Ready meals, it's boom. How to choose them and check the labels

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Robert Maurer
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We have less and less time to devote to meals. We work all day and often take lunch breaks outside, in the office or on the road. Then in the evening we arrive home exhausted and with little desire to cook. Thus, to prepare lunches and dinners at the last moment and in record time, we increasingly rely on practical and fast solutions such as “instant food”, the ready-made dishes to be consumed for sale in the supermarket. A trend that is changing our eating habits and that in the country is constantly growing: in the last year the consumption of ready-made foods has increased by 9,3%, as announced by the Coop 2021 report.



They have more fat and calories
But be careful: the most consumed products often have a high content of sugars and fats. This was stated by the Imago Observatory, which went beyond the quantitative data and carried out a nutritional analysis of the "ready-to-eat" on the market. "They often serve a make them more palatable on the palate and to keep them better and longer », comments the doctor Emanuela Russo, dietician in Monza. “It's actually about "empty" calories, which lead to doubling and in some cases even tripling the caloric intake of the meal.


For example, a steamed home cooked vegetable basmati rice dish topped with extra virgin olive oil provides around 280 calories. In the ready-made version, if for example butter is used in the preparation to replace the classic extra virgin olive oil, it could instead have 200 calories more and a higher percentage of saturated fats, which if consumed in excess are harmful to the figure. and for health ".


Pay attention to the label
even the sushi it can be very different (and less healthy): «The one sold in supermarkets often is added with sugar»Warns the dietician again. But in general all "instant food" can hide ingredients at risk. The first tip to ensure a quality dish is to avoid the more elaborate preparations.


«The fewer ingredients there are, the less you risk taking "junk foods"The expert resumes. «Then it must be done pay attention to the salt content, in both sodium and glutamate form: the less, the better. And in the list of ingredients on the label must not appear artificial preservatives such as additives (indicated on the packages with the letter “E” followed by a numeric digit) and added sugars (sucrose, dextrose, fructose, lactose), sometimes used to prolong storage. Finally, it is necessary to check that it has been used exclusively extra virgin olive oil, on the other hand, avoiding preparations that contain low-quality animal fats and vegetable oils, including rapeseed oil '.


Healthy weight at risk because ...
There is also another aspect to consider: ready-made meals they satiate less and thus induce to eat greater quantities of food, increasing the risk of gaining weight. This is what emerges from a study conducted in Great Britain, where scholars from the School of Psychology of the University of Surrey observed that people who ate a plate of pasta standing in a "to go" container they ate more calories and showed a greater sense of hunger than those who ate it on a plate, sitting at the table.


"Me too'food environment, the presentation of food and the way we eat influences our choices at the table »confirms Dr. Emanuel Mian, psychologist and psychotherapist. «Eating at the desk in front of the computer or standing up meals already prepared or heated in the microwave oven does not satiate neither the stomach nor the brain. On the other hand, taking the time to cook them, taking care of the presentation of a dish, sitting around a table with family or friends helps to savor every single bite with more awareness and to recognize the sense of satiety ».



Ready-made foods they are then often devoured by spoonfuls or forkfuls "fishing" directly from the container. With an additional disadvantage: according to a study conducted by the Oita Medical School, in Japan, chewing slowly and for a long time causes the brain to release histamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the processes that regulate hunger and satiety. "If you don't savor it calmly every single bite, the sense of “being full” is felt later and so we almost always end up taking more food during the meal », concludes Dr. Mian.


To save dinner and line

If you are always in a hurry and in the evening you find yourself with the minutes to cook, in order not to give up a healthy and balanced dinner you can rely on strategia del batch cooking. Consists in prepare the week's menus in a single day, mixing "ad hoc" proteins (meat, fish, eggs, etc.), carbohydrates (pasta and cereals), fiber (vegetables) and good fats (extra virgin olive oil). "Usually you take advantage of the weekend, where you have more free time, to prepare the "bases" such as basmati rice, couscous, buckwheat pasta, cooked and grilled vegetables and legumes ", suggests the dietician Emanuela Russo. "Then, in the evenings during the week, you just need to toss them in a pan for 2 minutes and combine them with a protein source, seasoning everything with extra virgin olive oil, to have nutritious and light dishes".



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