Boxed meals are probably the only good thing to come out of 2020. That and the normalization of sweatpants. But are all meal kits, frozen meals, and ready-to-eat meals created equally? Perhaps there are some secrets that need some deciphering, hidden in plain sight on your label. We spoke to some nutritionists and RD’s to decipher your food labels and see what is good to go and what is a big no-no.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a controversial additive to food said to enhance flavor, while also producing some negative health consequences. It can be overwhelming to determine what is true and what is not. MSG has a place in our food but perhaps is used too much in some ways.
It gets its bad reputation for two reasons; some people have sensitivities to MSG and it has been labeled as an excitotoxin. MSG was labeled as an excitotoxin because it is thought to increase glutamate in the brain. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that stimulates nerve cells, when an excess exists this can cause overstimulation.
- Lisa Richards: Nutritionist and Candida Diet author
Although sugar is a natural compound in healthy things like fruit, isolated sugars in the form of fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, or other syrups are man-made and are one of the contributors to insulin resistance and diabetes. Especially when combined with saturated fat.
Additives that are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) are determined safe by the companies that produce them. The FDA has no system in place where independent researchers can test for food safety.
- Jorg Wijnen: RD and author of Immunity Hi, Virus Bye-Bye.
Artificial Food Coloring
You will also find artificial food coloring in a lot of products, which is used to enhance the appearance of food. A few food dyes such as Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 have been found responsible for causing allergic reactions in some people. Besides, these ingredients can also provoke hyperactivity in children.
- Amber O'Brien: Nutritionist at Mango Clinic
Canned soups are one of the worst offenders when it comes to containing a wide variety of unhealthy ingredients, including empty calories - or foods that are high in calories and nutrient-poor.
Many soups contain large amounts of sodium to keep the soups shelf-stable, which can be harmful to heart health. They also tend to contain processed meats, gluten, and grains that lead to chronic inflammation in the body. This can cause immune and digestive problems. Inflammation is also a driving force behind chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
It's always best to make your meals fresh using healthy ingredients. Stay away from inflammatory foods, such as processed meats, sugar, and gluten. Use clear broths that are free from sugar and load your soup up with lean protein and fresh vegetables.
- Heather Hanks - M.S. Nutritionist at Instapot.lifeHeadshot
Food manufacturers take regular fats such as palm oil or corn oil and blast them with hydrogen to turn them into solids to create trans fats. They do this to make foods last longer on store shelves for years without rotting. Eating partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats raises your LDL or bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
It also lowers your good cholesterol, your HDL. These fats also increase your risk of blood clots and heart attack. Beware of restaurants that use these fats to deep fry foods such as French fries and other fried appetizers and meats.
- Lynell Ross: Resource Director at Test Prep Insight
Sulfites are chemical compounds used to enhance many characteristics of wine, along with convenience foods and instant meals. Sulfites improve the appearance, taste, and shelf life of the foods they are used in. They are found naturally occurring in many foods including fermented foods, eggs, peanuts, and black tea, but are also used as a preservative in processed foods.
Most individuals can tolerate ingesting sulfites, but they can produce headaches, diarrhea, swelling, and stomach pain in some people. For anyone unsure of their ability to tolerate sulfites it could be beneficial to try an elimination diet of this ingredient as a preservative.
- Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD
So, What Can I Eat in A Flash?
Not all quick meals are the enemy. Many save you lots of time and energy and still pack a punch in the nutrition department. One trusted brand is Proper Good. Their line of hearty soups is made to be ready in less than 90-seconds and you don’t have to bat an eye about any of the ingredients.
Moreover, they offer keto-friendly, plant-based, dairy-free, and gluten-free soups and there are zero added sugars in their products. This is the type of meal you can eat with peace of mind, knowing you will have a full belly and a happy body.