Meat Pies

Reporter: Helen Wellings

Among dozens of exotic cuisines today, the meat pie is still an Aussie favourite - tasty, cheap and portable. But do they deserve their bad reputation ..as nutritional flops, heavy on fat, salt- and meat scraps?

"When it comes to takeaways, you need to be careful because there are the healthy options, but there are also the downright unhealthy options" says Dietician Sharon Natoli.

Spending $14 million a year eating takeaway 3 times a week, more consumers are opting for healthy choices. So what's better; a meat pie or popular Asian dishes like Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Italian or other fast-food takeaway choices?

We tested for the amount of meat, fat and salt in 8 brands of meat pies and compared the levels of fat in other takeaways.

The Food Standard specifies there must be a minimum of 25% meat in a meat pie. In our previous tests, a couple of brands broke the law. They contained less than 25% meat. Salt and fat - there's no legal restriction, but the amount of salt, fat and meat must be declared on the ingredients label of every meat pie.

"According to the Food Standards Code, the meat in a pie can certainly be the flesh, but it can also be the rind, the connective tissue, the blood and blood vessels, and in the case of poultry, the skin as well so you can get all of those components in a meat pie" says Sharon.

Dietician, Sharon Natoli from Food and Nutrition Australia says almost anything goes. And it can be meat from camel, goat, hare, rabbit, pig, poultry, buffalo, deer. But the type of animal must be stated on the pie label, so manufacturers are more likely to use sheep or cattle.

Microbiologist, Glen Pinna of Biotech Laboratories with good news ... all 8 meat pies we tested lived up to the contents on their labels. All complied with the food standard of minimum 25% meat, but they varied by around 12%. Woolworths Home brand with 26.2% has the least meat, Brumby's - the most, 38%.

"The less meat the more filling so your fillings in a pie can be things like your thickeners, your gravy, things like your flavours, flavour enhancers anti-oxidants vegetable protein and other additives so they're all the things that go into make up the filling" explains Sharon.

Our results for the amount of fat - not so good. Mrs Mac's has the most - 23 grams in one Mrs Mac's pie, Michel's Patisserie 10.2%, about 20 grams a pie; the least fat, the generics - You'll Love Coles and Woolworths Home Brand 11 to 12 gms a pie. So from 3 to 4 and a 1/2 teaspoons of fat in a pie. Salt - one third to half a teaspoon of salt in each, as much as or more than you should have in a day.

"If you're going to have anything else for the day you'll be wanting to choose lower salt. It's no surprise that pies still are a high fat food" Sharon says.

How do Chinese, Thai, Indian, Italian and fast food takeaways rate as a healthy meal?

First Thai-chicken with chilli and basil or popular pad Thai.

"If you look at the pad Thai, you've got fried noodles in there and oil so naturally the kilojoule content is going to increase a lot more you can see it glistening there which tells you there's a fair bit of oil in that dish. I'd definitely choose the chicken and some rice chilli in there you've got heaps of vegetables as well" says Caitlin Reid from the Australian Healthy Food Guide.

Thai Chicken with chilli and basil has 12 grams of fat, Pad Thai more than double, 30 grams. More fat than a McDonald's Big Mac with 25 gm. Thai green curry full of coconut cream is even fattier. Compared with a meat pie with an average 17 gm fat.

Indian - Chicken Tikka has 9 gms of fat, Chicken Korma almost 6 times more fatty, 51gm fat - 3 times more fat than in the average meat pie.

"The Chicken Tikka is definitely a better choice than the Chicken Korma, even down to the bread the roti which is made with wholemeal flour is definitely a better choice than the naan bread" says Caitlin.

Chinese - Beef and Blackbean has 9 gm, Sweet and Sour Pork with fried rice - whoops - 60grams of fat. 3 and a half times more than your average meat pie!

Italian: Napolitana is 12 grams, Carbonara 32 grams of fat.

"You're looking at twice the kilojoule content in a creamy based pasta compared to a tomato based pasta" says Caitlin.

So, in terms of fat, an average meat pie is not as healthy as Thai chicken with chilli and basil, Chicken Tikka, Beef and Blackbean or pasta Napolitana, but far healthier than Pad Thai, Chicken Korma, Sweet and Sour Pork and pasta Carbonara. The average pie has around 2 thirds the total fat of a big Mac, but our 2 pies with the highest fat levels (Mrs Macs and Michels) are almost as much as a Big Mac's.

"Look for those lighter pies as an option, but still it's good to keep things like meat pies and any pastry foods to around once a week" adds Sharon.