By: Dr. Keith Kantor
As a whole Americans eat less then one third of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables recommended daily. It is important to emphasize that any fruit and vegetables are better then no fruits and vegetables. Taking that into consideration the nutritional value of the fruits and vegetables is also a concern among consumers.
If you are the nutritional “gatekeeper” of your home you are the one who plans, shops and cooks most of the meals. This person has a major influence over the state of health of the family. Sometimes with busy schedules and daily stress the gatekeeper takes short cuts. They find themselves turning to the freezer for a bag of vegetables instead of fresh options simply because they did not plan properly. Good news- frozen fruits and vegetables are actually just as healthy and even sometimes more healthy then the fresh options. Canned fruits and vegetables do not retain nutrition as good as the fresh and frozen alternatives.
Frozen Vegetables are Time Savers.
One of my favorite things about keeping frozen options on hand is that they don’t require any washing, peeling, or chopping. And for many of my patients that benefit is the sole reason veggies wind up on their plates. One study found that working-women spend, on average, less than one hour a day preparing, serving, eating, and cleaning up after meals. That’s not under an hour for each meal – it’s less than one hour for all daily meals! Because frozen produce is prep-free, reaching for it can save you a ton of time, allowing you to make healthy dishes at home, rather than opting for takeout or the drive through.
In winter, it may not be the quality of the fresh produce that scares us off as much as the price. Frozen vegetable prices, though, are fairly stable throughout the year. And it’s tough to beat the convenience of keeping several bags of frozen vegetables sitting in the freezer, with not a worry in the world about having to use them before they turn brown.
Here is the best part- Nutritionally speaking, frozen veggies are similar to — and sometimes better than — fresh ones. Vegetables that are flash-frozen (which suspends their “aging” and nutrient losses) immediately after being harvested are the best. Frozen veggies and fruits are often picked in the peak of their season, which means they have the most nutritional value at this time.
Elaine Magee, MPH RD (also known as “The Recipe Doctor“) performer a nutritional comparison on both fresh and frozen broccoli florets (uncooked), and the frozen broccoli contained a bit more vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin C, and folic acid. A recent government study found no change in amounts of folic acid found in veggies after 12 months of freezing. So don’t let nutrition stop you from buying frozen vegetables.
Fresh fruits and veggies produce enzymes (trypsin and chymotrypsin) that cause loss of color, flavor, and nutrients just after harvest, but the reaction can be stopped by deactivating the enzyme, this is what freezing can do. This leaves the frozen veggies with more nutrients . (When done right, that is — the storage process can also cause some nutrients to be lost because oxidation. Produce that is best frozen are those fruits and vegetables with high amounts of fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamin A, cartenoids, and vitamin E, because they are more stable during the food processing and storage (like blanching and freezing).
They do not have additives
Because freezing preserves food, no unwanted additives are needed in bags of frozen goodies, like spinach and berries. In addition, “naked” produce (e.g. no added salt or sugar) is the norm, so it’s incredibly easy to find fruits and veggies with single word ingredient lists–simply the fruit or veggie itself. To be sure, always check the ingredients, but I bet you’ll find at least a dozen varieties in the freezer aisle with absolutely nothing added.
Meal Preperation Tips
Be cautious during meal preparation. Studies suggest thawing frozen veggies before cooking can actually speed up vitamin C loss in frozen green vegetables such as peas, spinach, okra, and green beans.
Get the most nutrition and value out of your vegetables by keeping these things in mind. Go easy on the temperature and cooking time, and limit the amount of water you use for cooking veggies loaded with vitamins B and C (remember, water soluble vitamins will quickly vanish in the presence of water).
And here’s some good news for the microwave chef: Studies suggest microwaves have little effect on the nutritional quality of fruits and veggies, much like conventional ovens. However microwaves have several other negatives, try to use the oven instead when time allows.
The advantage of frozen fruits and vegetables is that they usually are picked when they’re ripe, and then blanched in hot water to kill bacteria and stop enzyme activity that can spoil food. Then they’re flash frozen, which tends to preserve nutrients. If you can afford it, buy frozen fruits and vegetables stamped USDA “U.S. Fancy,” the highest standard and the one most likely to deliver the most nutrients. As a rule, frozen fruits and vegetables are superior nutritionally to those that are canned because the canning process tends to result in nutrient loss. (The exceptions include tomatoes and pumpkin.) When buying frozen fruits and vegetables, steer away from those than have been chopped, peeled or crushed; they will generally be less nutritious, because the nutrients leach out when the produce is broken down.