Frozen Food: Friend or Foe?

By Angharad May

When it comes to food, fresh is best, right?  30% of Brits would agree, alongside the belief that frozen-food is inferior to fresh. There is a widespread frosty attitude towards frozen food which is subjected to a snobbish banishment for being nutritiously mediocre. Is it really so unhealthy?

Of course, the existence of notoriously unhealthy frozen food products cannot be denied; ready meals being a discernible example, full of saturated fat, salt and sugar. What about frozen fruits and vegetables? To the dismay of frozen-food-shunners, nutritional scientists with scientific evidence, state that these products can be equally, or even more nutritious than fresh, making frozen foods an affordable means to acquire nourishment. How so?

Fruit and vegetables are picked at their peak-ripeness, when they are at their most nutrient-packed. Next, they are rapidly blast-frozen within a few hours, pausing their deterioration process. Vitamins, minerals and flavour are retained and preserved and there is no change to their carbohydrate, protein or fat contents.

In the process of freezing vegetables, the first step is to blanch them, to kill harmful bacteria and halt any food-degrading enzymes. A consequence of this is the breakdown of water-soluble nutrients which sees the loss of around 50% of vitamin C and some B vitamins. Apart from this, the produce is locked in a nutrient-dense state. Despite the loss of vitamin C, frozen foods still often contain higher levels than fresh products which begin to deteriorate as soon as they are harvested. If frozen products are stored for over a year, some nutrients begin to break down, although, generally speaking, freezing allows the preservation of nutrients in fruit and vegetables.

Fruit and vegetables that are not frozen are often lower in nutrients. It can take anywhere from three days to 12 months before reaching supermarket shelves after being picked, exposed to heat and light along the journey; these factors contribute to them losing nutritional value. The aforementioned vitamins C and B are highly sensitive to oxygen, heat and light, making them susceptible to impairment en-route to our tables. Not only this, but they are picked before ripening, thus they have not been subjected to sufficient time to develop their full nutritional potential.

Frozen meat and seafood are a different kettle of fish (ba-dum-tshh!). If frozen rapidly, for example with fish frozen at sea, then nutrients will be locked in. Fish that is not frozen is caught, packed on ice and can take between 10-12 days to reach market, losing nutrients, flavour and freshness as each day passes.  Shellfish, on the other hand, is delicate and does not freeze well; buying fresh is arguably better in this instance. With regards to meat, if you do want to store frozen meat, it is better to buy it already frozen. Home-freezing happens slowly, causing the formation of large ice crystals within cell structures of the food, and this is why frozen meat can often seem overly chewy in texture.

So, frozen or fresh for the eating? The best way to consume non-frozen is to eat it when it is in-season or freshly-picked straight from the ground. This, however, is not always feasible, which is why frozen foods can be an affordable, convenient and healthy way to fuel yourself with vital vitamins!