like real food? I know that all these chemicals have been tested for safety, but why not go back to some real nourishment?
I bought some low calorie cookies recently. But I had such cravings afterwards that I was convinced that there was some tweaking with chemicals going on, to get me to eat and buy some more. When I watched this video, I realized what they were up to and went back to fresh fruit!
5. They are packed with sugar.
Tempted by a Chinese sweet and sour dish? Be careful! This is one of the worst offenders as regards sugar levels. Just one serving of a typical ready made version was found to have 50.7 grams of sugar. That is on top of all the other sugar that you have already consumed to-day in coffee, soda and cookies.
The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends that our daily amount of sugar should be around 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons). Too much sugar has been linked to obesity, cancer, and diabetes.
This does not refer to the sugars contained in fruit, vegetables, and milk as these are regarded as healthy.
6. They contain too much salt.
Why do ready meals contain so much salt? The answer is that because the ingredients have been frozen and transported for thousands of miles they tend to lose their flavor. The best way to spice them up is to add salt which is easy and cheap. It is disastrous for your health, though. Too much salt causes high blood pressure and heart disease. It may also cause osteoporosis, kidney stones, and there may be a link to stomach cancer.
The RDA (recommended daily amount) of salt for adults is 6 grams. But watch those labels on ready meals. If they say that there is a certain amount of sodium, you have to multiply that by 2.5 times to get the salt figure. If you see sodium reported as 2.4 grams, you have reached your daily limit. Food manufacturers are exploiting this to mislead customers.
7. They are mass produced and every healthy ingredient is at risk.
It is good for business but not your waistline. These companies want you to eat more and more. It helps the economy so what is wrong with that? They also cut their costs to a minimum so they benefit but you don’t. If you read Michael Moss’s Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, you will be shocked.
They cut the simmering time in half and use salt instead to highlight the flavor. Herbs are too expensive so they toss in some more salt!
These food processing companies are in a giant industry. Ready meals are made in enormous quantities. That means long distances, warehouses, and endless storage and refrigeration. In the end, the coloring agents, chemicals, and all the preservatives are the only way to get that food on your supermarket shelf.
I’ve had enough! Pass me the chopping board and those onions, would you?
Featured photo credit: Japanese ready meal – noodles/Andrew and Annemarie via flickr.com