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Category: Nutrition

The 5 Keys to Buying Frozen Food

By: Austin Perlmutter, MD, Medical Student, Miller School of Medicine

When it comes to mealtime, most of us prefer a meal made from fresh produce to its frozen equivalent. But in today’s whirlwind of obligations and timetables, that’s not always a viable option. Luckily, frozen food has come a long way in taste and practicality, contributing to the 224.74 billion dollar annual global market for the products. Supermarkets highlight rows and rows of attractive ready-to-heat appetizers, side dishes, entrees and desserts, and for many of us, this can be an excellent way to stock up on healthful foods. However, the frozen food department may also be a dangerous place for the health-conscious. Here are the 5 things you need to know to navigate frozen foods successfully:

  1. Buy real foods: The easiest way to successfully buy healthy frozen food is to ensure that you know what you’re buying. For example, if you’re buying strawberries, read the label to make sure the only ingredient is strawberry. The healthiest options in the frozen food section, like the fresh food section, will always be whole, unadulterated foods.
  2. Get the most bang for your buck: Vegetables and fruits can be frozen at the peak of their season, and some data shows that these frozen versions can have higher levels of vitamin A, vitamin C and other important nutrients than their fresh counterparts. Because these foods can be effectively stored when they are most abundant, you can buy larger quantities for less. In addition, opened frozen food won’t spoil as quickly as fresh food, leading to less waste at home, and more savings.
  3. Read the labels: Marketing and food science have enabled frozen food to approach fresh meals in palatability. But this taste comes at a cost. While freshly cooked entrees can rely on the naturally occurring tastes of the foods, frozen entrees are usually heavily modified to achieve the same level of consumer enjoyment. This means tons of added sugar, salt and unhealthy fats. For example, FDA data showed that 80 percent of frozen breakfast products contain trans fat. Ingredients you can understand are always better than scientific jargon.
  4. Serving size control: Frozen food plays a clever trick on us with its packaging. We heat a meal knowing it’s designed for one person’s consumption, and therefore consume the entire thing. Dishes that emphasize carbohydrates and cheeses are among the highest in calories, and are worthwhile to avoid. On the other side of the spectrum, meals that promote low calorie content are probably not giving you much in the way of nutrition, and instead you’re paying for empty space.
  5. The rules haven’t changed: Frozen food is great because it’s so convenient. When we get home late, or need a quick meal on the go, it’s readily on hand. But the same rules that apply to any meal are still valid here. Eating a frozen pizza, whether it’s “all natural” or “deep dish extra cheese” is still eating a pizza. Likewise, don’t think that because your frozen meal includes a small dessert that it’s somehow different from any other apple pie. Frozen snacks may be easy to thaw, but if they’re chicken nuggets and fried mozzarella sticks, they’re not doing you any health favors.

For more information, order your copy of Grain Brain today and join Dr. Perlmutter’s email list.

  • Brenda Ireland

    I also look for organic frozen fruits to use in my smoothies. Thanks for the tips!

    • David Perlmutter

      Happy to provide valuable information!

  • fatima

    Does the bags contain BPA if there is no BPA free statement?

  • ri

    hi what are the best frozen food lunches for health conscious women -even lean cuisine and smart choice brands don’t seem to offer the most healthful options-I prefer to pack my own lunch for work but if im really pressed for time I need to know what the best brands on the market are for frozen lunches/dinners -thanks or can someone share some ideas for quick easy lunches to prepare the night before or the next morning

    • TheToxicologist

      Pick a day where you prepare your own meals for the week. Freeze or fridge them in containers. Prepare soups, stocks, meats, veggies, etc.
      Depends on your dietary habits.. I eat pretty simply. Fast food to me is an avocado, for instance.

      • ri

        great tips and I absolutely loveee avocados! but I need to know when I have no time to prepare meals what frozen meal I can get from the grocery store -the frozen entrees are either really unhealthy and high calorie or low calorie and marketed as healthy but totally lack nutrition

        • Beekindanyway

          To my knowledge there isn’t much out there. Check labels and watch for salt and sugar content. You will need to double or triple on the green and leafy vegetables and bring separately with you. Avoid those that have full 3 or 4 course meals which include bread and dessert. Be prepared to discard the offensive foods, like the pasta, bread, sauce and dessert. The best is to avoid those type of foods completely. Grill or steam chicken breast, organic beef liver, etc, once a week and separate in meal portions. Have brocoli and cauliflower florets in a large bag in the fridge ready to make lunches in the morning. Bring both steamed and raw vegetables. Also take with you a tomato and an avocado. Bring a half lemon with you to flavor your food with. You shouldn’t get hungry with all that. Your desert can be a coule of squares of 90% Lindt dark chocolate. Good luck.

      • David Perlmutter

        Great suggestion. Batching activities like that saves time and makes it easier to stick to your dietary habits.

  • SRTP

    I am vegetarian and would like to adopt your low carb diet. I love the recipe section in the book, but many contain meat and fish. I read in the book that soy products (tofu, soy burgers and hot dogs are to be avoided). I am unclear as to what I can substitute for meat and fish. Help!

    • David Perlmutter

      Look to things like nuts and seeds, as well as healthy fat sources like avocados.

  • ARF

    I have lost my hearing in the past 10 years at a slow rate. The doctor believes I have inherited a gene that causes this. Is there a nutritional approach to help this? I have also developed Type 2 Diabetes and take Metformin. I also have high blood pressure that is controlled with medication. I am trying to stay away from carbs as you advice.

  • DLow

    I am having trouble turning off my mind to sleep. I have tried Chamomile tea, magnesium & melatonin…..any suggestions?

    • David Perlmutter

      In this situation, it can be surprising how big an impact little changes can have. Have you tried showering before bed, setting a new pre-bed routine, removing electronics from the bedroom, and putting more distance between your last meal and bed time?

  • LLCorsetti

    My A1C is 5.7. My dad had Alzheimer’s and bThalassemia minor. I have bThalassemia minor also. Can the hemoglobin variant skew the A1C? Thank You Dr. P.

  • Roger Bradford

    I always run a high cholesterol around 250 with HDl 88 and LDL 133. I exercise an average of 1 to 2 hours a day, eat mostly grain brain recipes and take red yeast rice and no flush niacin. Do you have any recommendations?

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