Ready meals 'healthier' than TV chefs' fare

Lorraine Pascale and Jamie Oliver Books by Lorraine Pascale and Jamie Oliver were included in the study

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Recipes by prominent TV chefs are less healthy than supermarket ready meals, Newcastle University researchers say.

Meals by Jamie Oliver, Lorraine Pascale, Nigella Lawson and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall were compared to those from Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco.

The meals in TV chefs' cookbooks contained more calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar - but less salt.

The researchers said this was not about "bashing" chefs as many campaigned to tackle obesity.

The team said it was widely agreed that cooking from scratch was healthier than buying prepared meals, however, they said there was a lack of scientific testing of the claim.

Start Quote

We're not bashing TV chefs, among them are chefs that have done a huge amount for healthy eating and tackling obesity”

End Quote Prof Martin White Newcastle University

In the study, published in the British Medical Journal, they compared 100 main meals from four TV chefs, who had books at the top of the bestseller charts, to 100 supermarket ready meals. These were then compared to nutritional guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

Red light

On average, meals in the chef's books were less healthy and "more likely to achieve red traffic light labels", the researchers said.

Prof Martin White, from the Institute of Health and Society at the university, told the BBC: "Both ready meals and those by TV chefs are not as healthy as they could be.

"We're not bashing TV chefs, among them are chefs that have done a huge amount for healthy eating and tackling obesity."

Food labels

The study does not attempt to look at how often the meals are cooked - if they are part of people's daily diets or just dishes for a special occasion.

Start Quote

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”

End Quote Jamie Oliver's spokesman

However, the researchers did call for chefs and publishers to put nutritional information alongside their recipes in cookbooks to allow budding chefs to make a more informed choice about the nutritional content of their meals.

"Educating and informing consumers should apply as much to TV chefs as for food in shops," said Prof White.

A spokesman for Jamie Oliver said: "We welcome any research which raises debate on these issues.

"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."

They added Jamie's most recent book already had nutritional information per serving.

A spokeswoman for Lorraine Pascale said: "Some of the recipes in Lorraine's book are healthy, some not quite so much so.

"There are plenty of salads, soups and light meals as well as the richer dishes.

"Her books and shows to date haven't been about healthy eating, they are about cooking."

Supermarkets said they had been making their food healthier.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    @271 "Home cooked, delicious, well prepared food is not automatically healthy just because you put in the effort"

    Well actually as it gets you off your backside doing something other than vegitating in front of the TV (not to mention the extra effort wandering around the shops for the ingredients), I think they are automatically more healthy ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    I hardly ever eat a ready meal, as I don't like them, so I cook from scratch most of the time. If I, like the chefs above make a meal from scratch, I sure don't use Transfat - which the body cannot digest. The body needs fat, so that it can process other foods, so they are essential. Not gallons, obviously, but some. The trouble today is, people need to make soup and eat more fish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    Details of the report here -

  • Comment number 280.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    There is no way you could live from a recipe book you would be dead before 40. Just watching chefs on TV with their pinches of salt and adding sugar to pans etc etc shows that. Just eat from recipe books on occasion and prepare your own meals on a daily basis using fresh produce and no unnecessary additions it isn't rocket science!

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    I cook a lot of food from scratch and I own cookery books by Lorraine Pascale and Jamie Oliver. The thing is, I use these books on special occasions as just by looking at the ingredient list I can tell how high in fat or sugar they are. Most of the time I use healthy eating or low fat recipes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    I have to agree. I watched in amazement as both Hugh and Jamie concocted meals containing so much fat and sugar I would probablyhave developed diabetes just looking at them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    @229, @267

    I would take Dwight Lundell's "advice" with a pinch of salt (boom boom).

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    Make the perfect meal:

    250 gs water
    1.5 gm salt
    6 gm sugar
    6 gm sat fat
    15 gm fat

    MMM, so tasty, nutritious & healthy.
    Roughage, protein, vitamins, flavour. Ha! who needs them.

    Note to food industry. Hire these guys.
    Price per tonne: Soy £300, maize £200, sugar £250, rape oil £750
    Price per serving ready meal £3.50 = £7000 per tonne.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    Its also about the quality of ingredients and ethics. Having been around a food processing plant that made ready meals, I'd rather purchase and prepare food myself. I do not believe in people being forced to work 12 hour days for minimum wages, with a total of 1 hour of breaks - and additional long commutes to work on company buses. Migrant labour should not be exploited like this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Don't usually comment and maybe this has been mentioned but this news article isn't the full study. That is available on the BMJ website which is free open-access so go read it. In the study, they do comment on additives, but limit their study to what is monitored by the WHO. Funding is from Fuse, the Centre for Translational Research in Public Health. The authors report no company funding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    So who funded this piece of research Mr Gallagher, would you mind telling us that. Nobody except supermarkets would actively promote ready meals as a healthier option, which part of my five a day will I get from an eggfriedvindabaji.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    I was wondering about this as I watched Nigella last night. It was about the time she poured a load of butter and olive-oil over a portion of pasta.

    Home cooked, delicious, well prepared food is not automatically healthy just because you put in the effort. Hell, if I couldn't cook half so well I probably wouldn't be half so fat :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    I would love to know what meals they comared and just whether they were for one or (as chefs recipies are often) "makes 4" - as this makes a difference with portion.

    264 - couldn't disagree more strongly! A small amout of fat in good meat is what makes it so tasty. A good stake needs fat! Venison is lovely but dries out if treated badly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Anyone who's watched a celebrity chef TV show should have spotted how much butter, olive oil, salt etc they splash in there.

    I bet it tastes a lot better than a ready meal.

    Whether it's 'worse' is a matter of semantics. Most people aren't going to eat Nigella/Jamie meals every day. And you are free to cut out some of the butter if you want.

  • Comment number 268.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    #229 Chad. Thanks for the link. It contains much of what I was aware of (and allude to in #208) but puts it in a succinct and simple fashion. A recommeded read!

    Sadly I think we're a long way from reform as too many powerful folk (from the supermarket, manufacturing and pharmaceutical worlds) are in the mix.

    If you have 20 mins spare watch this

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Actually the 'proof of the pudding' of home-cooked vs. supermarket meals is right in front of us - the numbers of young, obese men and women in the UK are at epidemic proportions!

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    Iceland have the best meals. They feature such culinary delights as Donar Kebab Meat Pizza and Chicken Tikka Lasagne.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    This may very well be true as;

    Celebrity chefs always say that you need the fat from the meat to provide flavour, this is wrong, fat is a substitute for good meat, look at venison

    Indian curries cooked by rich well-travelled TV chefs use traditional recipes which are designed for use in India where it’s hot, there is no need to add “all” the salt in the UK, we rarely sweat as its cold.


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