No, those foods aren’t banished to the cold for being less healthy or spiked with too much sodium. Often, they’re frozen at the peak of freshness. And braving the chilly aisles to retrieve them could mean faster meals and improved total health for you and your family. So clean out those crisper drawers and starting filling your freezer with these foods that support weight loss and can help you whip up a healthy meal in no time.
The days of finding a rotten half head of lettuce at the back of your fridge can be a thing of the past — if you get to know the frozen foods section of your local supermarket. And don’t you dare feel bad for skipping the produce section in front; frozen veggies retain more nutrients than their fresh-sold counterparts because “the frozen ones are picked then immediately (or soon after) frozen,” according to Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. “Just read the labels on frozen packages to make sure there is no added sodium, sugar, or chemicals,” she advises. Plus, frozen veggies can be used on your own schedule — without fear of waste. Adding a handful of frozen spinach or other veggies to dishes here and there is a low-calorie, nutrient-dense way to boost satiety and lose weight.
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Frozen vegetable medleys are an easy way to get more variety into your diet. Different colors of produce are natural indications that you’re getting different vitamins and minerals; the more colors you eat, the better. Next time you’re at the store, grab a bag of frozen tri-color bell peppers. Peppers are low-calorie and rich in vitamins A and C, which are important for healthy vision and vibrant, glowing skin.
Think of the frozen packages as the better berries for your health — and budget. Fresh berries tend to be slightly more expensive than their frozen counterparts and are prone to growing mold quickly if they aren't prepped perfectly. Frozen fruit is also the perfect on-hand solution to squashing sweet cravings before they lead to a binge. Frozen mango is particularly good to have in the house; it boasts a sherbet-like consistency that can keep you from polishing off your pint of Ben & Jerry’s while delivering vital nutrients you’ll never find in the frozen dessert aisle.
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Frozen versions of your favorite fruits are also killer for creating weight loss smoothies. Plus, swapping out ice in favor of frozen fruit is an easy way to keep your shake from getting watered down. “Just make sure the bag does not have any added sugars, syrups and salts,” Smith cautions.
A watched pot never boils — the saying feels especially true when you’re cooking grains. Sure, these complex carbs provide stable, long-lasting energy and can be rich sources of essential protein, but the cook time can feel interminable. Trying to find a replacement in microwave meals or “instant” noodles can be tough, due to high sodium counts and other unhealthy additives in these foods. Luckily, the frozen section contains some clean, semi-cooked grain options for you to grab, heat and eat. “Rice and grains are a quick and healthy frozen option as long as you watch out for extra salt and other preservatives,” Smith says. “Stay away from anything that cannot be pronounced,” she warns.
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Pre-cooked and pre-spiced wild rice or ancient grain blends make for diet-friendly sides or substitutes for meat dishes. You can also sprinkle these blends over a bed of salad for more texture and substance at lunch or dinner, which will fill you up with healthy, energy-boosting carbohydrates.
You may not think of the freezer as the place to get your protein and healthy fat fix, but it could be your best bet. Just like produce, lean protein like fish is often more nutrient-rich when found in the frozen section. “Some grocery stores sell their freshest wild or organic fish in the frozen section such as wild coho salmon, mahi and swordfish. Look for plain, frozen fish that doesn't come with a sauce, breading or other additives,” says Smith. The servings you’ll find in the freezer are often portioned appropriately too, she adds.
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When you’re looking at all the options in the frozen food aisles, choose wild fish when possible. Some farm-raised fish may have less nutritional value than wild due to the type of feed they’re given, particularly salmon and tilapia.
Bread doesn’t have to be blacklisted from your diet. Healthy versions made from whole or sprouted grains are filled with fiber and protein to help round out your meals and delay hunger. But you won’t find the best ones in the bread aisle. “Often, gluten-free and other specialty loaves of bread are frozen to keep them fresh,” Smith explains. “Choose sprouted grains for more protein, and look for bread free of corn syrups and other common sweeteners. Also, aim for at least 3-4 grams of protein and 3-4 grams of fiber per serving,” she suggests.
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Ezekial, a brand of sprouted grain bread, is a favorite of ours. Sprouting grains breaks down enzyme inhibitors, which helps your body better digest and absorb healthy nutrients from the bread. For a balanced breakfast rich in fiber, healthy fats and protein, pair a sprouted Ezekial English muffin with a veggie-filled omelet.