Nutritionist Rose Carr spills the beans on frozen vegetables.
We make no secret of the fact we love vegetables. Apart from the different tastes, textures and colour they add to meals, they are packed with nutrients and offer many health benefits.
The Ministry of Health advises us to eat at least three serves of vegetables every day (note: three serves is the minimum target). However, only two-thirds of us regularly eat three or more serves. The most common reasons people cite for not eating more vegetables include not always having them at home, not having enough time, they take too long to prepare, and cost. But these aren’t valid excuses with the ready availability of frozen vegetables.
Are frozen as good?
In terms of nutrient content, frozen vegetables are as good as fresh, and sometimes they’re even better because they’re frozen very soon after harvesting. If you can pick your vegetables from the garden and put them on the table within an hour or two, that’s pretty hard to beat for flavour and nutrition. For those of us reliant on buying most of our vegetables, however, things are different.
Fresh vegetables can lose nutrients during distribution and storage. For frozen vegetables, the freezing itself doesn’t alter the nutritional content. Before vegetables are frozen, they must be blanched. This can affect the nutrients, but most vegetables are now blanched using steam rather than water, and this only has a minimal affect on the nutrients.
To get the best out of your frozen vegetables, buy them towards the end of your shopping trip and aim to get them into your home freezer as quickly as possible to avoid partial defrosting. Because the vegetables are partially cooked before being frozen, check the instructions to avoid overcooking.
Health benefits of vegetables
Vegetables provide a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre and hundreds of different phytonutrients which are thought to be good for us. Higher intakes of vegetables have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of some cancers. They are also thought to help protect us from coronary heart disease, stroke and cataracts. Vegetables are an important source of folate, which helps prevent spina bifida (a neural tube defect) in newborns, and it’s thought the insoluble fibre in vegetables helps prevent diverticulosis. Scientists are now working on understanding links between vegetables and various health conditions including bone health and neurogenerative diseases, which appear to improve through higher intakes of vegetables.
Most of us get much more sodium (from salt) in our diets than is recommended, which is why a large number of people have high blood pressure – a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But it’s thought more potassium in our diets can help lessen the effect of sodium on blood pressure. And vegetables are an especially good source of potassium.
We were impressed when we looked at the selection of frozen vegetables: we found packets of single vegetables such as cauliflower or asparagus; stir-fry mixes inspired by exotic cuisines; multi-pack mixes in steam-fresh bags, and more. It’s not hard to find great frozen vegetables. The only problem? There are so many to choose from.