If you live in Atlantic Canada, you've probably heard complaints about the ever-increasing cost of food, and the poor quality of fresh produce found in the region's supermarkets.
A St. John's dietitian says there's a perfectly healthy option that many aren't utilizing — which is not only better for you, but also much more affordable.
Adrianna Smallwood said she suggests buying frozen fruits and vegetables to all of her clients, regardless of how much money they're willing to spend on groceries.
"I think it's something that a lot of dietitians are pushing because the rates of fruit and vegetable consumption are going down all across Canada," Smallwood said.
"Newfoundlanders have the lowest fruit and vegetable intake in all of Canada, and we have the highest rates of heart disease and obesity, diabetes and all of those different things. So I'm always pushing people to go for frozen."
While helping her clients put together meal plans, eating more frozen produce is something Smallwood always puts on the list. She said she only recommends fresh as a better option when people can buy locally grown produce that's in season.
According to Smallwood, frozen fruits and vegetables are better quality and pack more nutrition. That's because they're often picked at peak quality, then blanched (or dipped in boiling water to kill enzymes that might break the produce down) before being flash frozen.
That makes frozen produce almost always better in quality than fresh food that has to make the long journey by truck and boat to store shelves in Canada's most eastern provinces.
"Where it is being shipped to Newfoundland, once you pick the fruits and veggies, each minute it's taken from the ground it starts to degrade," Smallwood said.
"So if you think about how long the food takes to get here, all the nutrients are starting to degrade."
Cost and sustainability
And it's not just in Newfoundland and Labrador that the cost of food is rising. The average Canadian family is expected to pay on average $400 more on food in 2017 compared to last year.
Smallwood runs a workshop for people eating on a budget, which usually includes people on a fixed or low income. One of the biggest pieces of advice she gives is to stock up on bags of frozen produce when they go on sale.
"It's like $5.99 for a big bag of frozen strawberries and $5.99 for a tiny little box of fresh strawberries which you might only get two days out of," she said. "It's a better price point for what you're getting and the quality is better."
Frozen meat? Not so much
Smallwood said the advice to go frozen doesn't apply to frozen meat — that's because of the extra salt that goes in to keep it looking good once it thaws.
She said a typical frozen chicken breast has twice the amount of sodium as an average fresh one. She said if people are truly concerned about the price of fresh meat, they should instead look into beans, peas and lentils as a source of protein.
"In order to keep that nice consistency for meat when it thaws, they use a lot of salt in it to maintain the water within the meat cells so they don't break down," she said.
"A lot of people don't realize that beans have protein too, and as part of eating a heart-healthy diet, dietitians recommend eating a vegetarian meal twice a week. It costs much less than a steak or chicken breast too."