TV celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson are notable in the culinary world for their unique recipes which are claimed as ‘healthy alternatives’ to fast food restaurants and mass-produced food items, though a recent study claims that the meals they create are less healthy than the ‘TV dinner’-style ‘ready meals’ that the cooks claim to easily surpass.
The research, undertaken by a group from Newcastle University (England), in a city that is admittedly not the best place to go to right now for an education in food studies, saw 100 recipes from celebrity chef cookbooks compared with 100 supermarket-brand ‘ready meals’ (presumably direct equivalents), with the results claiming that in a number of statistically comparable areas in the ‘cross-sectional study’ (including fat, sodium, calories, fibre, and sugar), the meals of the ‘microwavable variety’ came out on top in almost every nutritional category (a higher or lower number where appropriate).
The study has since been published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), where the only category in which the chefs were noted to have ‘won’ was the ‘salt’.
Professor Martin White, from the Institute of Health and Society at the university, told the BBC: “Both ready meals and those by TV chefs are not as healthy as they could be. We’re not bashing TV chefs, among them are chefs that have done a huge amount for healthy eating and tackling obesity. Educating and informing consumers should apply as much to TV chefs as for food in shops.”
Since the release of the results, representatives of the celebrity chefs defending their work, as a spokeswoman for English cook Lorraine Pascale noting: “Some of the recipes in Lorraine’s book are healthy, some not quite so much so. There are plenty of salads, soups and light meals as well as the richer dishes. Her books and shows to date haven’t been about healthy eating, they are about cooking.”
A representative for Jamie Oliver added: “We welcome any research which raises debate on these issues. We would regard the key issue to be food education so that people are aware of which foods are for every day and which are treats to be enjoyed occasionally.”
The BJA paper summarised the main findings, writing: “Meals based on television chef recipes were less healthy than ready meals, as significantly fewer were within the recommended ranges for fibre density and percentage of energy derived from carbohydrate and fat, and per portion they contained significantly more energy, protein, fat, and saturated fat and significantly less fibre. The recipes were also more likely to achieve red traffic light labels according to the criteria of the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA). Despite reported efforts from industry to reduce the salt content of meals, only 4% of the ready meals met the WHO recommendation.”
Though the meals on offer from celebrity chefs will most often win in a ‘taste test’ despite some of the unusual ingredients sometimes used, will there now be greater calls to put the published instructions up to the same ‘nutritional scrutiny’ that food items in stores receive?