Lean Cuisine, A Nestle brand of frozen dinners, is very popular with dieters. “Lean Cuisine” is considered a nutrient content claim by the FDA, so all products under this brand are required to meet the “lean” criteria per serving: less than 10 grams of fat, less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol.
We decided to take a look at Lean Cuisine’s Shrimp and Angel Hair Pasta described by Nestle as:
Shrimp and angel hair pasta in a creamy seafood sauce with accents of sherry, tossed with red peppers.
What you need to know:
First, the nutritional details:
For starters, a 10 oz serving has only 220 calories. That is very reasonable and even low for a meal. The 4 grams of fat and 1 gram of saturated fat are very low as well. 50 grams of cholesterol make for 17% of the recommended daily intake. Sodium is of concern, at 590mg, which is 25% of the recommended daily intake. This amount, while not ideal, is on the low side for frozen entrees. This meal is not a valuable source of any additional vitamins and minerals, despite the presence of shrimp.
Next, the ingredient list, 40 item strong:
blanched macaroni product (water, semolina, wheat gluten), skim milk, shrimp (with water, salt, sodium phosphates), red peppers, carrots, sherry wine, water, soybean oil, modified cornstarch, parmesan cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), bleached wheat flour, garlic puree, salt, roasted red peppers, potassium chloride, shrimp flavor (maltodextrin, salt, scallop extract, sodium phosphate, cornstarch, shrimp extract, natural flavor, soy lecithin), cultured whey, butterfat, spices, lemon juice concentrate, flavor (maltodextrin, flavoring and modified food starch), yeast extract, xanthan gum, annatto coloring.
semolina – Semolina is a flour from durum wheat and is used to make pasta, it is usually yellowish compared with regular white wheat.
wheat gluten – Gluten is used as a stabilizing agent or thickener. It improves a food’s structure and chewiness.
sodium phosphates – used as a food additive, increases the shelf life and maintains the texture and appearance of the shrimp.
sherry wine – oo la la - a touch of class. Wine is used extensively in classic cooking to improve flavors of dishes.
soybean oil – the cheapest of the taste neutral oils. We prefer canola oil due to a better ratio between the saturated/unsaturated fats.
modified cornstarch – an additive used as a thickener. Corn starches are modified so they won’t lose their thickening properties when heated.
parmesan cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes) – milk is cultured by adding bacteria to it so it becomes a yogurt. The enzymes modify proteins, fats and sugars in the milk, turning it into cheese.
bleached wheat flour – bleaching makes the flour very white.
potassium chloride – a salt alternative that has been around for some time, but not too popular due to a strong metallic aftertaste.
shrimp flavor – why would the shrimp listed above need to have more flavor added?
maltodextrin – a sugar with less calories than regular table sugar.
natural flavor – We wonder what the “natural flavor” is.
soy lecithin – an additive used as an emulsifier.
shrimp extract – made from shrimp shells ground into a fine powder . Adds flavor.
cultured whey – whey is a by product of cheese making.
spices – what spices exactly?
flavor (maltodextrin, flavoring and modified food starch) – more flavor?
yeast extract – used to flavor food, its basically the remains of dead yeast cells.
xanthan gum – a food additive used to increase the viscosity of sauces.
annatto coloring – a red food coloring from natural sources.
Lastly, this product is not for people suffering from the following allergies / intolerances – MILK (lactose), SOY, SHRIMP (Shellfish), WHEAT (gluten).
Conclusion: If you’re buying a frozen meal, this is probably the lesser of many evils, although, as our loyal readers know, we encourage you to prepare your own meals and control the salt level, as well as do away with all the food additives.
What to do at the supermarket:
When buying frozen dinners, choose something with a short ingredient list, sodium lower than 600mg, low saturated fats, and low sugar.
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