Mythbusting: Fresh vs. Frozen
One of the reasons why I started writing this blog is because I wanted a forum to address the abundance of misinformation I see and hear regularly about food and nutrition. Last week I came across such an item in my daily newspaper – not some chump rag but the Washington Post, of all things - that was so misleading I was shocked that Post editors actually printed it. The main point – in fact, the headline - was to convince readers why fresh is better than frozen. However, the points made contained broad generalizations and half-truths, comparing the best of fresh with the worst of frozen.
The fact is, there is a place in a healthy diet for all types of food: fresh, frozen, dried, canned, squeezed, juiced, etc. Since it’s now summertime, with fresh produce in abundance at farmers markets and on sale in grocery store, it’s easy to forget certain benefits of choosing packaged or frozen foods. I regularly dig into my freezer when I make a home cooked meal, no matter the season. But I digress – let’s tackle the issues:
- I have not come across any scientific basis to support the author’s point about freezing decreasing the nutrient value of a meal, especially since her next few sentences are about vegetables and fruits. The frozen vs. fresh argument here is totally out of place and seriously misleading. Fresh in-season produce that’s picked and harvested at its prime do tend to deliver more nutrients than if the same produce is picked before it is ripe. But fruits and vegetables destined for the freezer case have been picked at their prime then flash-frozen to seal in the nutrients. So you might actually get more nutrients in your frozen blueberries than you would eating the same berries picked in the spring (blueberries hit their peak in July, typically). Just be sure your bag of frozen berries doesn’t have added sugar, or the box of frozen veggies doesn’t have added preservatives or artificial flavors.
- Related to this point – did you know that canned pumpkin and tomatoes deliver more nutrients than their raw versions? That’s partly because the canning process involves heating the food at high temperatures, which makes nutrients such as lycopene in tomatoes, available to be better absorbed by the body. So chalk one up in favor of processed over fresh.
- The point about fresh fruits having higher water content and are thus more hydrating is true – but it’s also true that dried fruits deliver more iron…so there’s that. If you’re really worried about hydration, drink an extra glass or two of water.
- And while I might be inclined to agree that in theory a home-cooked meal is perhaps a better alternative to a frozen TV dinner, I would also agree that homemade spaghetti carbonara is less healthful than a frozen, portion-controlled meal. Though its true many packaged and frozen meals may have ingredient lists as long as the box they come in, there are many nutritious frozen foods and meals with wholesome, recognizable ingredients. Read the label.
The bottom line here, folks: don’t knock it because it’s frozen (or canned, or dried, or – gasp! – processed). Just know what you’re eating, even if it means looking at ingredients on the side of a box, can or carton.
Photo credits: iStockphoto