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Frozen Versus Fresh Produce – Which is better?

Fresh or frozen veggies?
Fresh or frozen veggies?

When I go grocery shopping, some of the things I put in my cart are what I call “good intentions” purchases. Fresh vegetables I intend on adding to a recipe, fresh fruit I intend on cutting up for a snack or fresh food I haven’t tried before that I intend to prepare and sample.

Then life interferes and I get sidetracked. A few days later, as I’m digging through my fresh produce, I notice some of the things have started to spoil. The more pressed for time I get, the more things go bad.

According to a 2012 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), "American families throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. In terms of total mass, fresh fruits and vegetables account for the largest losses..." The NRDC estimates that a family of four throws out between $1,365 and $2,275 in food annually. As food prices have steadily risen over the years since that report, those cost estimates have only gone higher.

There is a simple solution, buy more frozen fruits and vegetables. Here’s why.

Frozen produce is often cheaper than fresh. Shipping fresh food around the country results in bruises, damage and waste that translate into higher costs. Frozen food isn’t subject to the same loss rate. Even though it has to be constantly refrigerated, frozen produce is still often cheaper when compared pound for pound to fresh.

Frozen fruit and vegetables last much longer. Once it’s in your house, most frozen produce is good for a minimum of three months. Instead of being forced to use something up within a week, you can get the amount you need, close the bag and keep the rest for later.

Frozen food is more convenient. Since much of it comes already cut up, you don’t have to spend time cleaning and chopping everything. Considering how long that can take, you might easily save another 5 or 10 minutes when preparing a meal. That convenience pays health dividends as well. With produce always at hand, you’re likely to eat more. Half of Americans don’t get the minimum amount of fruit and vegetables in their diet daily and frozen food can fill in the gaps.

Frozen produce is just as healthy, and in some cases may be healthier than fresh. More than 40 tests have been run comparing fresh versus frozen produce. In two-thirds of the tests, the British Frozen Food Federation found that, “frozen fruits and vegetables had higher levels of vitamin C, total antioxidant polyphenols, lutein, beta-carotene and anthocyanins (antioxidant compounds found in foods such as berries) than fresh produce after refrigerated storage.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables slowly lose their vitamins as they are packed and shipped to their final destinations. Some items can travel a week or more before they make it to the grocery store. Meanwhile, frozen produce is flash-frozen at the peak of ripeness, locking much of their nutritional content in.

When you’re ready to buy, look at the ingredient list. You should avoid things with sauces; they tend to be heavy in sugar and fat. Skip anything with added sugars and salt as well. You just want bags of fruit or vegetables, nothing else.

Cooking frozen produce is easy. Simply put them in a microwave with a teaspoon of water in a small dish. Microwaving is fast and preserves most of the water-soluble vitamins. If you’re adding them to a casserole, thaw them out quickly in a colander under cold water and then stir them in.

Re-seal with freezer-safe bags. Most vegetable bags can’t be effectively closed once you open them. Transfer the produce to freezer-safe bags, write a date on them and put them back. This helps avoid freezer burn.

Use things up within three months of purchase. Even frozen foods slowly lose their taste and most experts suggest they’re best within the first three months. The next time you’re at the supermarket, consider frozen along with the fresh.

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