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Nutritional Content of Supermarket Ready Meals and Recipes by Television Chefs in the United Kingdom: Cross Sectional Study

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Nutritional Content of Supermarket Ready Meals and Recipes by Television Chefs in the United Kingdom: Cross Sectional Study

Simon Howard et al. BMJ.

Abstract

Objectives: To compare the energy and macronutrient content of main meals created by television chefs with ready meals sold by supermarkets, and to compare both with nutritional guidelines published by the World Health Organization and UK Food Standards Agency.

Design: Cross sectional study.

Setting: Three supermarkets with the largest share of the grocery market in the United Kingdom, 2010.

Samples: 100 main meal recipes from five bestselling cookery books by UK television chefs and 100 own brand ready meals from the three leading UK supermarkets.

Main outcome measures: Number of meals for which the nutritional content complied with WHO recommendations, and the proportion of nutrients classified as red, amber, or green using the UK FSA's "traffic light" system for labelling food.

Results: No recipe or ready meal fully complied with the WHO recommendations. The ready meals were more likely to comply with the recommended proportions of energy derived from carbohydrate (18% v 6%, P=0.01) and sugars (83% v 81%, P=0.05) and fibre density (56% v 14% P<0.01). The recipes were more likely to comply with the recommended sodium density (36% v 4%, P<0.01), although salt used for seasoning was not assessed. The distributions of traffic light colours under the FSA's food labelling recommendations differed: the modal traffic light was red for the recipes (47%) and green for ready meals (42%). Overall, the recipes contained significantly more energy (2530 kJ v 2067 kJ), protein (37.5 g v 27.9 g), fat (27.1 g v 17.2 g), and saturated fat (9.2 g v 6.8 g; P<0.01 for all) and significantly less fibre (3.3 g v 6.5 g, P<0.01) per portion than the ready meals.

Conclusions: Neither recipes created by television chefs nor ready meals sold by three of the leading UK supermarkets complied with WHO recommendations. Recipes were less healthy than ready meals, containing significantly more energy, protein, fat, and saturated fat, and less fibre per portion than the ready meals.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at www.icmje.org/coi_disclosure.pdf (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare: no support from any companies for the submitted work; no relationships with any companies that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; and no non-financial interests that may be relevant to the submitted work.

Figures

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Simulated front of package labels for an average recipe created by a television chef and an own brand supermarket ready meal, based on guidelines from the FSA

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