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What's Really In This: Lean Cuisine Roasted Turkey & Vegetables

Fitday Editor
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Frozen dinners can be useful to keep in your freezer for those instances when you just don't have the time and/or the energy to do anything more than open a box and pop something into the microwave for a few minutes. But it's a good habit to always read the ingredient list before purchasing these products. You may be surprised to discover some interesting words on that label which should make you question what you are consuming.

Lean Cuisine was created in 1981 to offer a healthier alternative to Stouffer's frozen meals. Lower in fat and calories, many dieters believe they are making a smart decision when eating these products. Let's take a look at the ingredient-by-ingredient breakdown of what exactly is in this Lean Cuisine Roasted Turkey and Vegetables meal:

  • Green Beans - This is a great first ingredient!
  • Cooked Turkey Tenderloins - This is the turkey meat located under the breast, an underused muscle, thus very tender. The quality of meat products from a company as gigantic as Nestle? You can bet the birds were raised in filthy, overcrowded conditions-- and inhumanely treated.
  • Modified Cornstarch - A thickening agent, stabilizer, or emulsifier found in many processed foods. The starch in corn is either physically, enzymatically or chemically treated to change its properties. It binds with phosphate to absorb water and keep the ingredients together.
  • Autolyzed Yeast Extract - Yeast cells that have died and their proteins have broken down into amino acids; used to create a savory flavor.
  • Maltodextrin - Made from starch (usually corn) and has a sweet flavor.
  • Salt and Turkey Flavor- Gives flavor.
  • Turkey Broth - For flavor and moisture.
  • Gum Arabic - A gum made from the sap of the acacia tree, used as a stabilizer and binder. Also used in shoe polish!
  • Carrageenan - A thickener derived from seaweed.
  • Canola Oil - Lipid from the seed of the cross-bred rapeseed plant. The name is short for Canadian Oil, Low Acid.
  • Sodium Phosphate - The salts of sodium and phosphoric acid. Used as a meat preservative.
  • Natural Flavoring - Your guess is as good as mine. This could be just about anything approved for use in food. Even if you contact the company to find out what this consists of, they often will not tell you as it is generally a way of preserving a product's uniqueness (think: secret ingredient).
  • Salt - For flavor and it acts as a natural preservative.
  • Potassium Chloride- Salt substitute, used to reduce sodium content while giving flavor.
  • Paprika - A spice for flavor.
  • Mushrooms - Another simple, healthy ingredient!
  • Dried Cranberries (cranberries, sugar, sunflower oil)- The dried cranberries are great; however there is no need for the added sugar and oil.
  • 2% Or Less Of Soybean Oil, Almonds, Modified Cornstarch, Skim Milk, Turkey Flavor (Flavor, Salt, Dried Turkey Stock, Maltodextrin, Sesame Oil (Contains Soy)), Sugar, Salt, Chicken Fat, Bleached Wheat Flour, Seasoning (Maltodextrin, Flavor, Enzyme Modified Butterfat), Seasoning (Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Flavors, Water, Chicken Powder, Chicken Fat, Sugar, Sodium Lactate, Sodium Phosphate, Lactic Acid), Dehydrated Onions, Potassium Chloride, Seasoning (Wheat Starch, Extracts Of Annatto And Turmeric Color, Natural Flavor), Yeast Extract, Caramel Color, Spices, Cultured Whey- There is such a small percentage of these ingredients that their impact on health should be minimal.
However, because of a few specifics such as the bleached wheat flour, chicken fat and sugar you need to ask yourself whether you want to support a company who utilizes these ingredients.

A good rule of thumb is, if you cannot pronounce it or don't recognize it, don't eat it! Overall, this is not a horrible product, although a few of the ingredients are definitely of concern. There are several other healthier brands of frozen meals available that I would opt for over this one. Many use organic ingredients which of are higher quality and contain much less mysterious ingredient lists.

Corinne Goff is a Registered Dietitian who is absolutely passionate about food, health, and nutrition. Corinne has a BA in Psychology from Salve Regina University and a BS in Nutrition from the University of Rhode Island. As a nutritionist, her objective is to help people reach their health goals by offering a personalized holistic approach to wellness that incorporates natural foods and lifestyle changes. She works together with her clients to develop daily improvements that they feel comfortable with and that are realistic. She believes that the focus on wholesome, nutrient-rich, real food, is the greatest possible way to become healthier, have more energy, decrease chances of chronic disease, and feel your best.

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