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Q. Fresh vs. Frozen Vegetables: Are we giving up nutrition for convenience?

By Rachael Moeller Gorman, November/December 2007

Fresh vs. Frozen Vegetables: Are we giving up nutrition for convenience?

A. Americans typically eat only one-third of the recommended daily intake (three servings instead of nine) of fruits and vegetables, so if you’re in a bind, a vegetable in any form is better than no vegetable at all.

And as winter approaches, fresh produce is limited—or expensive—in much of the country, which forces many of us to turn to canned or frozen options. While canned vegetables tend to lose a lot of nutrients during the preservation process (notable exceptions include tomatoes and pumpkin), frozen vegetables may be even more healthful than some of the fresh produce sold in supermarkets, says Gene Lester, Ph.D., a plant physiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, Texas. Why? Fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing tend to be processed at their peak ripeness, a time when—as a general rule—they are most nutrient-packed.

While the first step of freezing vegetables—blanching them in hot water or steam to kill bacteria and arrest the action of food-degrading enzymes—causes some water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and the B vitamins to break down or leach out, the subsequent flash-freeze locks the vegetables in a relatively nutrient-rich state.

On the other hand, fruits and vegetables destined to be shipped to the fresh-produce aisles around the country typically are picked before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Outward signs of ripening may still occur, but these vegetables will never have the same nutritive value as if they had been allowed to fully ripen on the vine. In addition, during the long haul from farm to fork, fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to lots of heat and light, which degrade some nutrients, especially delicate vitamins like C and the B vitamin thiamin.

Bottom line: When vegetables are in-season, buy them fresh and ripe. “Off-season,” frozen vegetables will give you a high concentration of nutrients. Choose packages marked with a USDA “U.S. Fancy” shield, which designates produce of the best size, shape and color; vegetables of this standard also tend to be more nutrient-rich than the lower grades “U.S. No. 1” or “U.S. No. 2.” Eat them soon after purchase: over many months, nutrients in frozen vegetables do inevitably degrade. Finally, steam or microwave rather than boil your produce to minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamins.

Download a FREE Healthy Vegetable Side Dish Recipe Cookbook!

COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

You make a lot of great points in this article, but then it all breaks down in the bottom line...

"When vegetables are in-season, buy them fresh and ripe. “Off-season,” frozen vegetables will give you a high concentration of nutrients."

When vegetables are in-season (spring/summer), wouldn't it be logical that the non-frozen ones would have fewer nutrients due to the significant increase in heat they are exposed to? It seems more intuitive that the frozen ones would retain more due to the decrease in exposure prior to packaging.

When vegetables are off-season, wouldn't the frozen ones be the "runts of the litter" so to speak. The huge increase in price and reduced damaging exposure of fresh vegetables would mean that the best, biggest and healthiest looking ones would get picked for that prime selection.

Obviously, if either of these are true then it means you have to take the more expensive route both seasons, but it seems more logical to me at least if nutritional value is the goal.

Anonymous

07/06/2016 - 3:19pm

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Anonymous

03/30/2016 - 5:03pm

what are the nutrients loss during freezing? or nutrients that is sensitive in freezing?

Anonymous

02/26/2016 - 11:27pm

best to steam frozen vegetables and sprinkle Spirulina powder over them, really delicious

Anonymous

12/23/2015 - 9:15am

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Anonymous

11/05/2015 - 4:41pm

"Man's (species) jaw, throat and teeth (molars in particular) are best designed for eating vegetables and fruits. Technically, we have no real incisors (for meat eating), only vestigial incisors, as early man (species) primarily ate fruits and vegetables. Grains were added when primitive farming became to be developed (again, molars)."

Okay, I MUST respond to this. We have 8 incisors and they're hardly "vestigial" (as opposed to felines which DO have vestigial incisors)... and incisors are not always for eating meat they're for biting through materials, be it meat or vegetable (some of the largest incisors are on herbivores and omnivorous rodents for chewing through tough plant material). Human teeth are not "best designed" for eating fruits and vegetables (as opposed to bovines that have jaws designed to move sideways to grind grains with their molars), they're designed for eating a VARIETY of foods because we are omnivorous (we've been eating meat for at least 2.6 million years according to most archaeological evidence - and that's just as far back as can be proven, it's likely we ate meat before that even if just insects - and that means our teeth and biology has adapted to that) so a well-balanced diet is best for us.

Anonymous

11/01/2015 - 1:52am

I think we all can agree that some vegetables are better than no vegetables. Let's also add fruits and grains to that statement.

Man's (species) jaw, throat and teeth (molars in particular) are best designed for eating vegetables and fruits. Technically, we have no real incisors (for meat eating), only vestigial incisors, as early man (species) primarily ate fruits and vegetables. Grains were added when primitive farming became to be developed (again, molars).

So, our metabolisms are metered to expect fruits, grains and vegetables in our diets. Man began eating meats much later in history.

By the way, foods sent to the Space Station (and also often used by hikers on the trail) are irradiated with nuclear beams, which kill all bacteria, spores, etc. and make the foods virtually nonperishable. So microwaves take just a bit of a rear seat to that process.

Therefore, however you obtain, prepare and consume fruits, grains and vegetables, please make these a regular part of your diet. A Big Mack doesn't count.

You will be happy at the outcome.

Anonymous.

Anonymous

10/20/2015 - 8:09pm

I find the best way to get all the nutrients that are in fruits and veggies are to buy frozen and use them in something like a nutribullet. You don't have to cook, so they lose none of the nutrients available in them straight from the freezer. I find this to be a good way to get my fruits and vegetable, and not either, A) Need to shop every other day for fresh items so that they do not lose nutritional value in the refrigerator. Or B) Find that I have to throw out spoiled items because I bought more than I could use before they went bad. As it is stated in the article above...frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen at the peak of ripeness...and this is valuable information.

Anonymous

10/02/2015 - 4:18pm

It seems nothing is healthy anymore these days.

Anonymous

09/21/2015 - 10:20am

Well I've just had my eyes opened!
I always bought strictly fresh veg as I thought frozen stuff would lose all it's goodness. Golly, I may have to review my cooking practices (not to mention the fact that preparing fresh veg is time consuming and a real pain in the tush)

Anonymous

08/30/2015 - 5:56am

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