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Nutritional standards needed for ready meals to avoid micronutrient deficiencies

How to avoid micronutrient deficiencies that contribute to age-related disorders

Micronutrient deficiencies contribute to many age-related disorders, although initial effects may be mild and easily missed. For example, deficiencies in B vitamins may result in mild cognitive decline, thiamine deficiency can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes and lack of vitamin D changes immune function.

Food production methods can reduce micronutrient levels
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The importance of phytochemicals (chemical compounds created by plants) is increasingly recognised. Lutein may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, while some polyphenols reduce glucose uptake and so reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain flavonoids improve vascular function. There is increasing recognition of the benefit of interaction between vitamins and phytochemicals.


Cooking from raw ingredients is the best way to achieve a balanced diet, but many older people are unable to do this and rely on ready meals, either purchased from supermarkets or delivered to their homes. The problem is that food production methods can reduce micronutrient levels.

Heat inactivates some vitamins; cooking in excess water causes leaching of water-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals such as the anti-cancer glucosinolates; use of bicarbonates to retain the colour of green vegetables or soften pulses can destabilise vitamins and use of sulphite as a preservative can destroy thiamine.


Sulphite is widely used in the UK to preserve tinned pulses, convenience meat products such as sausages and burgers and many ready meals and convenience foods.

Ideally, vegetables in ready meals should be slowly stewed rather than boiled and fresh meats should be used. The authors suggest there should be new nutritional standards for ready meals and that they could be sold with slogans such as ‘vegetables slow-cooked for health’.

Hoffman R (2017) Micronutrient deficiencies in the elderly – could ready meals be part of the solution? Journal of Nutritional Science. 6, e2, 1-4. doi:10:1017/jns2016.42.

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