Lean Cuisine Salad Additions, Asian-Style Chicken Salad: Too Good to be Food?

Nutritionist Keri Glassman Investigates


The label for the Asian-Style Chicken, one of four Lean Cuisine Salad Additions, reads, “Dress up your lettuce with warm grilled chicken and veggies, cool dressings and ooh-la-la crunchy toppings!”  All you have to do is add lettuce.  Sounds simple and tempting with grilled white meat chicken, edamame, pineapple, broccoli, yellow and orange carrots, sesame ginger vinaigrette, and crispy noodles.  With only 260 calories, 17 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fat, it sounds like an easy, nutritious, and lean solution to the ho-hum salad.  Is this salad addition the best thing to ever happen to lettuce or is it Too Good to Be Food?

What’s in it:

COOKED WHITE MEAT CHICKEN (WHITE MEAT CHICKEN, WATER, MODIFIED TAPIOCA STARCH, CHICKEN FLAVOR [DRIED CHICKEN BROTH, CHICKEN POWDER, NATURAL FLAVOR], CARRAGEENAN, WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, SOYBEAN OIL, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SALT), SESAME GINGER VINAIGRETTE (WATER, SUGAR, SOY SAUCE [WATER, WHEAT, SOYBEANS, SALT], WHITE WINE VINEGAR, RICE VINEGAR, SOYBEAN OIL, PINEAPPLE JUICE CONCENTRATE, SESAME SEED OIL, GINGER, CARAMEL COLOR, XANTHAM GUM, NATURAL FLAVOR, SESAME SEEDS, SALT, SPICE, CITRIC ACID), BROCCOLI, CARROTS, EDAMAME SOYBEANS, CRISPY THIN NOODLES (ENRICHED FLOUR [WHEAT FLOUR, ENZYME, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID], VEGETABLE OIL [SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED OIL], WATER MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, CORNSTARCH, SALT), PINEAPPLE, YELLOW CARROTS.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the ingredients:

Cooked white meat chicken
Phew! This should go without saying that the first ingredient is white meat chicken – a lean source of protein! However, the chicken is made up of more than 10 ingredients.  Here are a few:

Chicken powder: Made by grinding cooked chicken and skin into a fine powder and may contain salt or MSG – a flavor enhancer that can cause severe allergic reactions in some people and has also been shown to be carcinogenic in extremely high quantities.  Safe or not, this is an added chemical that has no place in chicken and is better off avoided.

Carrageenan:  Carrageenan is used as a thickener, emulsifier, and stabilizer in food products, cosmetics, and medicines.  Although this is considered a "safe" food additive derived from seaweed, remember, it is still a highly processed product.

Whey protein concentrate: Derived from cow’s milk, one of whey protein concentrate’s various uses is to serve as a filler, and it is used often in chicken products to give it a firmer texture.  Interestingly, it is also used to whiten dark chicken meat to make it more pleasing to the eye.

Corn syrup solids: When the super sweet and non-nutritive corn syrup is dried, the resulting powder gives us corn syrup solids.  Clearly, no nutritive value here.

Sodium Phosphate: Used to keep packaged meats moist and tender during storage, hence, another preservative. 

Sesame ginger vinaigrette
The sauce for the dish - sounds delish and is perhaps the Asian twist.  Nothing wrong with the first four ingredients - water, sugar, soy sauce, and vinegars.  A good vinaigrette can be made with only a few ingredients, but just like the chicken, the vinaigrette is made up of a myriad of ingredients.  More than 15 with some being healthy, like ginger and sesame seeds, and many others being...well, we’ll list them here:

● Caramel color: This is a food colorant that comes from unnatural sources, or "natural" sources like corn syrup, potatoes, or wheat.  Color additives are derivatives from other sources to give an artificial color to make it look fresh.  Key word LOOK. Studies have shown that the reactions between the ingredients used to make caramel color caused cancer of the lung, liver, thyroid, and blood in lab animals.  Why can't food stay the color it is meant to be?

Xanthan gum: A natural, sugar-like compound made by mixing aged (fermented) sugars with certain kinds of bacteria.  It is used as a thickening and stabilizing agent.  This natural emulsifier is ok to use.

Citric acid: A natural acid, works as a natural preservative and popular flavor enhancer in many packaged foods and beverages.  It is generally regarded as safe and widely used to preserve foods.

Broccoli
●Broccoli is broccoli and is a great source of vitamin C to give us strong immune systems.

Carrots
●Another wonderful veggie.  Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A which helps to gives us healthy vision and skin.  They come in an array of colors - orange, yellow, purple, red, and even white.

Edamame soybeans
●Three healthy ingredients in a row!  Edamame is better known as soybeans and is a great vegetarian source of protein.

Crispy thin noodles
A classic Asian topping made with enriched flour, oil, thickening agents, and water.  Let’s take a look at what’s in these ingredients.  

Enriched flour: Wheat flour that’s been enriched, during processing, with added nutrients like B-vitamins (niacin, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid) which help our body to make and use energy and help to make red blood cells.  No problem here.

Modified corn starch and corn starch: Used as thickeners to maintain food texture.  They are highly processed with few health benefits.

Vegetable oil: Made from a processed blend of soybean and/or cottonseed oil.  Cottonseed oil also may contain high levels of pesticide residues.

Pineapple
●Considered a tropical superfruit - nothing more needs to be said except that it contains the enzyme bromelain, which has anti-inflammatory properties, and is packed full of vitamin C and fiber.  All good for a healthy immune system.

Yellow carrots
●The ingredient list ends on a high note with yellow carrots.  Just like the orange carrot, yellow carrots have many nutritional benefits.  Yellow carrots get their color from xanthophylls, a member of the carotenoid family like the pigment in orange carrots, which support good eye health.

Bottom line:
If you are constantly on-the-go and have no time to make a salad, Lean Cuisine Salad Additions may seem like the answer to your salad prayers.  All of your topping decisions are made and portion controlled for you.  All you need is lettuce and a microwave.  Appears to be an easy solution, but with so many unnecessary hidden ingredients that do not get a passing grade, I have to say it is Too Good To Be Food. Instead, for a fast salad, try prepping some grilled chicken ahead of time, keep chopped veggies on hand at all times, then mix together with some bagged lettuce. Voila! A nutritious and fast meal!

Nutrition info [1 package]
Calories: 260
Fat: 8 g
Saturated Fat: 1.5 g
Trans Fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 25 mg
Sodium: 510 mg
Total Carbohydrate: 30 g
Dietary Fiber: 3 g
Sugar: 16 g
Protein: 17 g


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