Lean Cuisines – Good or Bad?

I love Lean Cuisine dinners.  They are easy to prepare and they are healthy… aren’t they?

A common complaint of frozen and canned foods is excessively high salt levels but what about the other nutritional aspects? As an example I’ll take a look at the Lean Cuisine I had for dinner tonight.  Five Cheese Rigatoni.  This is a middle of the road dinner, some have higher fat, some have lower.

First the Nutrition Facts.  For our 10 oz (283g) serving we have – 350 Calories, 9 g of fat (4 g Sat), 15 mg cholesterol (6% DV), 650 mg sodium (27% DV), 370 mg Potassium (11% DV), 51 g Carb (17% DV), 4 g Fiber (16% DV), 8 g sugars, 15 g Protein.   10% Vitamin A, 8% Vitamin C, 20% Calcium, 15% Iron.

I try to go low fat when I can, but as I’ve read several places, Calories are Calories and 350 is really low compared to something I could get outside the house.  A lot of the nutrition comes from the cheese, the Calcium, the protein but also the fat and salt. The sodium is high, but the rest of the nutritional numbers aren’t too bad in my opinion.

The other good thing on the label is the ingredients list.  Being that the meal is frozen until cooked, it’s not packed full of a lot of chemical preservatives or stabilizers.  In fact the only unusual ingredient is the thickening agent zanthan gum, which is produced by fermentation of sugars by bacteria, so I’ll let you decide if that’s natural or not.  It’s used in such a tiny amount (it’s the next to last ingredient on the list).  The rest of the ingredients, pasta, water, tomatoes, cheeses, whey, whey protein, sugar, salt etc are all pretty standard (and readable in English).

Simple Yes, Cheap Yes, Easy to Prepare, Yes… Healthy? What do you think? Personally I think if I can get a filling, satisfying meal for 250-350 calories I’m all for it.

Couch to 5K Step 2!

Last week was pretty frustrating.  I didn’t lose any weight, felt like I wasn’t eating well, and felt like I was struggling with my running.  Then this week started off gloomy with 3 days of rain and no running.  The only bright spot was my wife coming home after 3 weeks traveling on business.

I finally got nice weather to run today, and deciding that I wasn’t going to make any progress if I didn’t push myself, I decided to try the week two intervals from Couch-to-5K.  I had to do 2 weeks of “Week One” so I wasn’t sure how I was going to do in my week 3.

After 60 seconds of the first jogging interval, my legs started burning bad expecting to stop, but I pushed on to the 90 second mark.  With the longer “cool down” walk of 2 minutes, I felt ready to go 90 seconds again when the next interval came up and the second time it was much easier.

I walked/jogged 1.54 miles in 22:37 for a 14:41 pace.  This is my second fastest pace.  My fastest was actually last Saturday when I did 1.1 miles in 16:39 for a 14:31 pace, but I quit that run since it was kicking my butt.  Trying too hard?

The rain means a condensed week, so my day 2 and 3 will probably be friday and saturday.  I hope I can keep up the step 2.  A little over 2 weeks till my next race on May 15th.

Weigh 2 Win Challenge

After this mornings weigh in I have two more weeks left of the Weigh 2 Win challenge through my work’s wellness program.  The challenge was not the beginning, nor will it be the end of my weight loss crusade, but since I was checking my weight weekly anyway it was another way to keep track of it.  I started the Challenge at 315 pounds. (I had already lost 30 from 345).  In the first 10 weeks I’ve lost 25 pounds.  I stalled out for several weeks right around 300 which was a big hurdle for me, probably physically and mentally, so my average loss is only 2.5 pounds a week.  I’ve had some weeks I’ve lost 5, some weeks I’ve lost 0, so it averages out.  If I can stick with my average for the next two weeks I should lose about 5 more pounds in the last two weeks, although I’ve been at 290 the last two weeks.

I also signed up yesterday for my next 5K, the Greek Festival 5K in Winston Salem.  My race number gets me into the Festival for free, and I know I won’t leave without trying some of the delicious Greek food, but hopefully I won’t go too overboard.   I have a terrible weakness for baklava.

Food Inc Review

I ended up watching Food Inc. live last night instead of waiting to watch the recorded version.  Stayed up a little past my normal time but that’s ok.   I thought the movie was interesting but not particularly eye opening.  Having a degree in food science had exposed me to most of this already, but there were a few thinks that raised an eyebrow.  This will be long, so bear with me.

First we get a story about how 5000 people die every year from food borne illnesses.  This sounds like a lot, more than the people we work with or more than our school or more people than we know.  I don’t want to be callous, and I wish that none of them had died, but lets put these numbers into a little bit of perspective.  The population of the US is around 307 Million people.  So, 5000 people represents 0.000001% of the population.  10 times as many people (around 45,000) die every year in auto accidents.  100 times as many (500,000) die every year from cancer.  The odds of you contracting a food borne illness and dying is very very very remote.  The food is safe and you shouldn’t be afraid of it.  Obviously stuff gets through,you can’t check every single bite of food or else there would be nothing to eat.  And all those recent recalls the movie references? Those are actually a good thing.  That means that stuff is being caught and the system works!  Yes a few people have gotten sick and a few even died before the problem was under control, such as the example from the movie the woman who lost her 2 year old son.   I hate that the woman lost her son, but it’s unrealistic to think they would have recalled the meat before her son got sick.  It’s just like medicine.  You don’t treat anything until you have symptoms, the sicknesses reported are the symptoms and they quickly find the root cause of it and take that product off the market.  Also, its only the recalls that make it on TV, not the trillions of pounds of safe food.  The recalled foods make up a tiny percentage of the total food supply.

I the first question I had was about the chicken farmers.  The movie says the average farmer with 2 houses spends 500,000$ to start his farm but only makes around 18,000$ a year.  If that’s the case, why would anyone do it? I don’t disagree that the farmers are getting shafted but why would they even start at all looking at math like that? I grew up in an area with a lot of turkey farms and even back then it was iron fisted (everyone in the whole county was Tyson).

The next thing that caught me was the movie says that in 1972 the FDA conducted 50,000 food safety inspections.  In 2006 they conducted around 9,000.  The inference here is that the FDA is not doing as much as it was 30 years ago.  But later in this same bit, he gives you at least one reason why.  He says there used to be something like 5000 slaughter houses in the country and now there are only 13.  Is this good or bad? They imply that it’s bad since it could spread diseases faster, but a simple fact is less food processing facilities will warrant less inspections.   Yes the FDA is spread thin, but they aren’t just letting things go unchecked.

The one scene with the “ground meat filler” that was treated with ammonia.. I don’t know what that was about, but that’s pretty unappetizing.

Something I had noticed in my own life was the whole “fast food cheaper than vegetables” deal, and yeah that’s pretty disturbing.  Of course McDonald’s get their ground beef for 3 cents a pound because they buy it 40 million pounds at a time.  It’s hard to compete with that (another point of the movie that basically all meat processors have to follow mcdonald’s standards whether they are selling to McDs or not).  That’s when you just have to buckle down and spend a little bit more for you’re food.  I know I’ve been broke to the point where a dollar cheeseburger seems a lot more appetizing than one apple.  Canned and frozen fruits and veggies are cheaper alternatives that are available.  As far as the family they show in this segment.. they talk about how the father has diabetes and they spend however many hundreds of dollars a month on drugs, but there he is chomping away at a double cheeseburger.  I don’t think that’s BKs fault.  You have to make smarter choices, regardless of your financial situation.  Yes, this is just one case and not a broader look, but since they decided to use them as an example I thought I would comment on it.

I don’t have a problem with GMO foods.  With 100 million starving people in the world, if you can make a 50 bushel per acre corn grow to 200 bushels per acre then by all means do it.. this is not a bad thing.  However, the story with Monsanto patenting the gene for the soybeans and then suing farmers and basically putting them out of business is very disturbing (i had read a similar story with Corn).. this is not the way to feed people!

One point I wanted to make about the hog facility scene, which may or may not change you’re view on eating a living creature, but I have toured a slaughter facility, not the one in Tar Heel, but it was a Smithfield plant.  They didn’t show one part and neglected to mention it as well, the scene where the pigs are being pushed by a gate, and then it cuts to them falling out onto a conveyor belt.. those pigs aren’t dead just yet.  In between those two steps is a very critical one that is part of humane slaughter techniques.  The pigs are loaded into basically what is a elevator car and lowered into a pit that is filled with CO2 gas (heavier than air) and they are basically put to sleep.  After they are unconscious, the kill step is a pneumatic bolt to the forehead.  Instant death, no shock, no pain.  Trust me they don’t feel a thing.  No squealing, no thrashing, no blood spraying everywhere.. that’s not how they do it.

The last thing that I wanted to comment on was the reference to former food industry executives serving on regulatory boards.  This is portrayed as being akin to the foxes guarding the hen house, or depending on how you feel about it, the blind leading the blind.  While there may be a slight possibility of a conflict of interest, who else would you elect or appoint to one of these positions if not someone with 20 years of food industry experience?  This to me is a non-issue.

Overall, as I said I found the movie interesting but not eye opening.  I felt like he didn’t spend enough time on any one subject and jumped quickly from one to the other.  I would have rather he got more into depth with it.  I also thought the “secrets the food industry doesn’t want you to know” bit was a little overdone.  Personally, I don’t think any of this is “hidden” or “secret”.  I also don’t believe there is a valid attempt to hide any of it, but more often the consumer doesn’t ask or doesn’t want to know themselves.   There’s a few more points I could hit but this is already becoming a novel into itself, so I will stop here, but that’s what I thought of it.

Food Inc.

At the suggestion of a friend I am recording Food Inc on PBS tonight.  I already know most of what it is about, but I’m interested to see the movie.  Seeing as how I work in the food industry, I’m sorta on the “other side of the aisle” so to speak from the author and his audience.  I know I will disagree with some of it, but I don’t expect to totally disagree with all of it.  But I will wait to pass judgment on it until I actually watch it, which will probably be tomorrow.

So stay tuned!

Racing versus Training

I don’t consider myself a runner quite yet, but my entrance into the sport has probably been the same as many of us amateurs.  It all started with a walk, and a race.

In October of 2008 as a community service event for my college Food Science Club I participated in the Triangle Autism Awareness Run/Walk (The Autism Ribbon Run).  I had walked 3 miles in an hour on a treadmill and was curious to see if I could do the same out in the real world.  I entered the 5K (as opposed to the 1 mile Fun Run) and off we went.  I accomplished both my goals, A. I finished the race and B. I did so in less than an hour (57 minutes).  The classmates I was with (who were all runners and finished in around 27 minutes) were waiting for me at the finish line cheering me on.  The exhilaration of crossing the finish line, the cheering crowds, the music, food and atmosphere and the genuine appreciation of the charity we were supporting was awesome.  I had to do this again! And so I did.  October of 2009 saw me back in Raleigh to walk the Autism Run again, finishing with a time of 58 minutes.

Since October of last year I’ve lost 55 pounds, I have walked a lot and even started to jog some.  2 weeks ago I did another charity walk, the Lillie’s Friends 5K for Neural Blastoma.  I walked to the halfway point water station (which included a gruesome uphill climb) but I was able to jog all the way down that long downhill stretch.  I got to the 3 mile marker and started jogging to the finish and what did I see? 48 minutes on the clock, I couldn’t believe it.  I finished with a time of 49:24, shaving almost 10 minutes off my time.  If I wasn’t hooked already I was now.

The results from this race inspired me to start a training program and so I began the Couch to 5K program from Cool Running .  After finishing the first week and beginning the second week (which for me is a repeat of Week 1) I have come to a quick conclusion.  Racing is fun. Training is not.  I know I need to do the training to achieve my first short term goal with is to run (or jog) the entire distance of a 5K.  In my tiny little neighborhood (literally 1 loop around is less than a mile) it’s very frustrating to walk by your own house 4 times and be seriously tempted to make that the last lap.  It really feels like I have to slog it out, even though I never seem to have that problem come race day.

I’m nowhere near quitting, but I’m curious.. what’s your motivation? What keeps you going? A faster time? The next day of your training program? A good result from your last race? Looking forward to the next race? Just the love of running? What gets you to put one foot in front of the other and what tips can you give for a beginning runner?

For me, it’s certainly the good result from my last race, and also looking forward to my next one on May 15th.

Skinny Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberries are always hit and miss for me.  They may look great, they may smell great and get them home and they taste awful.  I got some the other day and they aren’t the best I’ve ever had but they are pretty good.

Looking for a good hot weather snack/dessert that won’t blow the diet? Here was my post-workout treat today.

I used the sponge cake dessert cups (the ones they always put next to the strawberries) and they aren’t as bad as I expected.  The serving size is two of the shells (I used two, feel free to use one) at 160 Cals, 1g fat, 34 g carbs, 19 g sugar.

I added Wal Mart brand Fat Free/No Sugar Added Vanilla Ice Cream which for a 1/2 cup serving is 70 Cals, 0g Fat, 16g carbs, 5g sugar.

I don’t know the exact info for the strawberries, but I had a full pound of strawberries, cut them up and added a little sprinkle of sugar to sweeten them and create the syrup.  I wonder if Splenda would do the same thing? Might have to try that  next time.  I didn’t measure the sugar I added, but the rest of the stuff is low sugar so it probably doesn’t hurt.

Topped it off with Wal Mart brand Light Whipped Topping which for a 2 tbsp. serving is 20 Cals, 1g fat and 2g sugar, so not too bad.  It’s mostly air anyway.

Regular Strawberry Shortcake is not exactly a super rich fattening dessert but the fat free ice cream helps cut it down a little bit.


  • About Me

    I am a recent graduate in Food Science (NC State, 2009) and I work for a major food manufacturing company. I love food, but I can no longer eat anything that crosses my path. About 24 months ago I begin a serious struggle to get my obesity under control and reduce my chances of developing Type II diabetes. Since September of '09 I have lost 50 pounds and I still have a long ways to go. I've started eating better and exercising more, including taking up running.