Can the Internet Really Supply You With Healthy Meals?

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You’ve probably heard about one or more of the new meal delivery services on the market. Popular services include Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh. If you’re not familiar with any meal delivery service providers, check out this in-depth review of the various choices currently available.

There’s no question having pre-portioned ingredients with recipes and directions delivered directly to your door is convenient. However, convenience comes with a price. Most of the meals cost between $9 and $13 per serving.

So, do these meals live up to the hype? Can the internet really supply you with healthy meals?

What is a “Healthy” Meal?

To review and compare the available options for getting healthy meals online, we’re going to use the following criteria (which are fit for the vast majority of healthy people). A healthy meal is one that:

  • Includes a lean protein, a high ratio of fruits and/or veggies, a whole grain, a serving of dairy and a healthy fat
  • Doesn’t include excess fat or added sugar
  • Is between 500 and 700 calories per serving (very active individuals and athletes may need more calories per meal)

Comparison

Blue Apron – Meal #1: Spaghetti Bolognese with Butter Lettuce Salad & Creamy Italian Dressing

Lean protein: No
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 770
Saturated fat: 11 g
Trans fat: No

Blue Apron – Meal #2: Za’atar-Spiced Chicken with Pink Lemon Pan Sauce & Pearl Couscous

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 750
Saturated fat: 9 g
Trans fat: No

The Results
Both of the meals from Blue Apron come in over the 700 calories per serving mark, though both are less than 800 calories. If you are eating a 2,000 calorie diet, though, that’s still almost 40 percent of your calories in one meal. These meals are also relatively high in saturated fats, clocking in at 11 g and 9 g per serving, which is more than half of the recommended allowance of 16 g per day on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Blue Apron includes video tutorials with each of their recipes to demonstrate proper cooking techniques. All of the video lessons are available on YouTube. If you have trouble accessing any of the videos, you might be getting blocked by a content filter on your internet connection. Using a virtual private network can help you bypass the content filter so that you can access the videos no matter where you’re preparing to cook.

Hello Fresh – Meal #1: Wasabi Lime Salmon over Soy-Simmered Rice with Baby Bok Choy

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: Yes
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 660
Saturated fat: 4.5 g
Trans fat: unknown

Hello Fresh – Meal #2: Dukkah-Crusted Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Sugar Snap Peas

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Yes
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 510
Saturated fat: 4 g
Trans fat: unknown

The Results
In this review, Hello Fresh’s offerings both came in under 700 calories per serving and all of the meal options included a lean protein, a serving of vegetables and a healthy fat. Hello Fresh does not document the amount of trans fat in their recipes, so that information was not available for comparison. Also, at less than five grams per serving, both of their recipes also included a relatively low amount of saturated fat, at less than 5 grams per serving. If you want to try Hello Fresh’s recipes for yourself – they include them on their website (see Recipes at the top of the navigation screen).

Plated – Meal #1: Soy-Glazed Turkey Meatloaf with Coconut Rice and Greens

Lean protein: Yes
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: No
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: Yes
Calories per serving: 840
Saturated fat: unknown
Trans fat: unknown

Plated – Meal #2: Cheesy Sweet Onion Panini with Truffle Fries

Lean protein: No
Fruits and vegetables: Minimal
Whole grain: No
Dairy: Yes
Healthy fat: Yes
Added sugar: No
Calories per serving: 870
Saturated fat: unknown
Trans fat: unknown

The Results
Of the three services we reviewed, Plated fared the worst. Their meals were both over 800 calories per serving, and the site doesn’t offer information regarding trans or saturated fats for their recipes. Also, there was very little focus on healthy ingredients, such as whole grains and vegetables. While the meals looked delicious, they probably can’t be called healthy.

In this limited review, Blue Apron and Hello Fresh both fared well in their offerings of healthy options. Their meals were low in calories, relative to the other options, and included many of the other markers of health, such as lean proteins and a high ratio of vegetables.

Meal delivery services claim they can deliver all the ingredients, recipes and cooking instructions you need to create healthy meals in your home. A closer look, though, indicates you might need to supplement some of these meals with other ingredients so that they can give you all the nutrients you need.

This is where you come in. Everyone has a different diet and everyone’s body processes food differently. So while healthy meals are available through the internet, you need to do a little homework to make sure these services’ meal options live up to their promises and offer the kind of food that will support your lifestyle.
About the Author: Cassie is a fitness professional and writer. She loves helping people learn about health and fitness and teaching them how to make the healthiest choices for their body’s individual needs.

3 Major Myths About Organic & Conventional Food

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organic blueberries, raspberries and blackberries

 

There is very little that distinguishes organic food from conventional food. In an attempt to follow the pervasive “good food vs. bad food” storyline, many people have grossly exaggerated the differences between organic and conventional foods leaving readers with few facts grounded in scientific evidence. Don’t let the top three misperceptions about organic and conventional food influence your food choices.

This post covers:

  • Pesticide residues on food and human safety
  • Organic foods, conventional foods and the environment
  • Nutrition differences between organic and conventional foods

This post does not cover worker safety or in-depth environmental issues.

#1 Myth: Organic Foods are Grown Without Pesticides

Both organic and conventional crops are sprayed with pesticides, compounds that control a variety of pests (1, 2). In fact there is a long list of substances, including pesticides, allowed for use on organic farms. The differentiating factor between organic and conventional farming is the source of pesticides. Organic farmers primarily use naturally occurring pesticides in addition to a small number of man-made pesticides while conventional farmers primarily use man-made pesticides.

In some instances there is a man-made form of a compound identical to the one found in nature. For instance, methyl bromide, a fumigant gas used to kill fungi, nematodes and weeds, is found in nature and also made in a lab. Both conventional and organic farmers can use methyl bromide on strawberry plants. Bacillus thuringienis, the most commonly used organic pesticide, is both naturally occurring and man-made; incorporated into some genetically engineered foods. One is natural, one is man-made yet there is no detectable difference between the two (3).

#2 Myth: Organic Foods are Safer for Human Consumption and Better for the Environment

Compounds found in nature are not automatically safe and non-toxic, or safer than man-made compounds (4, 5). Both naturally occurring compounds and man-made chemicals are completely harmless, extremely toxic at a certain dose, or fall somewhere in between these two extremes. You’ve probably heard the saying “the dose makes the poison.” Many compounds we consume every day, from vitamin A to water, can be lethal if consumed in extremely high doses. The same is true for pesticides. Dose and length of exposure determine toxicity. Our government has several safeguards in place for the use of pesticides. First, the EPA evaluates all pesticides. Prior to use in the United States pesticides must be free from unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. Regardless of the type of pesticide used, whether organic or man-made, the Environmental Protection Agency limits the amount of pesticide residues allowed in food and water. The USDA Pesticide Data Program routinely monitors pesticide residues in foods and has found pesticide residues, whether organic or conventional, “pose no safety concern” (8, 9).

Organic pesticides are also not necessarily better for the environment, though they are considered safe in the amounts used (just like man-made pesticides). As an example, rotenone, a naturally occurring compound used in fisheries and can be fatal if inhaled (staff spraying this pesticide must be protected from risk of inhalation) and kills fish within an hour of spraying. Waters treated with rotenone are closed for public swimming for several months after treatment allowing dead fish time to decompose. When used according to instructions, rotenone poses “no overall risk to human health” or the environment (6). In addition, a study in soybeans found organic pesticides did not control aphids (plant lice) as effectively as man-made pesticides and they were more detrimental to the environment (partly due to the amount that needed to be used) (7).

There are environmental effects, both good and bad, from conventional and organic farming. Organic farming has advanced nonchemical methods of pest control and in some instances improved soil quality while decreasing soil erosion. However, organic farming also produces a lower yield, which means more environmental resources are used to produce the same total amount of food.

Can’t we farm without any pesticides?

Sure. Some conventional and organic farms do not use pesticides. A conventional farm may choose not to get organic certification, even if they don’t use any pesticides, because of the cost of certification. Keep in mind pesticides help get rid of pests and, can therefore help make food safer by the decreasing the likelihood of pathogens such as E. coli through use of anti-microbial compounds (10, 11).

What about the “Dirty Dozen”, Should I Steer Clear of the Foods that have the Most Pesticide Residues?

Some groups rank foods based on total pesticide residues – foods that are the “most contaminated.” Though some foods may have more pesticide residues on them than others, a study from the University of California Davis found all 12 commodities identified in the Dirty Dozen contained pesticide residues well below the established safe level (called the chronic reference doses or RfDs for short). In fact, only one pesticide residue, found on bell peppers, exceeded 1% of the RfD, coming in at 2%. So the largest total “dose” of a pesticide residue found was still 50 times lower than the established safe dose. Three quarters of the pesticides detected were at levels 1,000 times below the RfD. Therefore, the 12 foods listed on the Dirty Dozen “most contaminated” foods pose “negligible risks” for consumers. Choosing organic over conventional to avoid the fruits and vegetables on the Dirty Dozen will not completely negate your exposure to pesticides (because some organic produce has pesticide residues as well) or lower your risk from exposure to pesticides because your risk is negligible to begin with (12). Given the low amount of pesticide residues found on conventional and organic produce, there’s little appreciable difference in total pesticide exposure, whether you eat conventional or organic.

Though some studies, as well as pesticide monitoring programs have found conventional produce contains significantly more total pesticide residues then organic produce, significantly more than a miniscule amount is still a miniscule amount. Here’s an analogy: if I give you one penny and give your friend 2 pennies, your friend has 100% more money than you do – that’s a statistically significant difference. However, the financial impact of two pennies vs. one penny is meaningless.

If you want to add up your total exposure, check out the Alliance for Food and Farming developed a pesticide calculator and research behind the calculator:

http://safefruitsandveggies.com/pesticide-calculator

#3 Myth: Organic Food is More Nutritious

Several studies have examined nutrient differences between organic and conventionally produced foods. Most of this research shows no appreciable difference in vitamin or mineral content or health effects. What about plant compounds including antioxidants? In some cases organic farming may improve antioxidant content while in others man-made pesticides actually increase concentrations of certain beneficial plant-based compounds (13, 14).

In a world where we have many food choices and an overabundance of incorrect nutrition information, it’s easy to grasp onto a concept that isn’t evidence-based. Don’t get caught up in the hype and instead look for the scientific details. When it comes to organic and conventional foods, you’re not stuck choosing sides but instead can enjoy both – there is no appreciable difference in pesticide residues or nutrition content between the two.

Disclosure: I am an advisor for USFRA. All opinions expressed are my own after taking my typical nosedive into the scientific literature and government regulations on this subject.

References

1 Types of pesticide ingredients. US Environmental Protection Agency.
https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/types-pesticide-ingredients

2 Food and Pesticides. US Environmental Protection Agency
https://www.epa.gov/safepestcontrol/food-and-pesticides

3 Koch MS, Ward JM, Levine SL, Baum JA, Vicini JL, Hammond BG. The food and environmental safety of Bt crops. Front Plant Sci 2015; 6: 283.

4 Pesticides – What’s my risk? National Pesticide Information Center.

5 Contaminants Found in Groundwater. The USGS Water Science School. http://water.usgs.gov/edu/groundwater-contaminants.html

6 Lake and stream rehabilitation: rotenone use and health risks. Washington department of fish and wildlife. http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/sepa/2016/16041_2002_fseis.pdf

7 Bahlai CA, Xue Y, McCreary CM, Schaafsma AW, Hallett RH. Choosing Organic Pesticides over Synthetic Pesticides May Not Effectively Mitigate Environmental Risk in Soybeans. PLoS One 2010; 5(6): e11250.

8 What Consumers Should Know. 2014 Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary. United States Department of Agriculture. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/PDP%202014%20Annual%20Summary%20Consumers.pdf

9 Pesticide Program Residue Monitoring. US. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Pesticides/ucm2006797.htm

10 Mukheriee A, Speh D, Dyck E, Diez-Gonzalez F. Preharvest evaluation of coliforms, Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli O157:H7 in organic and conventional produce grown by Minnesota farmers. J Food Prot 2004;67(5):894-900.

11 Johannessen GS, Bengtsson GB, Heier BT, Bredholt S, Wasteson Y, Rørvik LM. Potential uptake of Escherichia coli O157:H7 from organic manure into crisphead lettuce. Appl Environ Microbiol 2005;71(5):2221-5.

12 Winter CK, Katz JM. Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels. J Toxicol 2011; 589674.

13 Dangour AD, Lock K, Hayter A, Aikenhead A, Allen E, Uauy R. Nutrition-related health effects of organic foods: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr 2010; 92(1):203-210.

14 Rosen J. A Review of the Nutrition Claims Made by Proponents of Organic Food, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 2010;9(3): 270-277.