Eat Like a Loser

Can Biggest Loser's new line of meals really help you lose weight?

The Biggest Loser brand has just unveiled a new line of refrigerated healthy meal options called Simply Sensible. Featuring five dishes -- Lasagna with Meat Sauce, Zing Chicken with Brown Rice, Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes, Mediterranean Chicken with Bowtie Pasta and Beef Tips and Brown Rice – the American Heart Association-endorsed meals each include two servings for less than 250 calories per serving.

When I first heard about the line, the snarky part of me thought, “Wow, for $6.99, I, too, can starve, just like the BL folks!” But there’s no denying Biggest Loser’s track record of helping obese individuals relearn how to eat and live, so I gave it a shot. Last night’s dinner: Zing Chicken with Brown Rice.

First thing I noticed: Half of the back of the package is dedicated to an image of broccoli, and instructions to add one cup of fresh steamed veggies for a complete Biggest Loser-approved meal.

Next thing I saw: “Servings Per Container: About 2.” This is dangerous. Most people will think the entire package is up for grabs, considering the modest portion size (compared to typical restaurant portions). That means you have to double the calories, fat, sodium, etc. This is a common problem for all packaged foods. Have you ever eaten just half a can of soup? Doubtful. But pretty much every can of soup in the grocery store is meant to be split into two servings, which means you need to double everything listed on the label if you eat the whole thing.

Other observations: The packaging is made from recycled materials, so they're eco-friendly. You nuke two separate pouches (chicken in one, rice in the other), then combine it all in a bowl. My meal was…sweet. Which makes sense, considering the third and fourth ingredients are sugar and corn syrup (behind water and vinegar, but far ahead of chicken.) Stevia is even listed as an ingredient -- in a chicken dish! My husband took one bite and pushed the meal away, claiming the Sweet & Spicy Asian-style sauce was overkill. Since I'm a sweets person, I found myself dipping my spoon back for more sauce-covered rice – despite the fact that I had just eaten some Cookies n Cream ice cream (dessert sometimes comes first in our household.) 

For additional insights, I sent the meal's nutritionals over to Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, author of The SuperFoods Rx Diet (Rodale). Bazilian was impressed by the Zing’s healthy balance of protein and carbs and the fact that eaters are instructed to add a full cup of veggies to each meal -- a tactic she herself recommends to clients when eating frozen or packaged meals. But, like me, she was concerned that people will be tempted to consume the entire package, despite the fact that that Nutrition Facts panel says “Servings: 2.” Here’s what else she had to say:    

* The meal is low in total fat, saturated fat and no trans fats.
* Compared with other options in the market, it's fresh, not frozen, which is a plus, and had better nutritionals than many.
* The sodium content is reasonable unless you eat the whole package, and then it becomes a high sodium food. (Last week, the AHA issued new sodium recommendations: 1500 mg a day. My Zing Chicken has 1060 mg.)

* While 3 grams of fiber is respectable in a snack, a meal needs to be around 10 grams (preferably more) to meet the daily recommendations and really help you feel satisfied, stay regular, and have lasting energy.
* Sugar is effectively the third most prominent ingredient proportionally in the box. In one serving, there are 10 grams (2 and a half teaspoons of sugar), in the box there are 5 teaspoons  of sugar. According to recent recommendations, women should consume only 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day.

Bottom line: If you’re going to go with a prepackaged entrée, Simply Sensible is a reasonable choice. And if you’re a Biggest Loser fan, it might motivate you even more knowing you’re enjoying the same Mediterranean Chicken as Jillian Michaels and her charges. You can even throw on your Biggest Loser Body workout gear while you nosh. Just remember to split the entrée with a buddy and eat some fresh veggies. Just don’t turn on BL while you eat: Research shows people inhale more food when glued to the television, especially with entertaining shows. What are your thoughts?

Would you eat the new Biggest Loser meals? Chime in below!


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