The thought of ready-to-eat dal chawal, chicken biryani, prawn rice and more is tempting. They are easy to prepare, less time consuming and relatively cheap. So yes, after a long day, a ready-to-eat meal will look much more appealing than heading to the kitchen and preparing some dishes. Some also find foods like chicken sausage and chicken salami as the easy and tasty way of starting the day. But do readymade foods provide all the nutrients needed by your body? Read on to find out why avoiding ready-to-eat meals is a healthy thing to do.
What are ready-to-eat meals?
Ready-to-eat meals, often referred to as convenience or pre-packaged meals, are those food products that have been fully cooked, prepared and packaged for quick and easy consumption. These meals are typically available in various forms, such as frozen dinners, canned soups, microwaveable dishes, and pre-packaged salads.
Reasons to avoid ready-to-eat meals
Ready-to-eat meals can vary widely in terms of their nutritional content. Some can be relatively healthy and provide essential nutrients, while others may be high in unhealthy ingredients like added sugars, saturated fats and sodium, says Dr Sanjay Singh, General Physician, Cygnus Laxmi Hospital, Varanasi. It is essential to read the nutrition labels and ingredient lists on these products to find out their nutritional quality. So, your chicken salami might give you protein or a can of corn or peas might be slightly healthier. But not all the ready-to-eat meals have all the nutrients that your body needs.
Here are some reasons why you should avoid these packaged foods
1. High in processed ingredients
Many ready-to-eat meals contain a high amount of processed ingredients, including preservatives, artificial flavours and colours. These additives can have adverse health effects if you eat them regularly.
2. High in sodium
Sodium (salt) content in ready-to-eat meals is often elevated to enhance flavour and extend shelf life. Excessive sodium intake can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, says the expert. According to the National Health Service, around three quarters of the salt that we consume comes from foods, including ready-to-eat meals.
3. Low in nutrient density
Some ready-to-eat meals lack essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals. They may provide empty calories without the nutritional benefits necessary for maintaining good health.
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4. High in unhealthy fats
Certain ready-to-eat meals can be high in unhealthy saturated and trans fats, which can raise cholesterol levels and ultimately, increase the risk of heart disease, says the expert.
5. Weight gain
Many convenience meals come in oversized portions, encouraging overeating and potentially leading to weight gain and associated health issues like obesity. Also, on average, many ready-to-eat meals are calorie-dense due to added fats and sugars, so replacing them with healthier homemade options can lead to significant calorie savings. For example, if a typical frozen ready-to-eat meal contains around 500 to 800 calories, and someone eats one of these meals daily, they could save approximately 3,500 to 5,600 calories per week. Over time, this calorie reduction could contribute to weight loss or help to maintain a healthier weight when combined with a balanced diet and regular physical activity.
But you can make your meal healthier by including some fresh vegetables or salad. And for this, you don’t need a cook or be a chef yourself.