Pasta dishes are one of the most popular types of frozen meals out there, and for good reason. In just a couple of minutes, you can microwave yourself a meal that could take hours to cook from scratch and take all of the hassle out of preparation. Frozen pasta dishes are also reliably tasty and can please even the fussiest of eaters, and the astonishing range of options out there means that there's something at every price point, with those on a budget as well-catered for as those who want a fancier frozen meal.
Unfortunately, though, frozen pasta dishes are not without their downsides -- and their nutritional composition can be one of them. They can be highly processed and contain abundant levels of sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars and may prove unsatisfying due to their ingredients. "These meals may seem filling on the surface and at initial consumption, but the refined nature of the carbs leaves you feeling full quickly after you finish," nutritionist Lisa Richards stresses to She Finds. In this article, we'll focus on the frozen pasta options out there that have particularly high proportions of saturated fat, sodium, or added sugars, as well as those that are lacking in fiber or have a particularly high proportion of carbohydrates per serving.
Stouffer's Lasagna With Meat & Sauce
Lasagna is always a dish that's full of flavor, but Stouffer's takes it to the next level with its Lasagna with Meat & Sauce. The frozen food brand's offering to the lasagna market is incredibly high in sodium, with just shy of 1,000 milligrams per package. This amount is, it should be pointed out, over 40% of your daily recommended intake, in a frozen meal that's hardly enormous -- with a 297-gram weight and just 370 calories, its sodium content feels out of proportion to its size and energy content.
This amount is way above the global benchmark set by the World Health Organization for sodium content in premade pasta dishes, with the organization advising food makers that there should be no more than 230 milligrams per 100 grams of food for these products. It sets its benchmark for a good reason, too. The average American consumes over 1,000 milligrams more sodium than is recommended daily, and routinely doing so can lead to several profound health concerns, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. A large proportion of this sodium intake comes from processed foods, like frozen pasta dishes.
Michael Angelo's Three Cheese Baked Ziti
Cheesy baked ziti is a mouthwatering meal that takes a lot of work, so it's little surprise that food company Michael Angelo's came to market with its Three Cheese Baked Ziti. Its nutritional content, however, is a little surprising, especially given how much the company cares about the quality of its ingredients. In each 312-gram tray, there are 12 grams of saturated fat and over 1,000 milligrams of sodium.
Importantly, the ingredients list for this baked ziti, featuring largely natural items, does look way better than some other alternatives. However, there's no getting around the saturated fat content, which comes, of course, largely from the cheese. High saturated fat intake is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular events, as a review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews shows. Limiting saturated fat intake appears to reduce some of this risk, with the review indicating that replacing them with polyunsaturated fats (from foods high in omega-3 fatty acids) can be a useful long-term strategy to improve heart health.
Michelina's Fettuccine Alfredo With Chicken & Broccoli
Frozen meals are often not the freshest-tasting affair, so the addition of broccoli to Michelina's Fettuccine Alfredo seems welcome at first glance. However, this frozen meal, which also contains chicken, doesn't excel on the health front elsewhere. Michelina's Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken & Broccoli is high in both saturated fat and sodium with 5 grams and 760 milligrams, respectively, the latter covering a third of your daily sodium allowance. While these aren't the highest amounts of these nutrients on our list, it should be pointed out that this frozen pasta dish has an especially small serving size, with each meal weighing in at just 227 grams.
As such, you're getting a lot of fat and sodium per gram -- and more besides that, too. For such a small meal, Michelina's Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken & Broccoli's ingredients list is massive. This is an indicator of how processed this food item is, with the manufacturers skipping whole ingredients in favor of derivatives and additives. The effect of this processing is pretty clear in the relative lack of vitamins and minerals that this pasta dish has, as well as the mere 2 grams of fiber.
Bertolli Pasta Sides Four Cheese Ravioli
Frozen pasta dishes aren't just intended to be your main course -- certain food companies, like Bertolli, also cover the occasions when you just need a quick side dish. Just don't expect these side dishes to be healthy. Bertolli's Pasta Sides Four Cheese Ravioli, for example, is swimming in saturated fat and sodium. Each package contains 13 grams of saturated fat, almost two thirds of your daily value, and almost 1,100 milligrams of sodium, as well as 70 grams of carbohydrates.
All of this adds up to a fairly high calorie count, with every pack providing 620. Considering that this is intended to be a side dish, that's a pretty high amount, even if you split it with someone else, and can spike your caloric intake fairly significantly. Regularly consuming excessive calories can lead to weight gain, which can then raise your risk of related health conditions like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. It may be worth considering where you can make choices with side dishes that are lower in fat and carbohydrates, rather than opt for an option like this.
Giovanni Rana Meat Lasagna
Giovanni Rana's Meat Lasagna contains no artificial flavors or colors, preservatives, or GMO ingredients and is made of what seem to be fresh, well-considered components. The positives, however, stop when you take a look at its nutritional information. "One frozen lasagna I don't suggest purchasing is Giovanni Rana Meat Lasagna. One serving contains 11 grams of saturated fat -- this counts as 55% of the daily allowance for healthy adults. This lasagna is also high in sodium at 810 milligrams a serving," registered dietitian Lindsay Ducharme warns Eat This, Not That.
The Giovanni Rana Meat Lasagna also has a super-small serving size, with a portion being only 1 cup. Ducharme instead recommends picking lasagna options out there which can help you save on saturated fat and sodium. Walmart's Great Value Italian-Style Three Meat Lasagna, for instance, has a slightly larger serving size but has 6 grams of saturated fat. Although it is still fairly high in sodium, containing 740 milligrams per serving, it's a testament to the fact that not all frozen lasagnas have to be crammed full of saturated fat and sodium.
Devour Buffalo Style Chicken Mac & Cheese
Let's be real: Buffalo chicken mac and cheese is rarely going to be a dish that's full of health and wholesomeness. Devour's frozen option, however, really takes things to the extreme. The Devour Buffalo Style Chicken Mac & Cheese is a nutritionist's nightmare, with 10 grams of saturated fat and a high calorie count for a frozen meal, offering 670 calories per portion. Unfortunately, its sodium levels are even more concerning. Each package has a mammoth 1,760 milligrams of sodium per serving, over three quarters of your daily value and certainly more than you should be eating in a single meal.
High sodium levels are a common feature of frozen food, partly to enhance flavor and partly to keep it fresh for longer. However, when other frozen pasta dishes routinely contain half this amount (and it should be pointed out, even half of this level is still pretty salty!), there's no excuse for it. The effects of having a high-sodium diet on your health are profound, with sodium intake and hypertension closely linked. Given that hypertension can be a risk factor for serious health conditions, it's smart to cut super-high-sodium options like this one out of your diet.
Great Value Mexican-Style Lasagna
Depending on where you stand with fusion foods, you may love or loathe the sound of Walmart's Great Value Mexican-Style Lasagna. We're fairly certain, though, that you definitely won't love its nutritional info. This creation, made by combining beef and pasta sheets with salsa, beans, cheddar cheese, and a nacho cheese sauce, topping it all off with a tortilla crumb topping, has a whopping 8 grams of saturated fat in a fairly small serving size. This covers 40% of your daily value, in just a single cup's worth of food.
Saturated fat remains concerning in high quantities in the diet, as it can have an impact on cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, it's a fairly common issue when it comes to pasta dishes, both frozen and non-frozen, that contain cheese or dairy products. The Great Value Mexican-Style Lasagna, with its two cheesy elements, does double duty here, and its ingredients list also indicates that it contains cream, another high-fat dairy item. While enjoying a cheesy pasta dish (or a pasta-nacho mashup like this one) now and again will likely be fine, making a frozen pasta meal like this a regular part of your diet may raise your saturated fat intake significantly.
Marie Callender's Spaghetti With Meat Sauce
Spaghetti with meat sauce is a timeless classic, so it's no wonder that frozen food companies like Marie Callender's have been churning out their spins on it for a while. For such a simple-looking dish, though, Marie Callender's Spaghetti with Meat Sauce is not simple nutritionally. This frozen pasta dish is surprisingly high in salt and contains 920 milligrams of sodium (although it should be pointed out that this is for a fairly large serving size of 377 grams, more than a lot of other competitors).
However, we're slightly more shocked by its added sugar content. There are 3 grams of added sugar in every portion, adding up to 6% of your daily value. The presence of added sugar in food is rarely a good thing, but it's especially unwelcome in savory foods. Added sugar is usually included in savory dishes because it helps to balance out bitterness and take the edge off high levels of salt. Unfortunately, having too much added sugar can impact your health significantly, contributing to a higher risk of developing chronic liver and heart conditions, as well as some types of cancer. It's important to always check your food for any added sugar content, even if it's savory.
Amy's Pesto Tortellini Bowl
Given that so many frozen pasta dishes are centered around meat and cheese, it's nice to see a touch of greenery now and again. Amy's Kitchen provides on that front, with its Pesto Tortellini Bowl, at first glance, looking pretty healthy. The packaging for this item states that it was made with organic wheat and basil, and it shows a bright green, verdant bowl of fresh-looking pasta. Take a closer look, though, and you'll see that this frozen pasta dish is full of saturated fat, with 9 grams per serving, thanks to the ricotta filling inside the tortellini.
It's also relatively high in calories, with 530 in each bowl, notable given the small portion size. Additionally, there's also a fairly abundant amount of carbohydrates, with 63 grams per package. Now, it's no surprise that pasta dishes tend to be carb-heavy, but this one contains a fair amount more than other competitors. High carbohydrate consumption over a long period can increase the body's metabolic load, leading to higher blood sugar levels and potentially poor health outcomes.
Stouffer's Macaroni & Cheese
For mac and cheese lovers, the abundance of frozen products out there is a godsend. The ever-popular Stouffer's brand, though, is one you should be avoiding. "Stouffer's Frozen Mac N Cheese is extremely high in sodium and high in saturated fat," registered dietitian nutritionist Maggie Michalczyk notes to Eat This, Not That. Each pack has 9 grams of saturated fat and a jaw-dropping 1,280 milligrams of sodium, well over half of your daily allowance.
Michalczyk also points out that when compared to other frozen mac and cheese choices, Stouffer's Macaroni & Cheese is more calorie-packed, with 480 calories per box. If you're looking for a healthier option when it comes to mac and cheese, you might be better off going for Lean Cuisine's option. While there's no getting around the fact that this is also a processed food choice, its Vermont White Cheddar Mac & Cheese has 280 calories, half the saturated fat of the Stouffer's version, and 18 grams of protein. At 800 milligrams of sodium, it's still pretty salty -- but nowhere near as salty as this one.
Celentano 4 Cheese Ravioli
We have yet to meet a single person who eats dairy and doesn't like four-cheese ravioli. Celentano's version, however, might have you running for the hills. There are certain things about its 4 Cheese Ravioli that we're fans of. With just 440 milligrams of sodium per serving (although the serving size, it should be said, is a tiny 146 grams), it's less salty than some other options out there, and it has a good amount of protein in each portion.
With 6 grams of saturated fat, however, it packs a lot of fat into a minuscule amount of pasta. Its fiber content also leaves a lot to be desired. Celentano's 4 Cheese Ravioli has just 1 gram of fiber for every 10 ravioli, which is approximately 3% of the 30 grams that adults should be getting daily, according to the British Nutrition Foundation. Fiber isn't just important for our gut health and for keeping food moving through our system smoothly; it can also have a big impact on long-term health, helping to reduce the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer or type 2 diabetes.
Impossible Bowls Pasta Bolognese With Impossible Beef & Pork
A plant-based Bolognese pasta bowl that looks and tastes like it's made of real meat? Sign us up! Um, unless it's made by Impossible, that is. Per the ingredient list, the plant-based food company makes its Bolognese with Impossible Beef & Pork bowl using "cooked plant-based crumbles" made from soy protein, and we have to admit that they look pretty much exactly like the real thing. Unfortunately, all their flavor has to come from somewhere, and here it's down to a high amount of salt, with each small bowl containing 780 milligrams of sodium.
This high sodium content is an unfortunately common trend when it comes to plant-based food. A study published in Nutrients examined the nutritional information of various plant-based meat products available in the United Kingdom and found that many of them had a high salt content. With so many plant-based products now being sold internationally, this may not necessarily be a U.K.-specific problem, and it's important to check the sodium content of any plant-based products you're buying. As these products can sometimes give the illusion of being healthier because they don't contain meat, it can be easy to end up raising your sodium intake to high levels.
Great Value Five Cheese Lasagna
Anything that has five different types of cheese in it probably isn't going to be ultra-healthy, and unfortunately, Walmart's Great Value Five Cheese Lasagna doesn't do anything to buck the trend. This lasagna is made with mozzarella, ricotta, asiago, parmesan, and romano cheese, and it has the saturated fat content to show for it, with 11 grams in every tray. These saturated fats, when eaten in excess, can cause a rise in LDL cholesterol, the "bad" kind of cholesterol that can lead to a higher risk of heart disease.
Unfortunately, the Five Cheese Lasagna doesn't excel elsewhere either. Each tray has almost 1,000 milligrams of sodium in it, approximately 42% of the maximum amount you should be consuming every day. It also has 2 grams of added sugar in each serving -- not a huge amount, but 2 grams more than we'd like to see in a savory dish. To cap it all off, this dish is also relatively calorie-dense and has 510 in each meal. This isn't a massive amount, per se, but it's more than some other options out there and is something to bear in mind.
Banquet Mega Bowls Buffalo-Style Chicken Mac 'N Cheese
If you want to call your frozen pasta dish healthy, then you should avoid buying a Banquet bowl. Banquet's Mega Bowls Buffalo-Style Chicken Mac 'N Cheese takes it to the next level in one area in particular: its sodium content. As registered dietitian Amber Pankonin lays out to Eat This, Not That, "This particular flavor variety includes animal protein and buffalo sauce which drives up sodium content. Total sodium is 2130 milligrams, and that's due to the added buffalo seasoning and additional salt used to season the chicken."
It's worth remembering that the recommended limit for sodium for adults is 2,300 milligrams per day, according to the FDA, which means that eating one of these bowls, weighing 396 grams, will knock out almost your entire daily amount. The bowl also contains 2 grams of added sugar, which potentially comes as part of the Buffalo flavoring. Although the saturated fat content in this mac and cheese variation isn't as bad as some other market competitors, with 5 grams in every portion, the sodium content takes this dish into stratospherically unhealthy territory -- and with that much salt, it's not likely to taste too good, either.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.