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How bad is Lean Cuisine, really?
May 3, 2006 5:35 AM   Subscribe

Is Lean Cuisine the type of overly processed food I should be trying to avoid, and if so, why?

They hype their "no preservatives in 80%" of meals. No artificial flavors in a large portion too. I always hear how bad processed food is, and microwaved dinners in a box seem quite processed, but then the no preservatives thing makes me think Lean Cuisines might not be so bad. Please explain what is so bad about processed food, and whether this applies to something like Lean Cuisine?

It's so damn convenient! And cheap. (And some meals actually taste pretty good.)
posted by Amizu to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Check the sodium content.
posted by fixedgear at 5:44 AM on May 3, 2006


Here's what they say about their sodium content: The sodium levels for our LEAN CUISINE products were set after examining sodium intake guidelines for healthy adults. The U. S. Food & Drug Administration guideline advises that healthy adults should limit their sodium intake to 2400 mg daily. Although LEAN CUISINE is not required to meet any government regulations on sodium restrictions, we maintain a self-imposed guideline to ensure great taste and good health.

As far as I remember, the typical LC meal has something like 20% of recommended sodium for the day. Too high?
posted by Amizu at 6:01 AM on May 3, 2006


Check the sodium content.

On the one hand, very true. On the other hand, duh. If you cut out most of the fat in a given dish, you cut out most of the flavor. The easiest way to make it no longer taste like cardboard is-- you guessed it-- add salt.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:02 AM on May 3, 2006


Definitely check sodium, that's one of the primary evils of processed food. Also, be wary of anything that uses corn syrup as a sweetener (Mostly soda, but other foods will use it too), and excessive amounts of food dye.

20% of the daily intake of sodium for a meal isn't that bad. Most people surpass the normal sodium intake by frightening levels, sometimes in a single meal.

There's other troubles with processed food, such as maintaining nutrient content, often supplmented with "fortification", and of course, preservatives.

Lean Cuisine isn't as bad as many other frozen meals. It's still processed food, no question about it. Most convenient foods suffer from some evils of processing, that's how many things can be so convenient.

The best way to avoid processed food is to cook the meal yourself with fresh ingredients, preferrably locally produced. It's horribly inconvenient, such methods are from a time when obtaining and preparing food was a notable portion of the day. At the same time, eating a hamburger made from fresh cooked bread at home, locally grown and slaughtered beef, fresh farmer's market vegetables, washed down with a glass of local dairy milk, sometimes it's all worth the effort.

Still, that can be a bit much to ask. If you need something convenient and fast, check for low sodium, no preservatives, and no excessive food dyes.

You could also prepare meals ahead of time, there are many that will store in the fridge for a few days. This can be fairly cheap as well, and only as processed as the ingredients you choose.

In the end, it depends on how much effort you want to put into being health-conscious. We can handle some processed foods, but even reasonable portions at nothing but fast food restaurants will take a toll on the body. It's a matter of finding the balance that works best for you. Still, consider the idea of preparing food that can be portioned and stored for a few days. I was surprised at how cheap it can be compared to single-serving packages of processed food.
posted by Saydur at 6:18 AM on May 3, 2006


From checking the nutritional facts, they seem to aim at around 30% daily value of sodium. But if this is your dinner, that seems perfectly fine, unless you need to follow a low-salt diet for a reason other than "salt is bad".
posted by smackfu at 6:37 AM on May 3, 2006


I try to eat as much fresh, unprocessed food as possible - and that's quite frequently, since I'm blessed with a roommate who loves to cook - however at times something fast, cheap, low calorie, and easy is what's called for, and I am trying to get a sense for how bad LC is - if that should be my choice in those circumstances.
posted by Amizu at 6:39 AM on May 3, 2006


For a frozen dinner, Lean Cuisine is a very good choice. Compared to something like Hungry-Man, it's virtually health food. Unless you find yourself living off frozen foods, Lean Cuisine should be harmless enough. I can't think of many other prepared meals that would be healthier, certainly not for the same price and convenience.

In short, you could do a lot worse. The sacrifice is really in the taste with Lean Cuisine, and if you can handle that, you're good to go.
posted by Saydur at 7:08 AM on May 3, 2006


I'm in the same boat as you, Amizu, when I need something very fast and cheap, I figure that the best I can do is the LC "Spa Cuisine" line. They come with brown rice or whole wheat pasta and generally have 2 servings of vegetables and no preservatives or artificial flavors.
posted by amarynth at 7:19 AM on May 3, 2006


The sacrifice is really in the taste with Lean Cuisine, and if you can handle that, you're good to go.

And the price! Their new "spa" line is great, though -- lots of whole grains and veggies in much better shape than usual.
posted by mendel at 7:40 AM on May 3, 2006


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