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12 August, 2017

This Is What a Nutrition Expert Looks for in the Frozen-Food Aisle

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Perusing the freezer aisle at the market is almost inevitable. The thought of popping a plastic tray in the microwave and having a whole dinner ready in 60 seconds flat is just so alluring. But as time-saving as the frozen meal has proven to be, there is still the internal struggle over whether it’s as healthy as a home-cooked meal.

While one dish won’t undo all your healthy habits, it’s important to know what to look for when eyeing a frozen meal. Deciphering the labels on packaged foods claiming to be healthy, low-carb, low-sodium, gluten-free, low-calorie, natural, and any other health buzzword you can think of can be challenging. In fact, a 2010 study shows that this kind of “nutrition marketing” is found on 49% of all products, and it’s commonly used on products with high levels of saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. That’s why Thumbtack personal trainer and wellness coach Kaitlyn Noble advises to always read the ingredient list when going for pre-made meals. She explains, “We  worry so much about grams of fat and calorie counts without knowing what’s in our food.”

Noble points out that while calories help us understand portion sizes, they don’t provide much perspective on what we’re consuming. “Our bodies care about quality (like choosing organic) and the micronutrient content of our food.” In addition to scouring the ingredients list for organic vegetables, it’s important to pay attention to protein and fiber content. The numbers to look for, according to Noble are 15 to 20 grams of protein per meal and a total of at least 35 to 40 grams of fiber a day. This ensures proper hormone production, stable energy, and staying full for four to five hours.

With all this in mind, we put seven common frozen meals to the test. Unaware of the brand, Noble analyzed the nutrition label and ingredient list to provide an unbiased opinion. You don’t have to feel guilty: This is what a nutrition expert would choose from the freezer aisle.