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BEYOND TRIM: Where there’s a chill, there’s a way to eat healthy

The time is always ripe for produce in your diet – just look behind your grocer’s glass doors

Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center
Sherry DeWalt of CGH Medical Center

Since we’ve been in a deep freeze here in northern Illinois over the last few days, I thought I would write about frozen food. More specifically, frozen fruits and vegetables. I try to eat what’s in season as much as possible, but where we live we can’t get a lot of fresh, local produce year-round. It’s good thing that frozen fruits and vegetables are a great option.

You might believe that fresh is always the best option for taste and health but the “fresh” fruits and vegetables in your grocery store may have been picked weeks or even months ago. By contrast, fruits and vegetables that will be frozen are generally picked at peak ripeness when they’re the most nutritious and delicious.

Vegetables destined for the freezer are washed, blanched, cut, frozen and packaged within a few hours of picking. Blanching involves placing the vegetables in boiling water for a very short time to kill any bacteria. It’s not enough time to cook them completely and so preserves the taste and texture of the vegetable.

Fruits aren’t usually blanched as this may affect their texture. Instead they are treated with ascorbic acid (a form of vitamin C) or added sugar to prevent spoilage. Usually no chemicals are added to produce before freezing.

Canned fruits and vegetables are cooked completely in the can and I think that affects the taste and texture in an unappealing way. I prefer frozen to canned for that reason.

Another advantage of frozen fruits and vegetables is that they can be kept on hand for long periods of time, unlike the fresh stuff. That being said, they won’t last forever. Some nutrients begin to break down when frozen produce is stored for more than a year, so make sure to use them within that time.

Frozen produce is generally very economical and well within reach of most pocketbooks. There’s such a wide variety available that you should never get tired of the same old thing.

And if you really do want something fresh, even in the middle of winter there are options. A few local growers (within 100 miles) are producing things such as tomatoes, mushrooms, and sprouts. You can find them any Saturday morning at the Twin City Farmer’s Market.

In the meantime, until spring arrives and I can get back in the garden, you’ll find me chilling in the freezer aisle at the grocery store.

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