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How Do They Affect Your Weight Loss Program?

Frozen foods are one grocery aisle to beware of: Many of these items can quickly bring one's weight loss efforts to a grinding halt. Therefore, when shopping in this aisle, one needs to be highly discriminative of what goes in one's cart.

We will now review some of the main offenders, and then focus on the few exceptions (items that are acceptable or even helpful in a weight control program). First, here is a list of Frozen Foods to be Avoided (please note that this list is not exhaustive):

Frozen Foods to Avoid
Prepackaged French Fries:

Even though the nutrition label may advertise a reasonable calorie and fat content, the serving size corresponding to these numbers is fairly small, and the risk of overeating is proportionally large. The addictive effect of french fries should never be ignored. They are one of the most addictive items the food industry has to offer. To make things worse, french fries have a high glycemic index, which makes them detrimental for weight control.

Frozen Foods to Avoid

This is an item that can do great damage to one's weight, and also to one's health. Typically, the average grocery store pizza contains about 1,600 calories, 35 - 45 grams of saturated fats, and some amount of trans fats, usually 2-3 grams. (These numbers refer to one full-size pizza). Nutrition labels can be confusing, since they give calorie counts for 1/3 of the pizza (which is considered to be the serving size). Frankly, I don't know of anyone who cuts their pizza in thirds. But anyway, no matter how you cut it, it's not worth it. Even if you eat just one quarter of the pizza, you end up ingesting about 10 grams of saturated fats Not to mention trans fats, which are extremely detrimental for weight control and for health overall.
The damage goes up with 'Rising Crust' Pizzas and 'Stuffed Crust Pizzas' (containing cheese in the crust). These have an even higher calorie content, and should be avoided at any cost during a weight loss program.
If your are a staunch pizza lover and cannot abstain, consider thin crust pizzas (e.g., 'Primo', 'California Kitchen', etc). These typically bring in 400 - 550 calories per 1/2 pizza, with 5-6 grams of saturated fats. Caution: Some thin crust pizzas may still contain trans fats, so make sure to read the nutrition labels prior to choosing your pizza. To my knowledge, thin crust 'Primo' is one of the products that doesn't contain trans fats.

Frozen Foods to Avoid
Entrees, Dinners & Breakfasts:

  • Frozen Entrees and Dinners can go either way: Some of these products can bring in a hefty amount of calories (500 or more per serving), as well as a large amount of saturated fats, sugars (mainly due to various sauces), and sometimes trans fats. That being said, if you are using such products, make sure you check the nutrition labels and, in case of frozen dinners, respect the serving size (since the pack contains a variable number of servings). A major exception to the above are Frozen Entrees specifically designed for weight control, which are discussed in detail below.
  • Sandwiches (e.g. Hot Pockets, etc) should be regarded the same way as frozen dinners or entrees On the whole, they are likely to bring in more calories, fats, and sugars than we'd like to ingest. Sometimes, low calorie versions are available (e.g., Lean Pockets), which may be borderline acceptable in a weight control program.
  • Frozen Breakfasts range from 300 to over 700 calories per serving. Yes, that was 700 ! Items containing burgers, bacon and eggs can be particularly caloric (towards the 700 figure). They also bring in loads of saturated fats (sometimes more than 10 grams per serving), and a hefty amount of sugars (sometimes more than 30 grams per serving).
    Waffles and Pancakes may be borderline ok if eaten infrequently and in sensible portions, using sugar-free syrup or a reasonable amount of light whipping cream.

Frozen Foods to Avoid
Fried Seafood Products:

Frozen Seafood Products that are fried, stuffed, breaded, or contain high calorie sauces should be avoided. (Crab Rangoon, for example, brings in a sizable amount of calories.)
Otherwise, frozen seafood products such as shrimp, clams, or fish (without any added offenders) are ok for weight control purposes.

In fact, the above principle can be generalized to any frozen food item: If fried or breaded products are featured on the package, that item is probably best avoided.

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Frozen Foods to Avoid

Cheese Ravioli is another item present in the freezer aisle. I must confess this item surprised me: I didn't expect it to be so caloric and to contain so much saturated fat. Among the several brands available, I could find none even remotely acceptable for weight control purposes. This being said, I think ravioli are one item that is best avoided.

Frozen Foods to Avoid
Ice Cream:

Regular Ice Cream brings in plenty of calories, many of which come from saturated fats and sugars. For example, a great tasting brand like Haagen-Dazs brings in 270 calories, 11 grams of saturated fats, and 21 grams of sugars per serving (1/2 cup). Other brands such as Breyer's are more reasonable, with 150 calories, 4-4.5 grams saturated fat, and 15 grams of sugars per 1/2 cup. Valu Time goes even lower, with 130 calories, 4 grams saturated fat, and 13 grams of sugars per 1/2 cup. Still, you can see that the saturated fats and sugars are higher than ideal. The good news is that certain low fat/low sugar ice creams are available, and may be acceptable in a weight control program. We will discuss these in more detail in the section below. Sorbets are reasonable from the point of view of total calories and fat content, however they bring in a rather high amount of sugars (about 25 grams per 1/2 cup).

Frozen Foods to Avoid
Desserts and Beverages:

  • Frozen Desserts are in my opinion too high in calories, and especially in sugar content. Reduced calorie brands such as 'Smart Ones', with total calorie counts around 200, low saturated fat content, and sugars 10 – 20 grams per serving, are definitely preferable to the rest, and borderline acceptable in a weight control diet.
  • Frozen Juices, although reasonable as far as total calorie count, are usually high in sugars: A typical serving is likely to bring in more than 20 gram of sugars, so moderation is required.

And finally, here is a list of items that are acceptable in a weight control diet:

Acceptable Frozen Foods
Low Calorie Entrees:

The freezer aisle of the average grocery store contains a large selection of low calorie frozen entrees specifically formulated for weight control. Look for brands such as 'Healthy Choice', 'Stouffer's Lean Cuisine', and 'Smart Ones'. These typically bring in between 200 and 400 calories per entree, and a very reasonable amount of saturated fats, cholesterol, and 'sugars'. To my knowledge, none of them contains trans fats. Overall, these low calorie entrees can be quite helpful in weight control. They cook in the microwave in 5-10 minutes, and are an easy way of eating a healthy dish. Moreover, they give you an idea of the recommended serving size for a meal in a weight loss diet.

Acceptable Frozen Foods

Frozen Vegetables are a great food for weight control. Most frozen vegetables bring in below 70 calories per 1/2 - 2/3 cup, zero fats and sugars up to 4-6 grams, which is ideal for weight control purposes. A wide selection is at your disposal, including corn, carrots, beans and peas, broccoli, greens, etc. Almost all of them are easily prepared in the microwave in minutes.
Also available are Prepackaged Assorted Vegetable Dishes. Among these, a brand called 'Green Giant' struck me as particularly attractive: With calorie counts between 50 - 250 calories per package, saturated fats up to 2 grams, sugars up to 4 grams, and a large variety of choices (including creamy spinach, roasted potatoes, rice pilaf, honey glazed carrots, etc), it seemed a versatile and appealing meal option. Another brand you can try is 'Birds Eye' - it features a large variety of low calorie vegetable dishes.
Prepackaged Frozen Vegetable Patties, such as 'Cohen's' are borderline acceptable. Sometimes they may be slightly high on fat, so make sure to check the nutrition labels.
Prepackaged Frozen Blintzes may also be ok. For instance, 'Golden Blintzes' (filled with vegetables or fruit) bring in 80-90 calories per piece, 0-1 grams saturated fat, and 4 grams sugars.
Frozen Vegetable Soups (e.g., Tabatchnick) are also ok calorie wise.

Acceptable Frozen Foods

Frozen Fruit with no added sugar (unsweetened) typically bring in about 50 calories and less than 10 grams of sugars per serving. Compare this to sweetened frozen fruit, which bring in about triple that amount (150 calories and 35 grams of sugars).
Cool Whip is ok with your fruit - 2 tablespoons bring in about 25 calories and 1 gram of sugar.

Acceptable Frozen Foods

Frozen Seafood (fish, shrimp, clams, etc) is a fine choice for weight control, provided it comes without a fried crust, without breading or stuffing, and without high calorie sauces.

Acceptable Frozen Foods
Low Calorie Ice Creams & al:

Low Calorie Ice Creams, Frozen Fruit Bars and Popsicles are acceptable as part of a weight control program. A word of warning, however: Not all ice cream products labeled 'Light' are acceptable for weight control. For instance, Light Haagen-Dazs brings in 210 calories per serving, with 4 grams of fat and 18 grams of sugars per serving, which is higher than regular Breyer's or Valu Time. Another rather disappointing brand is Weight Watchers, with products which are either unacceptably high in sugars, or unacceptably high in saturated fats. For effective weight control, the idea is to control both saturated fats and sugars. Unfortunately, many brands (Weight Watchers included) limit themselves to making either 'low fat', or 'low sugar' products, without combining these two requirements in the same product. It took some research in the freezer aisle to find a few products that were reasonably low in both fat and sugars. Here's a list of these products:

  • Starbucks low fat ice cream bars (120-130 calories, 1 gram saturated fat, 15-16 grams sugars)
  • Breyer's 100 calories ice cream cups (100 calories, 1 gram saturated fat, 12 grams sugars)
  • Frozen Fruit Bars (60-100 calories per bar, 0-1 gram saturated fat, 12-15 grams sugars)
  • Popsicles (70 calories, 0 gram saturated fat, 8 gram sugars)
  • Lifesavers sugar free Popsicles (20 calories, 0 gram saturated fat, 3 gram sugars)

Note: All calorie counts are approximate.

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