Study: Prepackaged Meals May Spur More Weight Loss

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With many Americans trying to get to or stay a healthy weight, it’s important to find evidence-based strategies that help people lose weight not only in the short term, but that are also realistic to follow long-term to keep the weight off. That’s important for cancer prevention, because with AICR’s latest report on stomach cancer, we now know that obesity is linked to increased risk for 11 cancers, including colorectal, endometrial and kidney.

A new study published in Obesity last week, found that in a 12-week weight loss program, people randomized to receive portion-controlled and prepackaged foods lost more weight compared to those who selected their own diet. Of the 183 participants, all overweight or obese, 139 received portion controlled, prepackaged lunch and dinner Lean Cuisine frozen entrees, and 45 selected their own foods based on the diet prescription given to both groups.

Both groups successfully lost weight, but the group receiving preportioned foods lost more than 8% (18 lbs on average ) of their weight compared to 6% (13 lbs on average) weight loss in the control group. The prepackaged meals group also had lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides than the control group.

All participants received the same amount of education, counseling and behavioral guidance throughout the trial. The physical activity goal was to average at least 60 minutes per day of moderate intensity activity.

Another important take-away from this study is that both groups actually lost significant amounts – more than 5% – of their body weight, showing the importance of personalized nutrition education and behavioral counseling for healthy weight loss.

Researchers also measured how satisfied participants were with the meals, including taste and appearance, as well as how confident they were they could continue to follow the plan. The groups were equally satisfied with meal appearance and taste, but those selecting their own foods were less confident they could continue to control their eating and stick to a weight loss meal plan.

There are limitations to the study. It is short term so we don’t have data to show that it works long term and researchers did not do diet recalls with participants, although they were encouraged to track their diet. However, it may offer another tool that can boost success for some people. And because some studies have shown that how much we eat is often determined by the amounts we are served and how available additional food is, using preportioned foods offers one strategy to help individuals stick to recommended serving sizes for a weight loss meal plan.

And for many, it may work because it means easier decision making and requires less planning and preparing foods, especially if you find prepared, preportioned meals that fit your budget and taste. You can also prepare your own delicious, healthy and preportioned meals and save money. Here are some menu ideas you can make ahead, portion in containers and freeze for convenient meals later:

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
Serve with simple tossed green salad

Turkey Meatloaf
Balsamic Glazed Carrots
Brown Rice (1 portion from frozen bag)

Veggie Chili
Soft Cornbread with Black Beans

Among the disclosures: The study was supported by Nestle USA Inc.; Prepackaged meals were provided by Lean Cuisine; Dr. Rock has received funding from Jenny Craig for previous research.


Author: Alice RD

Alice G. Bender, MS, RDN, is the Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR. She helps put the science of cancer prevention into action by providing tips and tools to choose nutritious and delicious foods. Alice has guided thousands of individuals to healthier lives through diet changes and choices.

3 thoughts on “Study: Prepackaged Meals May Spur More Weight Loss”

    1. Thanks Pauline for your comment. It is true that frozen meals are often high sodium, but there are frozen meal options with lower sodium values. In this study, the authors reported that by the end of the study, blood pressure decreased in all participants. That is likely due to the weight loss. The authors did not report sodium content of the meals – it’s possible they used lower sodium versions.

      If you are referring to the suggested meals using AICR recipes here is the sodium content for each of them: 1)310 mg for the lasagna, salad would be minimal sodium; 2)Turkey meatloaf – 335 mg; carrots are 64 mg; 3) Chili – 367 mg; cornbread – 310. These meals could all fit into a days’ meals that add up to considerably less than 2300 mg sodium.

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