We take our freezers for granted, but if you want to enjoy tip-top nutrients all year round it’s worth thinking inside the box, argues Anna Blewett.
While the deep freeze aisle is home to some nutritional nasties – convenience meals high in salt, sugar and saturated fat – it’s also host to some heroes. “A lot of nutrients aren’t affected by the freezing process,” points out Dr Sarah Schenker, registered nutritionist and dietitian. “Important minerals, potassium for example, remain intact so you find the same amount whether your food is frozen or fresh. Then you’ve got other vitamins, like vitamin C and some of the B vitamins. They can be affected, initially dropping during the freezing process. But once they’re frozen those levels are locked in. And while fresh kale, for example, will have a higher amount of vitamin C when it’s at its freshest, that vitamin C slowly declines as time passes. A food doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘gone off’ for the vitamins to have declined significantly. So when we compare fresh and frozen foods we can’t necessarily say one is more nutritious or nutritionally inferior without a little more context.”
COST AND CONVENIENCE
Ntritional comparisons aside, other factors suggest frozen foods will always have a role to play in a healthy diet. “A massive advantage of frozen ingredients is that no matter whether they’re in season they are always there, always available,” points out Dr Schenker. “If you’ve got a bag of berries or peas in the freezer, you’ll always have a ready source of nutritious food.” Seafood is another great example; Government guidelines recommend that a healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish each week. With much of the seafood available in your local frozen aisle blast-frozen at sea, it’s easy to have super-fresh fish on ice. Frozen food is cheaper to transport and store, which is why some frozen ingredients are less than half the price of their fresh counterparts. It also explains the massive growth in availability of smoothie mixes, as more of us chose to enjoy the benefits of blitzed fruit and veg without the eye-watering expense associated with many fresh berries.
FREEZE YOUR OWN
Food processors are quick to suggest that their frozen foods are more likely to be picked at the point of ripeness than those sold as fresh, but there’s only one way to make sure. Spring is here, and with it the fantastic fresh, British-grown ingredients that are a joy to cook. Asparagus, forced rhubarb and new potatoes herald the start of our nation’s main growing season, and an excellent opportunity to fill your freezer with ingredients to last the year around. “Freezing your own produce, or buying berries in season and freezing them for use in winter, is a really great idea,” says registered nutritionist Karen. Nutritious leafy greens, beans, and other veg – at their freshest, ripest and cheapest at farmers markets in the summer months – will need ‘blanching’, a speedy exposure to heat that halts harmful enzymes that otherwise survive the freezing process. “The problem with blanching in boiling water is that water-soluble vitamins will leech out,” says Karen, “so always steam rather than boil. And make sure that you use foods within six months of freezing to enjoy them at their best.” A healthy taste of summer all year around? Sounds good to us.