If you think a home-cooked meal is always better than one that comes from a box, you may be mistaken. A new British study has found that recipes by famous chefs such as Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver are less healthy than supermarket-ready meals from chains including Sainbury’s and Tesco.
Researchers found that the cookbook recipes contained more calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar - but less salt, reports the BBC’s James Gallagher.
In the study, published in the British Medical Journal, the researchers from Newcastle University chose 100 entrees from four TV chefs with books at the top of the bestseller charts to compare with 100 packaged meals.
They used nutritional guidelines set by the World Health Organization, organizing the results in red, yellow or green “traffic light” categories.
On average, meals in the chef's books were less healthy and "more likely to achieve red traffic light labels," the BBC reports the researchers said.
"Both ready meals and those by TV chefs are not as healthy as they could be,” professor Martin White, from the Institute of Health and Society at the university, told the BBC. "We're not bashing TV chefs, among them are chefs that have done a huge amount for healthy eating and tackling obesity."
Although the study does undermine conventional wisdom that cooking from scratch is healthier, the BBC points out that there was no attempt to look at how often the cookbook meals are made - daily or for a special occasion. Or how they might figure into a daily diet.
A look at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recent column in the Guardian, for instance, features a decadent-looking lamb dish - but also ceviche and salad.
The study news appears to be a blow especially for Jamie Oliver, who is known for crusading for healthier school lunches in particular.
But a spokesman for Jamie Oliver told the BBC : "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."
They added Oliver's most recent book already had nutritional information per serving, reports the BBC.
And observers could be forgiven for thinking that Nigella Lawson’s recipes can’t be so bad, considering her recent weight loss. (She attributes it to less snacking due to being laid up after foot surgery.)