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Television Chefs’ Recipes Aren’t Any Healthier Than Packaged TV Dinners

Don't be fooled by a television chef's home style kitchen and their television figures - the food TV chefs make may be worse for you than the supermarket variety

From cheap and easy, to artisinal and rustic, television chefs seem to offer the whole range of food choices. Paula Deen will teach you how to fry butter, Ina Garten how to make high end soups and roast beef, and Jamie Oliver an all-organic salad. But don’t be fooled by their home-style kitchen and their television-ready figures: the food TV chefs make may be worse for you than the supermarket variety. The Guardian reports on Martin White, a researcher at Newcastle University, who looked into just how healthy these chefs’ recipes are:

They took a close look at 100 recipes in some of the nation’s favourite cookery books – 30 Minute Meals and Ministry of Food by Jamie Oliver, Kitchen by Nigella Lawson, River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Baking Made Easy by Lorraine Pascale. They compared the nutritional value with those of 100 randomly selected brand name ready meals from Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Neither, they said, met national or international guidelines for a balanced diet. But, they added: “The recipes seemed to be less healthy than the ready meals on several metrics.” Per portion they contained significantly more energy, protein, fat and saturated fat and significantly less fibre than the ready meals. They would be more likely to attract red “traffic light” warning symbols under Food Standards Agency criteria.

Now, it will surprise no one that some recipes from television aren’t healthy. Here’s Paula Deen teaching you how to make fried cheesecake:

But other chefs are known for their healthy, wholesome meals. Jamie Oliver, one of the chefs in this study, aims to teach kids about the importance of real, whole food:

But Oliver’s recipe book is full of foods with far more calories than what you can buy at the supermarket. Here’s The Guardian again:

Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals recipe for meatball sandwich, pickled cabbage and chopped salad, for four people, is just under 1,000 calories per serving. His mini shell pasta with a creamy smoked bacon and pea sauce from Ministry of Food has 125g of fat and 63g of saturated fat. Lawson’s beer braised pork knuckles with caraway, garlic, apples and potatoes has 1,340 calories per person and 102g of saturated fat. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Gill’s poached leek and Dorset Blue Vinny tart contains 217g of saturated fat while his mixed mushroom tart (for two) has just 3.2g of fibre. Pascale’s pork with calvados, caramelised apples and mustard mash has 1,161 calories per serving and a total of 147g of sugar.

The point, the researchers said, was not to bash television chefs but to have home cooks take a second look at what they’re making. “We did not set out to bash the chefs,” White told The Guardian. “That wasn’t at all our intention. If you look at the TV chefs as a whole, there are a number of them who are vociferous champions for sustainable food and healthy eating. They are a passionate lot who do care about the healthy content of our diet.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

Challenge: A Week Without Recipes
An Online Food Education

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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