There's such an emphasis on fresh food these days, that we sometimes tend to forget about frozen food. Some might even consider them to be less healthy than fresh food. And while there are certainly unhealthy frozen foods (I'm looking at you, Ice Cream!), that's not always the case. There are plenty of frozen foods that can help support your heart health! That's why I've put together this definitive guide for finding heart healthy frozen foods.
What is meant by ‘frozen food’?
Simply, frozen food is anything edible that is subjected to, and stored at, temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), in order to preserve it for future consumption. That can be anything from ice cream and premade pie crust to cut up fruit or vegetables to bread, soup, snacks, and entire meals.
Freezing makes preservation convenient, and most frozen foods stay “good” for 6 months or more. After that, they may start to collect ice (they get freezer burnt), which doesn’t affect the food’s safety, but may not taste as good.
Food that has been thawed and refrozen should not be eaten.
Is frozen food still healthy?
This is a bit more complicated, and also depends on how you define “healthy” (and what, if any, chronic health conditions you may have). Many frozen foods are notorious for being high in sugar, salt, saturated fat, or all three!
Does that mean you should steer clear of all frozen foods? NO! Of course not. Firstly, all things in moderation, right? That’s cliche advice, I know, but it is truly fine to eat high sugar, salt, or fat foods sometimes - SOMETIMES! 🙂 After all, they are delicious!
On the other hand there are many frozen foods that are very healthy! In fact, one of the benefits of frozen foods - in particular fruits and vegetables - is that they are often frozen at the peak of ripeness, and quite soon after harvest. That means they may contain even more nutrition than fresh produce; particularly in the middle and end of winter when not much is in season locally.
Many frozen foods may also cost less per serving than fresh, depending on the season. In off seasons, produce tends to cost more, because it must travel many miles from the place it’s grown and loss to the farmer is often high. There is little loss or waste with frozen food.
What are some healthy frozen foods?
When you’re looking for heart healthy frozen foods, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- Try to stick with fruits, vegetables, and whole grain blends for the most part
- Look for foods with no sauces
- Watch for added sugar. Frozen fruit sometimes contains this
- Opt for foods with less than 150 mg of sodium per serving or less more often
- Buy more foods with less than 2 grams of saturated fat, and no partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients
This doesn’t mean you should never buy foods that don’t meet these guidelines. It just means that most of the foods you buy should.
What are the best frozen meals for heart health?
While we know frozen meals aren’t really the best choice for heart health, it’s also sometimes necessary for our sanity to just have an easy meal, right?! Opt for frozen meals no more than once or twice a week, and look for ones that meet, or come close to, these guidelines:
- Around 400-600 or so calories per serving (give or take depending on your calorie needs)
- Less than 500 mg sodium per serving
- 10 grams of total fat or less per serving (with no more than 3 grams saturated)
- As much fiber as you can find!
- Minimal added sugar, but not more than 8 grams per serving
- Around 20 grams of protein per serving (again, give or take depending on your needs and how you distribute your intake throughout the day)
- No partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients
Some brand names to consider: Kashi, Healthy Choice, evol, and Lean Cuisine. You’ll still want to read labels, as not all meals from these brands will meet the criteria above, and many meals from other brands will! This will help you get started though.
Need some ideas about what to make with frozen foods? Explore our Frozen Foods recipe archive!
If you need more information about heart healthy eating, start with this article: Top 3 Best Diets for Heart Health. Or read more about label reading for heart health, if food labels are confusing (they are for so many people!).
What are your favorite heart healthy frozen foods? Tell me in the comments!