Nutritional content of supermarket ready meals and recipes by television chefs in the United Kingdom: cross sectional study

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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.

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