Are prepared meals unhealthy? Depends on the preparation

If you want to eat quickly, many people like to use frozen or canned foods. Then comes the bad conscience. But are ready meals really unhealthy? We tell you how you can have a healthy and balanced diet with frozen foods and the like.

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Germans like things quick and practical. According to figures from the German Institute for Frozen Foods, the per capita consumption of frozen food currently exceeds 46 kilograms per year. For comparison: in 1978 it weighed just under 14 kilograms. Since the end of the 1970s, Germans have been eating more and more frozen food.

The selection of prepared foods in local supermarkets is huge. This “convenience food” has long conquered everyday life. If things have to be done quickly, people like to reach for canned goods, fixed goods, or the freezer.

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Better frozen than bagged

But is that healthy? Basically, frozen foods are always preferable to bagged goods and canned foods. Because in the last two manufacturing processes, valuable nutrients are lost in the food. On the other hand, freshly picked fruits and vegetables, heated briefly and then quick-frozen, still contain a large proportion of vitamins and nutrients.

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And there are even more advantages: carrots or raspberries are also available fresh when they are not in season. Tedious trimming and cleaning are no longer necessary. And: Freezing is a way of preserving food that doesn’t damage the nutrients. Of course, not all freezer foods are healthy. It’s probably not frozen pizza or greasy lasagna.

Ten rules of the DGE

What does a healthy and healthy diet really look like? A look at the ten rules of the German Nutrition Society (DGE) helps to answer this question. These include five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. When it comes to bread, pasta and other grain products, whole grain varieties should end up on the plate. The DGE considers that foods of animal origin such as milk, dairy products, meat, fish and eggs are only a supplement to the diet.

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Health-promoting fats, such as vegetable oils, are also recommended. However, according to the DGE, sugar and salt should be used in moderation. Drinking water and preparing food carefully are also among the recommendations, as well as eating and enjoying mindfully. Finally, the ten rules of the DGE state that people should watch their weight and keep moving.

Differentiate between healthy and unhealthy products.

At least when it comes to food choice, some prepared foods can withstand the ten rules of the DGE. Anyway: There is no general answer to the question of whether and to what extent convenience products are (un)healthy. This is also confirmed by the Federal Center for Nutrition (BZfE) on its website. “The bottom line is that a prepared meal is only as healthy as its ingredients,” he says.

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That is why it is important to be able to correctly read the nutritional information of frozen foods and ready-to-eat products. It is printed on almost all food packaging. It is mandatory to indicate how much energy (in kilocalories and kilojoules), fats, saturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, sugar, proteins and salt are contained in 100 grams of a product.

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Understand the list of ingredients on the packaging.

In addition, a list of all ingredients is printed on most packages, at least those that companies are required to list. The ingredients are ordered by quantity. The ingredient with the highest percentage in the product is at the top.

This list gives an idea of ​​how many artificial additives, different types of sugar or fat are contained in the prepared food. Allergens are also marked in bold at this point.

Basically, the more foreign words the ingredient list contains, the more processed a food is. If there are many unknown ingredients, it is better to use a product whose ingredients you know.

Criteria for healthy ready meals

The BZfE has also created a simple checklist that you can use to identify ready meals that are suitable for a healthy and healthy diet. The center recommends prepared meals rich in fruits and vegetables. As a general rule, the product should cover a maximum of one third of the daily energy requirement. The following conditions apply to adults:

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Prepared meals should

  • about 700 to 800 calories
  • up to 36 grams of protein
  • more than 90 grams of carbohydrates
  • more than 10 grams of fiber
  • up to 24 grams of fat


Pay attention to the Nutri-Score

A good indicator is the Nutri-Score, a simplified representation of the nutritional quality of a food. The guidance system shows with the letters A to E and a color subdivision how favorable or unfavorable the nutritional value properties of a product are. The letter A in green represents the best, an E with a red background the worst nutritional quality.

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However, you can only compare foods from the same product group using the Nutri-Score system. So: A C-rated pizza is more nutritious than an E-rated pizza. But: Pizza can’t compare to salmon fillet, which has the letter D stamped on its packaging.

Attention: There are always criticisms of the Nutri-Score. The Hamburg consumer center, for example, emphasizes that the rating system has weaknesses. For example, it does not always take into account all the ingredients and additives in a food. To be sure, it’s worth taking a look at the packaging information again.

Spice up prepared meals

Conclusion: a healthy diet can be fast. Prepared meals can also end up on the plate as part of a healthy diet. However, it is important to understand the table of nutritional values ​​and know the ingredients of the products.

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If you want to be safe, drive on two tracks. Top your frozen pizza with fresh vegetables or grate carrots and zucchini into your soup packets. This is also recommended by the German Nutrition Society. Meals not only fill you up for longer, they also taste so much better.

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