When it comes to fruits and vegetables – is it always better to choose fresh? Believe it or not, fresh isn’t necessarily ALWAYS best!
One form of produce – fruits and vegetables – that I love to recommend to clients is frozen foods. Many people I speak with are initially a little anxious about this idea, as they might have negative associations with frozen foods, or assume that frozen foods are “bad” or “processed.” There is certainly some element of truth to this – with particular frozen food items – but we really need to look at each item in the grocery store freezer case on an individual basis. And in many cases, frozen foods are a fabulous choice for people with CKD!
Let’s take a closer look and learn how to incorporate healthful frozen vegetables into your diet.
Frozen foods can be a really great choice – they save us a whole lot of time, and when it comes to fruits and vegetables, they can actually be more nutritious than fresh produce since they’re flash frozen soon after being harvested – before certain key nutrients have the chance to degrade.
Interesting, right? Did you know frozen items can actually be a better choice than fresh vegetables? 😱 but this isn’t the only reason why.
Frozen vegetables in particular are great because they lower the barrier of entry for people looking to include more veggies in their diet. The idea of dealing with fresh vegetables can feel overwhelming. When purchasing fresh foods you do have to consider…
- Is the food item ripe?
- How do I even tell if it’s ripe?
- If it’s not ripe now, will it be ripe enough when I plan to use it?
- What is my plan to incorporate it into a meal before it goes bad?
- How do I store it properly?
- How do I clean it?
- How do I cut it the right way?
- How do I cook it properly?
Oof, all those questions can make your head spin. Jeez, all you’re trying to do is add some extra veggies into your life. But having to worry about all these questions might make you want to throw in the towel altogether.
With frozen vegetables, you avoid all the guesswork. Many can even be microwaved in the bag they’re sold in! That couldn’t be any easier!
Some inspiration to get you excited about frozen veggies: check out this delicious and simple looking Vegan Bean And Vegetable Soup that mostly uses frozen and canned items.
One thing I do advise to watch out for with frozen items, however, is added seasonings and sauces. A bag of plain, frozen broccoli might be right next to a bag of frozen, seasoned broccoli. And those seasonings and sauces can add a lot of sodium. For people with diseases such as hypertension or chronic kidney disease that necessitate limited sodium intake, it’s important to keep a close watch on sources of added salt in the diet.
An additional caveat: these sauces and seasonings may contain added sugars as well. Most of us probably wouldn’t put sugar on our broccoli at home, but there is it in many sauces (frozen fruits may also contain added sugars for extra sweetness).
Take a close look at the various options available to you in the freezer case, and choose a bag of frozen veggies with no sauce or seasoning added. At home, you can customize your frozen broccoli, for example, with other seasonings that fit your dietary needs – such as olive oil, black pepper, garlic powder, and perhaps a pinch of salt!
If you’re comfortable with reading labels and prefer something pre-seasoned, it’s best to look for frozen veggies with less than 140 mg sodium per serving. The first one I found when I searched “frozen broccoli with seasoning” on Google was Birds Eye Steamfresh Seasoned Ranch Broccoli Florets (pictured above, left), which contain 370mg sodium per serving – way above the 140mg threshold I recommend. And these numbers can vary a lot by brand and by product. Take a look at how similar the packaging is between the seasoned version and the plain version – it could be all too easy to accidentally pick up the high sodium version.
That said – if it’s between eating frozen seasoned vegetables or no vegetables at all – you can feel comfortable eating the frozen veggies if they are thoughtfully incorporated into your meal. Consider pairing your frozen vegetables with steamed brown rice, which is naturally low in sodium, and baked tofu that has been marinated in a low-sodium marinade. Overall, this will result in a meal of moderate sodium content.
Let me know in the comments – do you regularly use frozen veggies? Any favorite recipes or ways to use them?
If you’re not in the habit of buying frozen vegetables but feel inspired to try them after reading this article, let me know about that as well! I’d love to hear your thoughts. — Kate, Your Kidney Dietitian