Deep Freeze: Taking a Longer Look at Healthy Frozen Food
By Martha Michael
If you’re a certain age you probably remember peeling back the foil on a TV dinner to expose a tray of compartments with meat, side dishes, and a tiny square of hot apple dessert. Morton and Swanson dinners were legendary, but the frozen food industry grew to include a range of popular merchandise.
From freshness to convenience, frozen foods have changed our lives, but shoppers need discernment to steer clear of unhealthy options.
As National Frozen Food Month draws to a close, it’s a good time to focus attention on the value of frozen products before putting March in the deep freeze.
History of Frozen Foods
An article by SupermarketNews.com has a timeline of the development of frozen food products. Quick freezing was first used in 1930 when it was introduced by Clarence Birdseye, a naturalist who saw that freshly caught fish when frozen immediately maintained its flavor after thawing. By the end of the decade, large companies such as steamship lines and railroads included frozen food on their menus.
In the 1950s there was an onslaught of frozen food products on the market that included fish sticks, potatoes, and waffles. From the 1960s to the 1980s, more American households depended on frozen meals as companies from Green Giant to Jeno’s rolled out everything from casseroles to frozen pizza snacks.
It’s the ease and convenience that makes frozen products practical, and it’s advertising that makes them appealing. Even the Frozen Vegetable Council gave its approval in 1988 by claiming that quick freezing vegetables locks in nutrients and taste.
Unhealthy Frozen Foods
In an ideal world we would have so much access to garden-fresh foods that every meal would be farm-to-table fare. Many Americans have lives that are fast-paced, and they rely on shortcuts when creating meal plans for the family. However, keeping the use of pre-packaged products to a minimum is a good idea.
An article on HealthShots.com talks about the risks involved in choosing the convenience of prepared products due to the health problems associated with frozen foods.
Risk of diabetes - Many companies use starch to keep the products fresh. It also makes the food more appealing because starch adds texture and taste but it’s converted to sugar in your body.
Risk of pancreatic cancer - Certain foods are harmful when they undergo the freezing process. Corn syrup, which is a common ingredient, has been deemed carcinogenic, as well as preservatives in such frozen foods as salami and sausage.
High blood pressure – Sodium is one of the most popular preservatives in frozen food; not only does it raise your blood pressure, it can contribute to stroke or heart disease.
Healthy Frozen Foods
Ingredients used in some of your best recipes are found in the freezer section, and though many believe that’s a bad sign, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re harmful. An article on Sharp.com discusses the healthiest options when reaching for frozen foods.
Because freezing acts as a preservative, especially for fruits and vegetables, frozen foods don’t always have artificial ingredients. Some research shows better retention of nutrients when frozen. In several studies, Vitamins A and C were found to be higher in frozen fruits and vegetables than the fresh samples.
Diet-conscious people sometimes claim frozen foods are fattening, but there are many frozen products designed for weight loss. They are often pre-cut and divided into healthy portion sizes.
There are steps you can take to make the healthiest choice when purchasing frozen food.
Look closely at the ingredients - Pass the frozen dessert section and temptations such as pizza bites. Look for packages listing lean proteins, whole grains and, of course, fruits and vegetables. Amy’s, Kashi, and Evol are a few of the brands featuring natural ingredients instead of preservatives.
Check the label for details - Serving size affects your waistline so do the math to be sure it fits your diet plan. Choose entrees with 10 grams of protein or more and avoid frozen foods with more than 600 milligrams of sodium.
Add your own improvements - You can buy a simple, one-ingredient frozen food and increase the volume and fiber content by adding fresh vegetables. If you have a penchant for less healthy frozen products, try pumping up the benefits by adding whole grains or protein to your guilty pleasure.
A lot has changed since the advent of today’s faster, pre-packaged food technology. You have a refrigerator, not an ice box, and you have far more dinner options than a Banquet chicken pot pie. On your next trip to the market, slow down when you reach the frozen food aisle. Hurrying may keep you on schedule but by reading the labels carefully and making healthy choices, the only thing you lose is a little time.
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