Most people who try to consume only high-quality food products are familiar with the hazards of the frozen aisle. Many frozen foods are highly processed, offer little nutritional value, and contain numerous ingredients that are detrimental to your health or else simply unnecessary. For these reasons, frozen foods are by and large far from the types of fresh, organic, healthy foods, that natural-health enthusiasts favor, and any reasonably healthy person avoids them as much as possible.
But frozen foods are not all bad. Simply making a food product cold does not in itself destroy its nutritional value or make it unnatural. What makes so many frozen foods so bad are all the things that are done to them in addition to being frozen. In other words, it is not that frozen foods are bad; it is that many bad foods happen to be frozen.
Acceptable frozen foods
The rule of thumb for anyone who tries to eat naturally is that the more steps a fruit or vegetable goes through on the way from harvest to plate, the less valuable it is. With that in mind, frozen fruits and vegetables that have not been processed in any way are unquestionably good. They were essentially harvested, frozen, and packaged—nothing more—and when unfrozen they will still have most of the nutritional content they had upon harvest.
Another great thing about frozen fruits and vegetables is that you can always look at the packaging to confirm that they have not been processed. As companies are required to list all the ingredients in a packaged food product, you can instantly tell whether there are additives or other unnecessary ingredient. For example, if a bag of frozen strawberries says, simply, “Ingredients: strawberries,” then you know the fruit has not been processed.
Continuing with the idea that fewer steps equals better quality, frozen juices are a level below unprocessed frozen fruits, but many are still good for you. You have to be selective, however, as many frozen juices are very far from fresh-squeezed and in fact have gone through numerous steps prior to the freezing process. If you must go the frozen-juice route, find some that are organic, that are not from concentrate, and that have not had the pulp removed. Even in this case, keep in mind that the nutritional value will be significantly lower than that of freshly squeezed juice.
Prepared frozen foods
Frozen prepared foods are easy to make and often tasty (though more often far inferior to their freshly made counterparts), but most have net negative nutritional value. Whatever vitamins and nutrients they may have are too often offset by the extraordinary amount of additive content they contain. To get a sense of what you are in for with a typical frozen meal, all you have to do is look at the ingredients list. On many frozen foods, the list reaches epic proportions, with numerous elements that the average person cannot even pronounce.
Most of these ingredients, unpronounceable and otherwise, are nonfood compounds that are added for a few reasons—some for artificial flavoring, others as preservatives, and others to produce food-like textures and coloring in food products that have been processed beyond recognition. Eating such chemicals may not seem like such a big deal in light of the fact that most people do it—and besides, the foods are FDA approved—but if you care about living healthily and naturally, the idea of putting all those things in your body should give you pause.
Ultimately, having a frozen meal from time to time probably will not have damaging health effects. These foods can be especially convenient during rough weeks when you have no time to cook. But it is important not to fall back on these foods as a matter of habit. They may be convenient, but in terms of nutritional value, they simply cannot compare to freshly made meals.
By Marc Courtiol