As the winter months approach, many people tend to gravitate to comfort foods. Frozen-ready meals such as curries, pastas and pizzas can be an appealing, convenient meal option.
However, as the dreaded cold and flu season approaches, it is more important than ever to eat a nutritious diet to strengthen and support the immune system, to help stay healthy.
A recent survey of over 4,000 Australian shoppers conducted by Shopper Data Group found that 48% of Australians believe frozen-ready meals hold nutritional value, with 44% admitting that they buy frozen ready-meals.
Accredited practising dietitian Vanessa Schuldt from Nutrition Speak says it pays to check those food labels, as some frozen-ready meals contain excessive amounts of salt and sugar. Some contain hefty amounts of ‘bad’ saturated fats too.
A second national Shopper Data Group survey of 6,200 Australian shoppers found that 33.7% or 2,100 Australian shoppers were unaware of sodium content when purchasing groceries.
“It’s a little-known fact that 75 per cent of the sodium that we eat is hidden in processed foods,” says Vanessa.
“Some frozen-ready meals contain more than half of your recommend daily intake of sodium. With excessive intakes of sodium increasing one’s risk of high blood pressure, it is important to be aware of the sodium content of foods that pass your lips.”
Here are Vanessa’s top three key tips to consider when it comes to meal planning this winter.
1. Read the labels
It’s easy to say never eat frozen meals, but the reality is people will reach for the easy option if they are time-poor. If this is the case, then here’s what to look for when considering the nutritional value:
- Sodium (salt): As adults, we are advised to keep our intake of sodium below 2300mg per day. Choose lower sodium options where possible. Foods with less than 400mg sodium per 100g are good, and those with less than 120mg sodium per 100g are best.
- Saturated Fat: Saturated fat can increase the risk of heart disease, so it’s important to choose foods low in this type of fat. Compare the saturated fat content of similar food products per 100g and choose one with the lowest content. Less than 3g saturated fat per 100g is best.
- Sugars: Staying clear of sugar altogether isn’t necessary, but try to avoid larger amounts of ‘added’ sugars. If the sugar content per 100g is more than 15g, check that sugar doesn’t appear high up on the list of ingredients. Different names for ‘added’ sugar include: dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, lactose, brown sugar, caster sugar, maple, syrup, raw sugar, sucrose.
2. Become soup savvy
While it is tempting to reach for a frozen-ready meal, planning ahead and making a simple soup packed with veggies and legumes is the perfect alternative during the colder months. Legumes like beans, peas and lentils boast the filling powers of protein, fibre and low GI carbohydrates, which is good news for the waistline. Try a simple minestrone, spicy pumpkin or Tuscan bean soup, which can easily be frozen in portion-controlled containers for a supply of ready-meals later down the track.
3. Keep it simple
Healthy meals don’t have to be complicated and time consuming. A simple steak, grilled fish fillet or skinless chicken breast with fresh, seasonal veggies and brown rice is the perfect balanced meal to keep you healthy during the cooler months. Aim to have a balanced plate of 1/3 protein, 1/3 veggies and 1/3 carbohydrates.
Staying on top of your diet is the ideal way to improve your overall health this winter. Planning ahead by checking food labels and making easy meals packed with fresh, seasonal produce is a sure-fire way to kick start your health this winter!