Frozen Vegetables & Fruit - Worse for You Than Fresh?
When is the last time you had some colorful veggies? What about some fresh fruit?
If you are reluctant to answer that question, did you know that Americans only get about one-third of the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables?
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Between prepackaged highly-processed convenience meals and cheap fast food, it's hard to justify "spending so much" on healthy foods... Right?
So why don't we eat enough fruits and veggies?
Is it because you don't know how to prepare them? Maybe you don't know how to tell if they are ripe enough. Whatever the excuse, I can help you get more fruits and veggies into your diet.
The Great Debate: Fresh vs. Frozen
Traditional wisdom says that fresh is always going to win vs its frozen counterpart, right?
As the process of blanching and flash freezing fruits and vegetables improves, popular recommendations are changing as more studies show no significant difference in nutrition between fresh and frozen.
I've always liked to cook, but I never really threw down in the kitchen until I started buying frozen fruits and veggies along with some fresh.
For me, choosing the right foods can be broken down into four categories. They are unconventional, but it works for me.
The first thing I ask myself is: "Do I know what to look for to find the best produce?"
For me, bananas are the easiest to tell. There are different stages in a banana's life, and you can see them pretty easily.
For other fruits and veggies, there are many caveats; the stiffness of the produce, the colors, the shapes, etc.
If I'm unsure if I can pick out the best (or good enough) fresh produce, I may buy the flash-frozen version.
Before you cook them, what does the preparation look like?
If you need to cut, dice, or julienne your veggies, do you have the proper cutlery? What about the knife skills?
I take all of this into account before I buy. If I don't have enough time to try my hand at knife skills, I am more than happy to buy the frozen counterpart.
Do you know how to cook your veggies?
Buying fresh veggies and turning them into a tasty dish can be pretty straightforward, however, there may be some things that you are unfamiliar with cooking.
If you are not feeling adventurous enough, sometimes buying some frozen corn or mixed veggies to heat up in the microwave works better.
How long does your food last? Fresh veggies have a shelf life, so if you aren't planning on consuming them within a reasonable amount of time, you may want to buy frozen.
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In order to get the most nutritious "bang for your buck," you gotta buy fresh, right?
Varying from food to food, one study showed higher levels of lutein, which is a carotenoid that prevents macular degeneration and eye problems, in uncooked spinach versus its cooked counterpart.
Vitamins can degrade in fresh produce over time, but many nutrients are hardier than most people would assume. Iron is practically bulletproof, while fiber doesn't care if it's heated or frozen.
Ali Bouzari runs studies comparing fresh and frozen produce and runs a culinary research and development company out in Sonoma County, California.
Dr. Bouzari has been noted saying "the differences in nutrient levels between fresh and frozen are so minor that they would be unlikely to have an impact on overall health, and dieticians generally encourage people to eat as many fruits and veggies as they can, in whatever form they enjoy."
Fresh vs. Frozen Cheat Sheet
Foods with high amounts of vitamin B and C are best fresh due to the fact these vitamins are water-soluble.
Processing these foods will leach nutrients out of them.
Veggies in the brassica family like cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are typically better fresh than frozen since they retain their phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Foods high in fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin A, carotenoids, and vitamin E are more stable during food processing and storage.
Wrapping It Up
Getting a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet should be priority number one.
Spend time finding recipes or creating your own recipes that will give you a wide variety of colors and flavors. If that means you need to buy frozen Mirepoix for your soup instead of standing there cutting up fresh produce, go for it.
If you like eating fresh fruits but frozen veggies, that's okay.
There is minimal impact on nutrients in fresh versus frozen produce. Choosing what works best for YOU is important.
Buy yourself a cookbook and start creating some tasty, healthy dishes.