Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Fresh Versus Frozen Food: Which Is More Nutritious?

fresh vs frozen foodsIn the hierarchy of vegetables, the best choices are fresh, in-season, and local.

Realistically, though, that’s not always going to happen. For one thing, you might live in a climate where access to a variety of local and in-season vegetables just isn’t a thing. It’s also well established that lower income areas have fewer supermarkets, so fresh produce is less available.

Although home-grown is the best of the best, I know that saying, “Just grow your own!” is presumptuous on a lot of levels. Assuming that you have the space and resources to plant a garden, time is a big consideration. Plus, once they’re grown, preparing fresh vegetables takes more time than preparing frozen or canned, which are already washed and chopped for you.

All this is to say, I’m sure many of you find yourself turning to frozen and canned vegetables—as well as fruit, seafood, and meat—for reasons of availability and convenience. You might wonder if you are sacrificing any health benefits or if I’m giving you the side-eye for eating vegetables that aren’t farm-fresh.

Are Frozen and Canned Foods Inherently Less Primal?

Let me put that concern to rest immediately.

True, Grok would not have frozen or canned foods. Food preservation as a concept is nothing new, though. Just because a technology is new does not mean it’s “un-Primal.” I am not now, nor have I ever been, opposed to using modern methods of food preservation and storage that make it safer or more convenient to eat healthy foods. I like safety and convenience.

So, if you’ve been avoiding frozen or canned foods because you think you’ll have to turn in your Primal card, rest assured that isn’t the case. That said, I have historically avoided canned vegetables in the store due to concerns over BPA in the can linings. (Home-canned in jars is different, of course. I’m all for home canning.)

Since people sounded the alarm about BPA in the past decade, industry reports suggest a significant number of manufacturers have moved away from BPA-lined cans, but not all of them. I still strongly favor frozen over industrially canned vegetables. If nothing else, the taste and texture is usually superior. Nutritionally, though, the data show that frozen and canned are comparable overall.

Frozen Vegetables and Fruit: As Good As Fresh?

The frozen food industry dates back to 1925, when Clarence Birdseye began quick-freezing fish. It really took off after WWII as more homes had freezers. Since then, food scientists have worked to improve freezing, packaging, and transporting methods so that today (spoiler alert!) frozen foods are nutritionally comparable to their fresh counterparts. They also taste better and maintain a more pleasing texture and appearance compared to our grandparents’ frozen options.

Factors that affect nutrients in the produce you buy, whether fresh or frozen, include:

  • the particular nutrient in question,
  • the type of vegetable, including cultivar (what specific type of bean, apple, etc.),
  • growing conditions (soil, weather, and so on),
  • post-harvest handling and storage,
  • how you cook them.

Frozen vegetables are typically blanched before freezing to halt enzymatic reactions. This step cleans the vegetables and preserves flavor and texture, but the heat also reduces the levels of some nutrients, notably vitamin C.

On the other hand, fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and E and carotenoids are released from their cellular matrices by heat. This might make them more bioavailable in frozen foods. The jury is still out on the bioavailability question according to Dr. Diane Barrett of the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology. Fiber is relatively impervious to processing and so isn’t affected by freezing.

From Farm to Table

Although there is an initial loss of some nutrients in the freezing process, this seems to even out by the time the vegetables make it to your plate.

At the very top of the nutritional hierarchy are vegetables that go from dirt to plate with the fewest stops in between. The best option is picking vegetables out of your garden and eating them more or less right away. That’s not usually how it works, though.

Supermarket produce might have been in the supply chain for several weeks before you even purchase it (and it was almost certainly not allowed to fully ripen before harvesting). Even if you buy your produce at a local farmer’s market, several days to a week might pass before you consume it.

During that time between farm and plate, nutrients are oxidizing and degrading. On the other hand, frozen vegetables are usually picked at the peak of ripeness and frozen as quickly as possible to preserve the nutrients.

Show Me the Data

Li and colleagues measured vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folate in broccoli, cauliflower, corn, green beans, green peas, spinach, blueberries, and strawberries that were fresh, “fresh-stored” (refrigerated for five days to mimic what happens when we actually buy produce), or frozen. They found a high degree of nutritional similarity overall and further concluded, “In the cases of significant differences, frozen produce outperformed ‘fresh-stored’ more frequently than ‘fresh-stored’ outperformed frozen.

These findings are typical. Compared to fresh vegetables, frozen compare favorably in study after study. For example:

  • Two studies from Bouzari and colleagues at UC Davis compared eight common fruits and vegetables that were either stored in a refrigerator for 3 or 10 days, or frozen up to 90 days. For vitamin C, riboflavin, alpha-tocopherol (a form of vitamin E), calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, fiber, and total phenolics, the researchers concluded that fresh and frozen were highly similar, with frozen sometimes outperforming fresh.
  • British researchers measured vitamin C, total polyphenols, total anthocyanins, and carotenoids (beta-carotene and lutein) in six common fruits and vegetables. Immediately after purchase from the grocery store, fresh and frozen were mostly similar. Levels of nutrients tended to decrease in the fresh vegetables over three days of storage.
  • Researchers from Virginia Tech and the USDA found that 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, the most bioavailable form of folate, did not decline in seven common vegetables over 12 months in frozen storage.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Note that across all the studies, results varied somewhat between different types of produce and nutrients. Dr. Barrett also points out that there is little research beyond that looking at key vitamins. More is needed to examine other nutritive compounds, as well as to explore the bioavailability question.

Don’t get caught up in the minutiae, though. Looking at the big picture, researchers consistently agree that taking everything into consideration, frozen is on par with fresh-stored. Frozen vegetables also have favorable nutrient-to-price ratios.

Go Ahead and Hit Up the Freezer Section

The fact is, you can’t stand in a grocery store with a head of fresh cauliflower in one hand and a bag of frozen florets in the other and know for sure which has more nutrients. There’s no reason to feel bad about choosing frozen over fresh, especially when fresh seasonal and local options are lacking.

Consider, too, that if convenience is key, and your choice is between a frozen meal containing vegetables, or grabbing a drive-thru meal, the frozen food is often the better choice.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) longitudinal study, researchers compared adults who reported eating frozen meals or “restaurant fast food/pizza.” Using the standardized Healthy Eating Index, the frozen meal eaters scored higher overall and specifically for total vegetable intake and total protein food. They also had lower intake of refined grains and empty calories.

A separate analysis of NHANES data showed that people who eat frozen vegetables eat more total vegetables and get more fiber, potassium, calcium and vitamin D, than those who don’t.

In terms of covering your nutrient bases, your best option is to choose a wide variety of produce, fresh and local when possible, and frozen when needed. If you can grow some fresh herbs and a tomato plant outside your window, all the better.

What About Meat and Seafood?

The expert consensus is that frozen meat and seafood is also nutritionally on par with fresh.

For fish in particular, freezing is the only viable way besides canning for many consumers to access safe products. According to the Seafood Storage Guide from the National Fisheries Institute, most fresh fish (not shellfish) should be eaten within 36 hours of catching.

As a final note, if you opt for frozen food products, check out the USDA Freezing and Food Safety fact sheet and USDA guide to Safe Defrosting Methods to make sure you are maximizing safety and quality.

 

References

Composition of Foods Raw, Processed, Prepared. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28 (2015) – Documentation and User Guide.

Kmiecik W, Lisiewska Z, Korus A. Retention of mineral constituents in frozen brassicas depending on the method of preliminary processing of the raw material and preparation of frozen products for consumption. Eur. Food Res. Technol. 2007; 224:573–79.

Li, M. Ho, K., Hayes, M. Ferruzzi, M. G. The Roles of Food Processing in Translation of Dietary Guidance for Whole Grains, Fruits, and Vegetables. Annual Review of Food Science and Technology. 2019; 10:569-596.

MacTavish-West, H. Vegetables: is fresh best? The Journal of the Institute of Food Science and Technology. 2014.

Miller SR, Knudson WA. 2014. Nutrition and cost comparisons of select canned, frozen, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Am. J. Lifestyle Med. 2014; 8:430–37.

Produce for Better Health Foundation. State of the Plate: 2015 Study on America’s Consumption of Fruit & Vegetables.

Rickman JC, Barrett DM, Bruhn CM. Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and phenolic compounds. 2007; J. Sci. Food Agric. 87:930–44.

Rickman JC, Bruhn CM, Barrett DM. Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables. II. Vitamin A and carotenoids, vitamin E, minerals and fiber. J. Sci. Food Agric. 2007; 87:1185–96.

Villa-Rodriguez, J.A., et al. Maintaining antioxidant potential of fresh fruits and vegetables after harvest. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr. 2015; 55: 806–822.

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Valentine Candy Showdown – What to buy and NOT to buy

Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love seeing all the hearts everywhere and it brings back fond memories that I cherished as a child… making cute little valentines for all my friends, and of course, all that candy!

One thing I’m not looking forward to though is when my daughter starts going to school and gets offered candy like this to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I wish I could wipe all the candy like this from the earth…

To clarify – I’m not saying I wish to get rid of ALL candy…

But you don’t need to use risky and potentially toxic ingredients to make delicious candy. Of course, candy isn’t supposed to be healthy, but you don’t need to poison yourself (and your kids) just to have fun celebrating a holiday.

When shopping for treats, read the ingredient list and watch out for the worst of the worst additives commonly found in Valentine’s Day candy… 

ARTIFICIAL COLORS (like Red 40 and Blue 1): Derived from petroleum and linked to several health issues, including allergies and hyperactivity in children, which requires a warning label in Europe. May also be contaminated with carcinogens such as benzidine. (1)

ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS: Artificial flavors are complex chemical mixtures made in a lab using various substances like crude oil or coal tar, and can contain upwards of 100 ingredients (including some recently banned). Food companies don’t need to tell you anything about the ingredients actually in their artificial flavors – they just slap “artificial flavors” on the ingredient label – and we are left in the dark about what we are really eating. (1

BHT: Risky preservative linked to cancer. Unnecessary and much more heavily regulated in Europe or Australia. (1

Fruit snacks are not healthier than candy. They can be just as bad, if not WORSE.

Instead of candy, many parents are buying fruit snacks for their children to exchange at school. Unfortunately, the popular brands are not any better than traditional candy…

The key thing to remember about “fruit snacks” is that they are CANDY.

Even organic fruit snacks usually contain added sugar and I consider them candy. Organic fruit snacks are a slightly better candy option because they don’t contain artificial colors and a slew of unnecessary gums and emulsifiers. A much better option to candy would always be organic dried fruit. 

Quaker Chewy Valentine Minis are not a healthier option either.

Quaker Chewy Granola Bars may look like a healthier option to candy with “17 Grams of Whole Grains” and “No High Fructose Corn Syrup” called out on the front of the packaging. But don’t be fooled. They’re still PACKED with refined sugar and corn syrup along with sorbitol, artificial colors (Red 40, Yellow 6), refined soybean oil, and artificial flavors. 

Thankfully, there are better choices in Valentine’s Day treats.

Luckily for us, not all candy is made with controversial ingredients. There are many choices available that are delicious (and some are actually even nutritious). I plan to indulge in some decadent chocolates on Valentine’s Day – I love it, but I don’t buy the toxic stuff.

The first rule is choose organic whenever possible.

As a general rule, I like to choose organic food whenever possible, to lessen my exposure to pesticides and artificial additives (2). When it comes to chocolate, the cocoa bean is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world, so it’s very important to choose organic chocolate. Organic chocolate is made with organic dairy, which comes from cows raised without hormones, antibiotics, and GMO feed (3). Organic candy also doesn’t contain artificial colors, which are one of the worst additives found in children’s candy (4). 

And remember to ALWAYS read the ingredient list to see what is in the candy you buy.

I have a big list of Valentine’s candy swaps for you below. If you have little ones in school, many of them come in mini-packs which are great for valentine exchange parties. While these aren’t all perfect in terms of ingredients and not something I recommend eating on a regular basis (it’s candy!)… these options are way, way better than conventional Valentine’s treats, and you can find them at natural foods grocery stores or online (links provided below). 

Find these options online here:

If you’re wondering what kind of chocolate I personally like to eat, my favorite organic chocolate brands include:

Please spread the word and ask your friends and loved ones to start seeking out safer candy!

If you know anyone who would love these candy swaps, please share this post with them.

This Valentine’s Day, I want you to know how much you mean to me and to all of us here at Food Babe. We truly love you so much for being on our team and helping us change the food system. We’ve got a lot in store for you this year that we know you’re going to love. I can’t wait until you see what’s coming.

Xo,
Vani

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How To Make A Frittata

Wondering how to make a Frittata? They are super simple, and often pretty darn impressive if you have guests to serve.

Frittatas are one of the most simple breakfasts you can make. They can be made small for one person or larger for feeding more people. Just pick your pan and adjust the number of eggs accordingly!

A freshly made frittata sits sprinkled with fresh parsley in a black, cast iron pan in this guide to How To Make A Frittata

HOW TO MAKE A FRITTATA

Frittatas are made very simply. The basic steps are as follows:

  • Sauté tons of veggies.
  • Mix with a small bit of milk, cheese and raw, beaten eggs.
  • Bake in a casserole dish, cast iron skillet, tart pan or muffin tin.

All that being said, there are a few nuances to making a really good frittata, and I’m going to share all my tips with you here!

THE BEST FRITTATA TIPS:

  1. Fluffy eggs – If you want your frittata to be fluffy, you have to add in a small amount of heavy cream or full fat dairy. For those who are dairy free, full fat coconut milk will work if you don’t mind the very slight change in flavor (I actually prefer it!). It’s a small addition that really makes a huge difference. In a pinch, I’ve also used almond milk. It works, but not nearly as well as something that has some fat content.According to Bon Appetite magazine:

    For every dozen eggs you use, you’ll need a half-cup of dairy. Six-egg frittatas get a quarter-cup… Use too much dairy, and the eggs will be too loose. Use too little, and you’ll miss out on the creamy-luscious goodness. (source)

  2. Add stuff – For every 12 eggs, you can add about 3 cups of cooked veggies or add ins. The trick is, to make sure they are cooked first. Adding raw veggies won’t give you the full flavor that sautéd veggies will give you. And if you are using dried herbs, sauté them right along with your veggies.
  3. Don’t over cook – Even the frittata in the photo is slightly overcooked. The truth is, you don’t want a golden top. Frittatas should be ever so slightly undercooked to be just right. But I’m a fanatic about cooking things well, so I always end up with a golden-brown top. Is it overcooked, yep. But I’m personally okay with that. Others won’t be. The proper way to cook a frittata is to remove it from the stove before the top browns.

HOW TO MAKE A FRITTATA IN THE OVEN

This is the simplest way to make a frittata. All you have to do is use a cast iron skillet much like you would a casserole dish. Once you have whisked everything together (eggs and mix-ins), simply pour it into your skillet and pop it into the oven. Bake at 350 F. for 20-30 minutes. The best way to minimize on dishes for all of this is to sauté all your mix-ins in the cast iron skillet. Whisk your eggs in a separate bowl and then pour the eggs into the pan after the veggies are done. Then slide the whole thing into the oven. Easy!

HOW TO MAKE A FRITTATA ON THE STOVE

If you like your frittatas on the thinner side, then this demonstration from Bon Appetite is a great way to do it. It involves flipping your frittata, so you have to be comfortable with that. However, if that’s all too much work for you or you have a thicker frittata that is harder to make with their method, I have successfully made a stove top frittata by using a lid that fits my pan. You have to keep the heat relatively low and make sure you have plenty of oil in the bottom of the pan. Keep the heat on a medium-low setting and cover the pan tightly with a lid. While the cooking times will vary based on the size of your frittata, it’s possible to cook a frittata this way. The bottom will be well done, but I’ve never found this to be off putting. In fact, I kind of like it. Just keep in mind that with this method, you do have to watch things very closely. The moment the top of the frittata looks like it’s getting close to done, turn off the heat and leave the lid on. Let the heat in the pan finish cooking to your preferred doneness. Then cut and serve.

FRITTATA INGREDIENT COMBINATIONS

Not sure what mix-ins to add to your frittata? Here are some suggestions:

  • Fresh herbs and parmesan cheese
  • Spinach and feta cheese
  • Green chilis and red bell peppers
  • Mushrooms and asparagus
  • Sun dried tomatoes and olives
  • Extra veggies from your fridge – Frittatas can help use up leftover produce!

SKILLET FRITTATAS

So let’s look at the skillets you might want to consider. There are two types that work for a frittata.

  1. Cast Iron – A cast iron skillet is my go-to for making frittatas. They are durable, handle heat changes well and easily go from the stove top to the oven.
  2. Non-stick – A good quality non-stick pan (no Teflon please!) is perfect for stove top frittatas. If the stove top is your preference and you don’t mind flipping frittatas, then this may be the option for you.

WHAT TO COOK A FRITTATA IN OTHER THAN A PAN

You can cook frittatas in different types of dishes as well. The two main ones that most people use are:

  • Casserole dishes – For oven baking
  • Muffin tins – For oven baking – Basically portable frittatas (egg muffins!)

How To Make A Frittata

THE BEST CHEESE FOR FRITTATAS

You’ll find that everyone who loves frittatas has a very different opinion on what the best cheese is. I personally don’t use any because I can’t have dairy and my frittatas are delicious every time! But I can also understand the love of a good cheese.

A big part of which cheese you choose will depend heavily on what other types of mix-ins you use. For example, if you use sun dried tomatoes and Italian spices, then a good mozzarella or even ricotta will be good. If you use fresh herbs and light veggies such as asparagus and mushrooms, then parmesan is a great cheese to use. Feta is a favorite for many, especially a salty feta. So think about what mix-ins you’ll be using and pair your cheese accordingly.

Dairy really does add a lot of varied flavors and nuance to a frittata. Here are some basic suggestions:

  • Salty feta
  • Whole-milk ricotta
  • Goat cheese
  • Gruyere – Perfect for frittatas with spinach and other greens in it.
  • Burrata
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Grated parmesan cheese (the real stuff)

WHAT TO SERVE A FRITTATA WITH

Frittatas are typically the main event. But they are wonderful served with tasty sides as well. Here are some suggestions:

  • Country potatoes
  • A light, green salad (think spring mix)
  • A bean salad
  • A side of good quality bacon
  • Sautéd mushrooms (if you quiche doesn’t have them already)
  • A fresh fruit salad
  • Warm toast

Basically, any breakfast side dish that goes with eggs will work here. Enjoy!

HEALTHY FRITTATA RECIPES:

Here are a couple of recipes you can try:

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