Time is a precious commodity nowadays and quick fixes for all situations, including daily meals and cooking ingredients, are always welcome and in demand. Many a working professional or parent will vouch that frozen fruits, vegetables, and dinners can turn out to be a boon. After all, who hasn’t felt the convenience of rustling up a quick meal from a frozen dinner! But do these meals add any nutritional value or are they just a stomach-filler? And what happens when you preserve produce through freezing? Let’s find out.
Farm Fresh to Frozen Produce
Freezing food for later use is not a new practice. Hunters and fishermen have long used cold spots and crevices to preserve their game during winters. Today, frozen fruits and vegetables are picked and frozen when they are ripe. This locks in the nutritional value. Unless you have access to farm-to-table fresh fruits and vegetables, those that go through the supply chain process and lie on supermarket shelves have actually lost a significant part of their nutritional value!1 Further cooking causes an additional loss of nutrients. Frozen fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, retain the initial nutrients at the time of storage. There is subsequent loss due to oxidation and that varies depending on the treatment once thawed. A study of a cross-section of frozen, canned, and fresh fruits and vegetables showed that, allowing for variations in storage and cooking methods, nutrient content was about the same across fresh and processed produce.2
Frozen Foods And Meals – A Completely Different Ballgame
At very low temperatures, microorganisms find it impossible to grow on food. Deterioration in the food quality, if any, is hence more due to chemical reactions like oxidation. But, unfortunately, the most effective and generously used preservative for cooked foods is sodium. In a study of nutrients in processed food, the three biggest nutrition killers among the constituents were found to be saturated fat (52%), sugar (75%), and salt (57%). In frozen foods, because it is a preferred preservative, the sodium content goes up even further.3
Dangers Lurking In The Can
If you check under the cover of your frozen dinner meal with a microscope, it won’t be a pretty picture. Scientists looked at the microbiological content in ready-to-eat and ready-to-bake frozen foods, particularly pastries. A 10-year study showed disturbing levels of food pathogens in the frozen pastries – salmonella, E.coli, and listeria numbers were off the charts. The consistency across the years shows that significant attention needs to be paid to hygienic conditions at the processing and storage stage.4
Frozen produce may actually be a suitable alternative to fresh fruits and vegetables, especially off-season. Frozen foods or meals, however, do not pack a nutritional punch. Overloaded with fat, sugar, and sodium, they are a shortcut to a meal but not a healthy one. Further, they are prone to food pathogens that can be lethal. Depending on the food, the level of reheating or cooking permissible may not be enough to destroy these pathogens. While all frozen foods are not infected, significant care needs to be taken to protect the consumer.
|↑1||Rickman, Joy C., Diane M. Barrett, and Christine M. Bruhn. “Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and phenolic compounds.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 87, no. 6 (2007): 930-944.|
|↑2||Rickman, Joy C., Christine M. Bruhn, and Diane M. Barrett. “Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables II. Vitamin A and carotenoids, vitamin E, minerals and fiber.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 87, no. 7 (2007): 1185-1196.|
|↑3||Weaver, Connie M., Johanna Dwyer, Victor L. Fulgoni, Janet C. King, Gilbert A. Leveille, Ruth S. MacDonald, Jose Ordovas, and David Schnakenberg. “Processed foods: contributions to nutrition.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 99, no. 6 (2014): 1525-1542.|
|↑4||Kotzekidou, Parthena. “Microbiological examination of ready-to-eat foods and ready-to-bake frozen pastries from university canteens.” Food microbiology 34, no. 2 (2013): 337-343.|