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Lean Cuisines Not So Lean?

Posted Jun 22 2010 10:51am

Click on this image to watch the Today show segment I have to say how continually impressed I am with the media, specifically how they can generate so much hype over nothing. The latest was a Today show investigative report exposing inaccurate nutrition labeling on "diet" frozen meals. The title grabbed me and I was mesmerized by the whole segment. "No WAY!!" I yelled at the TV as the reporter said that one particular frozen entree had 10% more calories and another had an unbelievable 350% more fat than listed. The segment even interviewed one of my former professors, a reputable nutrition scientist. She blamed food mislabeling such as this as a possible cause of why some people can't lose weight.

Alarmed, I did the math on the inflated calories and fat and became upset again: this time at the Today show. The particular entree they announced as the “biggest gut buster of all” was a Weight Watchers Smart Ones chicken dinner that had 11% more calories and 350% more fat than the label's 210 calories and 2 grams of fat; sounds horrific but the calculation comes out to a petty 23 extra calories and 5 extra fat grams (for a total of 7 fat grams)—still considered a low fat option for a dinner entree! The Today show probably realized how boring these numbers would look so they opted to display the more shocking "350% more!" value.

I agree that it's deceptive labeling, but because the original fat content listed was so low, the inaccuracy that it actually contained 7 fat grams is pretty trivial. Well, at least I don't believe it's a major cause of why people can't seem to lose weight. It's more likely that people are feeling so virtuous eating these low fat entrees that they end the meal with a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Of course I can see that if the total original calories and fat listed on an entree were higher, then the 10%-350% increase might be more troubling, but the examples the Today show used were not.

The report noted that some of the entrees tested actually had less fat and calories than listed. The problem seems to be variances in portion sizes during packaging, for which the Food and Drug Administration (who regulates food labeling) allows a 20% inaccuracy. I understand this might be disheartening for some who are very regimented and count every calorie, but there is a bigger picture with weight control and more meaningful tenets than calories in a frozen meal. Like eating more natural plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Eating only until you feel comfortably "unhungry." Exercising regularly. This Today show segment was mildly interesting but didn't reveal anything earth-shattering or even helpful, especially because they stated the inaccuracies were due to differing portion sizes. Therefore it's possible that same Weight Watchers chicken entree but from a different box could have 100% less fat! Ahh, one up for those media writers who've created yet another sensationalized story I'll have to unravel for my outraged patients.

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