What’s the Deal?
As a busy family on the run we’re often looking for ways to make our household more efficient. I’ve often wondered what’s up with frozen fruits and vegetables. Are they healthy? Are they fake? Do they have weird sci-fi sounding chemicals added to them to keep them fresh? Are they just for cheap or lazy people? Up until now, the only thing I’ve ever known about frozen fruits and vegetables:
- They make great ice packs after a sports injury.
- They’re usually found in the back of people’s freezer with an elastic wrapped around them.
Well I finally decided to let my fingers do the walking and find out what’s up with frozen fruits and vegetables.
Shopping the Perimeter
Since loosing 100 lbs and starting my journey down the road to health and fitness I realized that:
- Working out was the easy part.
- Eating right was the hard part.
Sound backwards doesn’t it? North American’s are eating themselves to death. It’s a minefield out there. You can’t drive 2 minutes in any major city without seeing a fast food drive thru. You can’t walk 2 steps in a grocery store without seeing something sugary and enticing.
Navigating the grocery store and attempting to shop for healthy foods can sometimes be a downright pain in the ass. Every Dr.Oz episode or health and fitness website pulls you in all kinds of different directions. I read something a few years back that made perfect sense to me and I’ve tried to follow it ever since. CrossFit actually did a beautiful job of summing it up:
“Keeping your grocery cart to the perimeter of the grocery store while avoiding the aisles is a great way to protect your health. Real food is perishable. The stuff with long shelf life is all suspect.”
Doesn’t get any easier than that. But what about frozen fruits and veggies? If memory serves me right those big noisy freezers are not usually located around the perimeter of most grocery stores? Frozen foods for some reason have got a bad rap in the past. For some reason they’re associated with processed genetic junk. This could not be further from the truth. Some of the healthiest options in your grocery store are no further than the freezer aisle.
So what’s wrong with “fresh” produce?
Nothing is better than growing your own food. The majority of us are working class stiffs with limited time so for most the hippie option is out. The next best move would be your local farmer’s market where you can buy locally grown and in season fruits and veggies. Then there’s your local supermarket. Supermarkets do their darndest to try to convince shoppers to pay a premium for food that is healthy and tasty.
This applies to ‘organic’ food as well. Many stores even use fine mist sprays to give a ‘just picked’ look and not to keep food fresh and moist like they want you to believe. Most of the grocery store fresh produce you think you’re buying was actually picked over 1,500 some odd miles away. It most likely had to travel by truck across countries before showing up on the shelf. As a result, the fruits and vegetables you and your family are consuming, may have been harvested before they ever reached their nutritional peak. Then they were artificially ripened during transport…gross! The reality to all this is that these fruits and vegetables were likely held in storage for a month, then sat in your fridge at home for days before being eaten. Many studies by food research institutes (just Google and you’ll find tons) have discovered that produce can lose up to 45% (that’s almost half!) of their essential nutrients from the time they’re picked to the time they show up on the Smith’s family dinner table.
Benefits of frozen produce
Depending on the season, frozen fruits and vegetables could actually be the healthier option.
- Fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing tend to be at their peak ripeness, a time when they are most nutrient-packed. They’re allowed to fully ripen, which means they’re chock full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The freezing “locks in” many of their nutrients that is usually lost in the long truck ride from say Mexico to Toronto.
- On the other hand, fruits and vegetables destined to be shipped to the fresh produce aisles around your grocery store are usually picked before they are ripe. This gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. These vegetables will never have the same nutritious value as if they had been allowed to fully ripen.
The process is pretty simple:
- Fruits and vegetables destined to be frozen are usually picked when they’re at their peak ripeness, then blanched, boiled or steamed, and then flash frozen.
- Blanching them in hot water or steam will kill the bacteria and food-degrading enzymes, which is a good thing.
If you’re worried about frozen produce containing weird ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t be. Most commercial freezing happens:
- In cold air kept in motion by fans called blast freezing.
- The other popular method is by placing the food in packages or metal trays on refrigerated surfaces which is also known as contact freezing.
Canned fruits or vegetables any better?
NO! As a general rule canned fruits and vegetables tend to lose a lot of nutrients during the preservation process (think like, as in adding salt and other weird sounding chemicals) but, yet there are a few notable exceptions such as tomatoes and pumpkin.
Think frozen veggies are just limited to broccoli, peas, cauliflower and carrots? Look a little closer next time you’re in the freezer aisle. Most larger grocery stores carry quite a variety of frozen produce such as:
- Peppers, asparagus, mushrooms, spinach and radishes to name a few.
- Berries, apples, peaches, mango ect.
The convenience of frozen produce can’t be beat. Frozen vegetables are not only healthy and nutritious they are quick and easy. This compliments most people’s busy and hectic family lives. The fresh green beans you buy at the grocery store may turn limp and brown in your refrigerator after several days. A bag of frozen green beans will keep in your freezer for months with no change in quality. Same would apply to the handful of strawberries you enjoy with your morning yogurt.
It’s nice to come home after a long day and just open up your freezer and choose a bag of vegetables for you and your family. A quick microwave minute, or hot water boil, some olive oil and voila! You have a quick and nutrition dish to add to your table. It took just as long to prepare as it would have to call your local Tai takeout place (sometimes I think my wife loves Tai food more than me btw). Now imagine if you had to trek over to the grocery store. After a long day at work. To sift through what’s left from the mediocre and expensive off-season produce selection.
Eating fruits and vegetables regardless of how they were processed, will always be the healthier option to Taco Bell or a bag of chips. Fresh, local, in season fruits and vegetable will always be our family’s first choice. After doing a bit of research I think our opinion might be changing. Our next and most realistic option now seems to be frozen fruits and veggies. Where we live it’s cold and snowy in the winter months. We ain’t gonna be walking barefoot to our backyard banana tree in January.
So how about you? What’s your take on fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables? We would love to hear your opinions and welcome your comments.
Disclaimer: As always, I was never smart enough to go to medical school or have fancy titles and letters in caps and lower case behind my name. Read at your own risk…..
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