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By Lisa Browdy
While you can't beat the taste and nutrition of a fresh, locally-grown summer tomato, you have to give props to the ease and affordability of frozen produce, especially this time of year. Some might believe that they aren't as good for you as fresh, but that could not be further from the truth.
Commercially grown fresh produce is often picked before it's fully ripe, to help preserve it during the long storage and shipping process. But this means that vitamins and phytonutrients don't have time to fully develop. In contrast, produce purchased frozen was picked at the peak of ripeness and then protected from heat and light that can degrade some of the more delicate nutrients.
In addition to the great nutrition, frozen fruits and veggies are super easy to use. No washing, slicing or pitting is required – simply open the bag and toss it into your soup, stir-fry or smoothie.
Here's a bonus: You won't have to worry about the produce going bad before you get around to using it if it's in your freezer.
Is the cost of organic produce is an inhibiting factor? Then frozen is the way to go. "You'll find savings and nutrition in the frozen food section, even in organics," says Julia Evans of Whole Foods. "You save money and time, because all the cutting and peeling have been done for you."
I compared the organic frozen mixed vegetables from Whole Foods to a similar conventionally-grown product at the Jewel, and the price difference was only 20 cents. So frozen is a great way to try going organic if you haven't before.
When cooking frozen fruits and vegetables, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- For best nutrition, steam or microwave frozen produce. If you boil them in water, a lot of the nutrients leach out (not a problem if you are making soup, because you'll ingest them through the broth).
- Try to eat your frozen produce within a few months. Even frozen, nutrients degrade over time.
- Choose packages marked with a USDA "U.S. Fancy" shield, which designates produce of the best size, shape and color.
I love berries for their sweetness and their healthy antioxidants. Mixed Berry Crisp is one one of my favorite ways to bring summer berries back to a winter day, and does double duty as a tasty breakfast or dessert. Substitute white whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose flour and no one will even guess, I promise.
And what about canned produce? I have learned that canned vegetables tend to lose a lot of nutrients during the preservation process, but of course they still have most of their fiber. However, Everyday Health says that canned pumpkin and canned tomatoes are the two exceptions to that rule. You won't get that exact summer tomato experience out of a can, but you'll know the nutrients are still there.