Lean Cuisine meals have been around a long time and as the name suggests they are marketed as being great for weight loss. On the package it reads “Lean Cuisine may assist in achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight because it is portion controlled”. However, is it really that easy? Does calorie restriction or control equate to weight loss and furthermore, what is lurking beyond the label? Let’s undress this product and see how good it looks naked!
Lean Cuisine’s Chicken á L’ Orange Undressed
This lean cuisine meal is Chicken á L’ Orange, the ingredients are as follows: Brown and wild rice, water, cooked seasoned chicken (Chicken, water, seasoning, soy oil, soy protein isolate, potassium chloride, sunflower lecithin), yellow and orange carrots, broccoli, red bell peppers, apple, orange and lemon juice concentrates, sugar, modified corn starch, cider vinegar, soy oil, ginger puree (ginger, water, citric acid (adiculant), salt, bourbon whiskey, blackstrap molasses, ground orange peel, orange oil, dehydrated garlic, colour, flavor (contains: dehydrated chicken and chicken broth, onion powder, seasoning, autolyzed yeast extract, lactic acid, sodium hydroxide, celery)
Only 190 calories – is this good for weight loss?
The marketing success of this product relies on this concept of “portion control”. It positions itself as being great for staying lean because it helps you control your portions (which in my opinion usually means they are selling you less food – but let’s take a look). Upon closer inspection, we can see that this product contains 190 calories. Is that good or bad?
The answer is that it depends…
According to the USDA and Health Canada the average female adult could require approximately 1800-2200 calories per day (depending on her activity level). The average adult male could be required to consume approximately 2400-2800 calories per day (depending on his activity level).
Therefore, if I make some basic calculations and assume 3 main meals and 2 snacks per day, we can estimate that a dinner should contain approximately 450-550 calories (for women) and 600-700 (for men).
Therefore, if all you are eating for dinner is this 190 calorie microwave dinner, you likely will not be getting enough calories and nutrients to properly feed your body.
Many people falsely assume that calories are the cause of weight gain and therefore if we just eat less we will lose weight. This isn’t entirely correct. The truth is that yes, if we eat TOO MANY calories our body will store the excess as fat. It doesn’t matter if these calories came from protein, fat, or carbohydrates. If we eat too many, we store the excess as fat.
This leads many people to believe (and the diet industry has falsely encouraged this) that if we restrict calories and eat a lot less the body will then lose the weight. This isn’t entirely true. The thing to remember about calories is that THEY ARE ESSENTIAL FOR OUR HEALTH.
In simple terms a calorie is a unit of measurement that indicates the amount of energy that food will produce in the human body. Therefore, if we don’t consume calories, we won’t have any energy, and we won’t survive.
The key to health and sustaining a healthy weight is consuming the RIGHT number of calories, not too many, and not too few.
This is important to remember because just like eating too many calories can lead to weight gain, new research is showing that eating too few calories could also lead to weight gain!
Eating too few calories leads to weight gain!
The issue with 190 calories is the simple fact that this is just not enough calories in a meal to sustain the average person’s hunger and stamina. So where does this lead? Well… it could lead to weight gain.
I can remember my mom going on various diets throughout the years, weighing her food or counting her calories. It always seemed so incredibly stressful and it turns out it is.
A study conducted with 121 female participants who were randomly assigned to one of four dietary interventions for three weeks found that restricting calories increased the total output of cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) and monitoring calories increased perceived stress.
This increase in cortisol and stress levels may lead to both overeating, emotional eating, and weight gain.
According to Elissa Epel, PhD, who is an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco, an increase in cortisol can lead to us wanting to eat more due to an increase in appetite over time. This is our body’s way of protecting itself from starvation.
In addition, when people are stressed it is common for them to eat “emotionally” which often leads to unhealthy food choices and overeating.
On top of weight gain/loss, excess stress and an increase in cortisol may lead to other diseases and other negative health outcomes.
Therefore, portion controlled calorie restriction may work for a while in the beginning, but in the end, your body will be so deprived that it will literally scream out for food. When this happens, we tend to not eat so mindfully anymore and eat whatever is available to us at that time, think more convenience and highly processed food. We end up getting angry with ourselves and thinking that we did something wrong and that because we didn’t follow through on our new weight loss plan, we have somehow failed. However, the simple and plain truth is that our body’s are just not made to live off such few calories and on top of that eat such nutrient depleted foods on an ongoing basis.
So you’re saying Lean Cuisine á L’ Orange isn’t actually that lean?
In conclusion, if you’re goal is to lose weight and you purchase this product to help you with the thought that the portion control will help, you will likely find that it will leave you hungry and stressed. In addition, it may actually lead to weight gain in the future and possibly other health problems as well.
It seems to me that from a marketing perspective this is a very clever way for a company to sell you a very small amount of food and charge you a lot for it because of the perception of it helping achieve your weight loss goals.
To put things into perspective, 1/2 of a chicken breast contains about 250 calories. Therefore, if you want a healthy meal that could help with long term weight management I would recommend eating some real chicken (the kind that doesn’t contain soy oil, soy protein isolate, and potassium chloride) with veggies and wild rice. This would allow you to get the appropriate number of calories to sustain your health and proper weight without all the added preservatives, color, and flavors that have been put in this Lean Cuisine á L’ Orange product. Plus you can save yourself the stress, which is a bonus!