Frozen food may be getting a bad rap.
Many people view frozen meals as unhealthy and as a last resort, even opting for a fast-food meal over a frozen one, according to a British consumer group that tracks grocery shopping habits.
But a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that people who regularly ate frozen meals consumed 253 fewer calories and 2.6 less grams of saturated fat per day than people who ate fast food. Additionally, adults who ate frozen meals had higher daily intakes of important nutrients such as protein, fiber and potassium.
It should be noted that the study was funded by Nestlé USA, the maker of many popular frozen-food brands including Hot Pockets, DiGiorno and Stouffer's. However, the findings have been peer-reviewed and are considered impartial.
So does that mean a frozen lasagna is better for you than a hamburger and fries from the drive-thru? Not necessarily.
Registered dietitian Staci Nix McIntosh, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Utah College of Health, notes that the researchers did not compare meal-for-meal frozen versus fast food and cautions against taking the study findings at face value. "There are lots of factors at play here," she says, "not the least of which is that people who consume fast food and people that regularly eat frozen food are people who choose different methods of quick meals and may have different lifestyles in general."
Still, frozen foods can be healthy choices, depending on what you pick. McIntosh says to look for these items on the label:
- Vegetables, but without the sauce.
- High nutrient content relative to calories—potassium, calcium, fiber, vitamins A and D, and iron. You want a meal that will provide those nutrients while not exceeding your overall energy intake for the day.
- Low sodium and no trans fats.
And if you want to eat frozen meals like lasagna, pizza or a breakfast sandwich, pump up the nutrition by adding frozen veggies.