Consumer Reports reviews diet entrees
Although some dinner recommendations aren't quite fine dining, they can help dieters control their portions and lose weight, the magazine says. Consumer Reports Health (CRH) says 14 out of 24 microwaveable meals earn a "Very Good" rating for taste, a marked improvement since the last time prepared meals were tested in 2004. Even so, editors note that many entrees have so few calories that diners may need to round out their meals with a few side dishes.
The report is part of "Get Fit In 2010," a do-it-yourself Web guide at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org. The Web site includes new ratings of bathroom scales, fitness tips for a variety of workout styles, and low-cost ways to stay healthy in bad weather.
"The leading brands have really come a long way in terms of taste. And all but two of the meals we tested earned high marks for nutrition as well," says Jaimie Hirsh, associate editor, Consumer Reports Health. "The key thing to watch out for is sodium; we recommend that consumers try to avoid meals with more than six hundred milligrams."
CRH says the top-tasting prepared meals offer a range of options in four categories: chicken, beef, pasta/bean, and shrimp.
Editors note that vegetarians are particularly fortunate because the pasta/bean category outshines the others -- offering the most meals deemed "Very Good" in taste by Consumer Reports' tough testers. CRH recommends four meals in this category based on taste and sodium count: Lean Cuisine One Dish Favorites Santa Fe-Style Rice & Beans; Kashi Black Bean Mango; Kashi Garden Vegetable Pasta; and Healthy Choice All Natural Entrees Portabella Spinach Parmesan. (ConAgra noted that the Healthy Choice product and packaging have changed since Consumer Reports' tests).
Notes Hirsh, "The Kashi brand is clearly one to watch. It was the only brand that earned a 'Very Good' score for both nutrition and taste for all four of its meals that we tested, though they are a little pricier than most."
Other recommended meals include Kashi Chicken Florentine, Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers Roasted Beef Merlot (also changed since testing), Lean Cuisine Cafe Classics Steak Tips Portabello and Lean Cuisine Cafe Classics Shrimp Alfredo.
CRH says it also provides the following tips to consumers "for getting the most from your diet entree:"
-- Read sodium labels. CRH identifies eight meals with more than 600 milligrams of sodium, the benchmark that testers set as a maximum. Most healthy people should get no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. People who have high blood pressure, African Americans (whose blood pressure tends to be especially sensitive to sodium), and older adults should get no more than 1,500 mg.
-- Make it a meal. Even if you're trying to lose weight, products with less than 400 calories may be inadequate by themselves as a full meal. On a typical 1,500-calorie-a-day diet, you should consume 400 to 500 calories for each meal to safely lose weight.
"Luckily, these meals readily lend themselves to augmentation with healthful, easy-to-prepare side dishes," says Hirsh.
CRH recommends some easy add-ons to turn portion controlled entrees into full, satisfying meals without raising the calorie count too high.
For dieters looking to boost calcium intake, CRH notes that there several meal options with 20 percent of the Daily Value for that mineral, including these entrees: Weight Watchers Smart Ones Classic Favorites Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli & Chicken, Lean Cuisine Spa Cuisine Classics Butternut Squash Ravioli, and Lean Cuisine One Dish Favorites Santa Fe-Style Rice & Beans.