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Fast food, ordering in, and frozen meals have become staple food eating habits. We perceive these options as quicker when in reality, you can have healthy home-cooked meals every day with some planning and minimal effort. Not only do you end up spending more time and money when buying pre-cooked food and prepared meals, but you also miss out on nutrients. Processed food lacks many nutrients you need and instead has filler ingredients like carbohydrates, starches, sodium, fats, and sugars. These food eating habits fill you up but have no nutritional value and are harmful to you in the long run. Pre-packaged meals also have a bunch of additives like preservatives, artificial colours and flavours, and other not-so-good chemicals. It might be tempting to grab frozen waffles in the morning rush or heat some frozen pasta for dinner, but in doing so, your health takes a huge hit.
Read on to get informed about the good, the bad, and the ugly of frozen food.
A frozen meal is anything that is pre-cooked, pre-packaged, and frozen before the sale. Sometimes, parts of the meal are frozen, while ingredients are processed and frozen separately for quick use in other cases. Fresh fruits and vegetables and proteins of different kinds like meat, poultry, fish, and plant-based proteins also come in frozen forms. Frozen snacks that only require frying or baking are also widely available.
A complete frozen meal may contain any or all of these components, starting with a protein-based main ingredient, a starch-based food like rice or pasta, vegetables, and sauces or spices for flavouring. These days, many frozen food options are advertised as healthy and nutritious. Manufacturers even offer frozen food that caters to special dietary needs like lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, and other food allergies. This frozen food is packaged in aluminium foil, plastic, or cardboard.
Frozen food gained popularity because it is convenient to use. It provides a varied menu and quick preparation time for a meal. Some manufacturers even offer packaging that can be directly placed in microwave ovens to heat food and have it very to serve. In other cases, food is put in vacuum-packed pouches that can be placed in boiling water and then served. With such convenience and what is perceived as less time and less energy, frozen food will continue influencing our food eating habits.
When it comes to frozen food, not all of it is created equal. While pre-cooked meals are a definite no-no, fresh fruits and vegetables might be a good option in some cases. When you buy fresh produce from your supermarket, it takes days to travel there and get on the display from which you pick it up.
Most fresh produce is harvested before fully ripened, allowing them time to reach the proper ripeness while in transit. This duration also enables them to develop the nutritional content to its fullest extent. In modern manufacturing chains, food may spend anywhere from 3 days to a week in transportation. Some fruits like apples may also be stored for significantly longer under controlled conditions. With a long time between harvest and sale, fresh produce is treated with chemicals and stored at low temperatures to prevent spoilage. Add to this the fact that produce may stay on display for days before it is bought from the markets and kept in your homes for at least a week, depending on how often you go grocery shopping, and you are looking at a duration of around two weeks from farm to table.
On the contrary, the fruits and vegetables you buy from the frozen food aisle are generally harvested at the perfect level of ripeness and frozen as soon as possible to conserve maximum freshness and nutritional value. The produce is washed, blanched, cut, frozen, and packaged within hours of harvest. Blanching is avoided for fruits as this affects the texture. Generally, chemicals are not added to the fruits and vegetables before freezing as there is no need for this. This process makes frozen fruits and vegetables ideal additions to your freezer. They are abundant in vitamins and minerals, provide fibre, and last longer than fresh produce. They might even be more economical to buy as manufacturers might slightly reduce their price.
On the other hand, one must remember to check the dates of the frozen produce they buy because some nutrients break down and are lost when stored for more than a year. Blanching vegetables before freezing may also cause loss of some nutrients.
It is best to skip frozen food entirely for things like processed cheese, meat products like salami, sausages, burger patties, and frozen meals. These pre-cooked meals and processed foods contain many harmful chemicals, preservatives, and fillers that are bad for your health and provide no nutrition. Their high sodium, fat, and sugar content leads to the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and much more.
If you wonder why adopting home-cooked food eating habits is better for you, here is a breakdown of all the advantages of cooking at home.
It is much more frugal than ordering food from a restaurant or buying processed food from supermarkets. When buying pre-prepared food, you pay for the ingredients and the additional costs required to run such businesses. You pay for the electricity, gas, water, staff, and rent of restaurants and factories. When you cook at home, you pay only for the ingredients you buy.
That is if you plan correctly. You might think grabbing a quick bite at a cafe on the way to work might be faster, but you can have your meals ready in no time if you plan and meal prep in advance. Even if you decide to make something from scratch, various recipes come together in 30 minutes or less, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
With home-cooked food, you are in total control of what goes into your body. Many frozen foods and pre-cooked meals are high in salt, fat, sugar, and calories while cheating you out of nutrients. They are also filled with chemicals and preservatives that are unnecessary for a healthy meal. With a home-cooked meal, you can control the flavour and nutrition of your meal and use fewer ingredients to achieve the same results.
Portion sizes are another aspect of your meal that you can control with freshly cooked food. Commercial food often seems reasonable in calories, fats, sodium, sugar, etc. However, taking a closer look will show you that portions are often doubled in the package compared to the nutritional facts stated on the outside. When all you have to do is heat up a conveniently packaged frozen meal, you are likely to eat it all because the food is right in front of you, and storing it again would seem like a hassle. When you cook your food fresh at home, you can control how much you make and the amount you put on your plate so that even if you make something in a larger quantity, you will only take as much as you need on your plate.
And lastly, freshly cooked food allows you to avoid unwanted allergens in your food. Frozen food is prepared in facilities that process many ingredients in the same place. These shared facilities mean that even if your food might not have an allergen, it might still be contaminated by the allergen enough to cause a reaction. It is also possible that while ingredients and allergy warnings are printed on products, you might miss them accidentally and consume something harmful to you. In your kitchen, elements that cause any food sensitivities and allergies will never be present in the first place, keeping you safe.
Frozen meals contain large amounts of sodium, which can harm your blood pressure. Too much sodium causes spikes in blood pressure levels, and a consistent increase in these levels leads to a risk of stroke or heart disease.
Some frozen food can be calorie heavy. Frozen pizza, pasta, french fries, desserts, etc., are made using hydrogenated oil harmful to your heart health. These products can cause your arteries to clog up and lead to painful and dangerous heart conditions.
In many frozen foods, it is common practice to use starch to maintain the integrity and freshness of the ingredients. The starch adds taste and texture to the food, but it also gets converted to sugar in the body. This starch causes spikes in blood sugar levels that lead to diabetes. Some frozen food also contains high amounts of added sugar. This sugar, too, is harmful to your health.
Frozen food marketed as low-calorie and lean can pose problems on the other end of the spectrum. It may contain too few calories per meal than what is required by your body. When you deprive the body of nutrients and energy, you will lose muscle mass. Over time this causes muscle degeneration and is hurtful to your body. It may also lead to feelings of sickness and lethargy, causing conditions like anaemia.
You can take simple and easy steps to stop relying on frozen food and choose healthier food eating habits.
Frozen food has its place in your life if you choose wisely. While pre-cooked meals and processed products contain harmful ingredients and pose health risks, frozen fruits and vegetables might be a better option to suit your lifestyle. Always check your package for details before you buy anything. Home cooking might seem like an impossible task, but taking the time to plan and prepare will save your time, money, and health in the long run. When you choose to prepare your food, the power is in your hands. What’s more, you might even find some joy in taking the time to experiment and discover the wondrous world of food.
Check out our blog on Food Combinations to Avoid
We are a team of food scientists and Ayurveda experts at Kapiva. Our mission is to raise awareness and educate people on ancient principles and herbs found in traditional texts. We work together to develop the most comprehensive content on Ayurveda which is grounded in peer-reviewed, scientific research.
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