Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: Buy Frozen
For a long time I’ve insisted on buying what I referred to as fresh fruits and vegetables for my family. It was my understanding that the fruits and vegetables from the produce isle were the best I could get without going to a farmers market. I had shunned the frozen varieties because I always thought the frozen ones were the retards of vegetable society, that they were the fruits and veggies that didn’t quite make the cut. I thought of them as the Junior Varsity level fruits and veggies. I was wrong – mostly. Frozen produce is usually of higher nutritional value than the non frozen produce that we find in grocery stores. The reasons for this actually make a lot of sense. I just never stopped to think about it. Keep in mind that I am talking comparing frozen to grocery store non-frozen.
The highest quality food we can get will always be the stuff we can grow ourselves. Not many of us can do that though. The next best option is a farmers market where vegetables and fruits are usually picked and sent to market within a day of harvesting. The down side is, of course, that lots of us live in areas where there is not a year round farmers market. That’s when we rely on the supermarkets. The fact about vegetables from the supermarket, organic or not, is that they are not picked at peak freshness. Because of long transit times they are picked before they are ripe and then allowed to “ripen” on their way to the market. That means that they never reach their full vitamin profile potential. Furthermore, they often times end up sitting on a produce rack, waiting to be bought, for at least a few days or maybe a week. That means they will actually start to leech out the vitamins that they do have. By the time you buy them they are nowhere near the quality of a farmer’s market fruit or vegetable.
“58 percent of the vitamin C found in freshly picked green beans is lost within three days” – Barbara P. Klein, Ph.D., of the Division of Foods and Nutrition, University of Illinois
Frozen Retains Freshness
Frozen foods retain their peak nutritional value because of the flash freezing process. They are harvested at their peak and they are frozen within a day or two. The flash freezing process doesn’t sacrifice any nutrients and it stops the ripening process so that none get lost. Flash freezing also helps break down the outer cellulose layer of many vegetables and thus aids in digestion when we eat them. There is one caveat to buying frozen fruits and veggies. There is a grading process by which the highest quality produce is labeled fancy. The fancy frozen foods are the best in terms of size, shape, freshness and color. Look for frozen foods labeled fancy and you won’t go wrong. Even better, you could buy organic frozen food. Organic refers only to the growing method. Organic produce goes through the same harvesting and shipping methods as its conventional counterparts; it will have lost nutrients in the same way. Buying veggies organic and frozen will keep pesticides out and nutrients in.
Boiling Wastes Nutrients
It is true that the recommended preparation method for frozen veggies will result in fewer nutrients. Water soluble nutrients like the B vitamins and vitamin C will be lost if the vegetables are boiled for too long. They get boiled off into the water and do not stay in the vegetable. One way to avoid losing those vitamins is, believe it or not, to microwave the vegetables. I’m not a huge fan of the microwave, but I mention it for people who aren’t scared of them like I am. What I do is use my frozen veggies in stews and soups. That way I get all the nutritional value and pay significantly less. If I do boil them on the stove top I use little water and don’t boil them for long. The water I do use is purified water so that I can just drink the excess at the end (only about a cup or two and it tastes pretty good).
“… data showed that the nutrient content level for certain nutrients was higher in the frozen version of the food than in the raw version of the food.” – FDA
You will find that not all frozen food packages contain only the ingredient in the picture on the package. Be sure to buy frozen foods where the only ingredient on the package is the fruit or vegetable that you’ve intended to buy. Avoid packages that have added sugar, syrup or any kind of citric acid or other preservative. If I buy frozen mangos the ingredient list should look like this:
What to do with your Frozen Fuits
I drink frozen wild blueberries almost every morning. I own a Vita-Mix blender that I use frequently. I throw my frozen fruits in there with some milk and turn the sucker on. In less than a minute I make my kids and I a smoothie. I don’t do anything fancy, maybe just a few fruits, some milk and a little bit of honey. If I soaked some almonds overnight then I also throw them in. It’s breakfast and it’s nutritious and easy.
Truly fresh produce is difficult to find. If you don’t live near a farmer’s market or you don’t grow your own food then finding nutritionally superior food can be hard. One way to do it is to buy it frozen. If you’re careful to prepare them in a way that doesn’t hurt the nutrients then it’s a win/win. You get all the benefit of eating quality food and you save money doing it. I’m not a gourmet; all I want is to get nutrients into myself and into my kids. I can’t prepare fancy meals or make pretty dishes. Foodies are particular about getting great tasting foods in order to make the greatest dishes. If I can get the same nutrients then I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of taste. Frozen foods don’t exactly taste awesome by themselves, but for those of us who are stupid in the kitchen they will certainly keep us healthy.