As obesity rates continue to climb, bigger portion sizes over the last few decades have been identified as a potential culprit 1. Strategies to keep portion control in could help people lose weight. A new study published in the journal Obesity suggests that prepackaged, portion-controlled meals can be an effective tool for weight loss 2.
In the study, 183 individuals were randomized to one of three diet groups for 3 months. One group was provided with two prepackaged, portion-controlled meals daily, one group was provided with two prepackaged, portion-controlled meals high in protein (at least 25% of calories came from protein), and one group chose all their meals. All groups had a counseling session with a registered dietitian where they talked about eating a lower calorie diet and were instructed to do at least 60 minutes of purposeful, physical activity per day.At the end of the 3 months, the individuals who ate two prepackaged meals daily lost about 8 percent of their initial body weight compared with the group who chose their own meals who lost about 6.0% of their body weight. Those who ate the prepackaged meals were also more likely to lower their LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) and triglycerides. There were no differences in food and meal satisfaction between the groups. This is important because if people aren’t happy with a meal plan, they aren’t going to stick to it for long. A limitation of the study is that it was completed during a fairly short time period of 3 months and longer studies are needed to see if prepackaged meals continue to be effective for weight loss after a 3 month period.
Based on these study results, it appears that eating prepackaged, portion-controlled meals can be an effective strategy for weight loss. This may be because it eliminates the need for the planning and preparation of healthy meals that some people find challenging to fit into their schedule. Admittedly, I have never been one to consume prepackaged, portion-controlled meals regularly. However, I have observed that they can be helpful for some patients I have counseled for weight loss. Long gone are the days where a prepackaged, portion-controlled meal equates to the image of the old school TV dinners. Today, there are a variety of companies that specialize in prepackaged meals and consumers can find lower sodium, organic, gluten- and allergen-free, and ethnic options. Some things you may want to look for when selecting prepackaged, portion-controlled foods are described below.
Guidelines for selecting prepackaged, portion-controlled meals:
- A high sodium content is a common offender in many prepackaged foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily for the average healthy adult and no more than 1,500 mg of sodium daily for those who are salt sensitive or who have been put on a low sodium diet by their physician. Select items with no more than 600 mg of sodium.
- If your goal is to lose weight, select a meal with less than 500 calories.
- Avoid products that use trans Make sure to read the ingredient list and if you see “partially hydrogenated oil” for example, then the product includes trans fat and is not an ideal choice.
- Piernas C and Popkin BM. Increased portion sizes from energy-dense foods affect total energy intake at eating occasions in US children and adolescents: patterns and trends by age group and sociodemographic characteristics, 1977–2006. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2011;94:1324-1332.
- Rock CL, Flatt SW, Pakiz B, Barkai H-S, Heath DD and Krumhar KC. Randomized clinical trial of portion-controlled prepackaged foods to promote weight loss. Obesity. 2016;24:1230-1237.