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Supermarket prepared food may not be as healthy as advertised

Posted March 15
Updated March 16

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— Considering many grocers tout meals as fresh and organic—the next best thing to home cooking— many people may believe they're getting a relatively healthy meal.

Consumer Reports recently analyzed popular dishes, and what they found will probably change what people purchase.

The prepared foods section at a supermarket deli is a popular go-to area at grocery stores, now a $29 billion a year business, according to Consumer Reports.

Many foods don’t have nutrition labels, and they’re not required to, which may cause people to eat more fat, calories and sodium.
Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers bought dozens of popular prepared food items from six major supermarkets and analyzed the foods for sodium, calories, fat and saturated fat. Overall, sodium was high.

A meatloaf with a poppy seed dressing averaged 891 milligrams of sodium in a 6 ounce serving—the equivalent of eating an entire bag of potato chips.

An orzo salad that was tested averaged more than the meatloaf, with 938 milligrams of sodium.

Without a nutrition label, consumers wouldn’t know that a 6 ounce piece of tilapia has nine grams of fat.

Tested mash potatoes had the preservative sodium benzoate, as well as disodium pyrophosphate to maintain color—not ingredients that would be added at home.

Results showed that many supermarkets do not make their prepared foods.

“According to the clerks who were quizzed by our secret shoppers, we’d estimate that only about half of what we tested was actually made on-site,” said Amy Keating, Consumer Reports registered dietitian.

Consumers will pay a price for the convenience; some of the foods cost twice the price of making them at home.

Although Consumer Reports did find one great deal—rotisserie chicken—it’s often far cheaper to buy it at the supermarket than preparing at home.

Consumer Reports’ survey of subscribers found they’re happiest with the prepared foods at Wegmans, Publix, Costco, Fresh Market and Whole Foods.

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