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.

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I live in the Pacific Northwest and buy my frozen vegetables and fruit from Costco, Trader Joes and Safeway. To my surprise, there are no US fancy, nor No. 1 nor 2 nor ANY stamps on the packages I have. Does this mean these are not any good, and that I should avoid purchasing these brands in the future? I can't wait to check back at the grocery stores and read the labels of the other brands.


05/07/2013 - 1:56pm

I supplement my purchased local and seasonal vegetables with foraged edible wild plants from my yard. Since I do not use chemicals or pesticides on my property, and don't pick near the street, they are not contaminated. Some of the plants I forage are dandelion, chickweed, cleavers, wild lettuce, gotu kola, various docks, mullein, and milk thistle. I put them in smoothies or salads, make teas and tonics, and dry them for future use. I also grow my own herbs to season foods naturally. This is enjoyable to me and I believe my family and I get a nutritional and inexpensive benefit from these often overlooked common plants. There are many ways to learn which plants are edible, which is important to know before you began foraging.


04/25/2013 - 5:27am

Microwaving your food destroys its nutritional value!


04/11/2013 - 10:02am

I prefer to get all my nutrients by eating free-range vegetarians.


04/08/2013 - 5:10am

I changed sometime ago to frozen. I was sick of buying fresh that was rotten in the middle and in some cases had no taste at all. Buying good quality frozen veg and steaming it has to be better for you.
When I buy salad I try to buy that which is grown in this country as locally as possible. My family rarely suffer colds or flu and have plenty of energy.


04/04/2013 - 6:53am

I try to get frozen but area restricts me. I am challenged on a protein regiment. I want to gain weight and he wants to lose. This is quite a challenge. Thank you.


03/22/2013 - 12:30pm

I usually just nosh on caramel for each meal, nutrient packed, stays fresh for long periods of time and tastes great.


03/20/2013 - 11:08pm

I just eat chocolate for every meal. Eat an apple for a bed time snack, but not an apple with a worm in it.


02/19/2013 - 5:46am

I go both ways on this subject. My parents raised us 4 kids on canned and frozen more than fresh by probably 4-1, and we are all healthy as can be, and my mom just celebrated her 92nd. WE were a meat and potatoes family, always a veggie, bread and something like jello or pudding for dessert.
I love fresh fruit and veggies, but I think the nutrition quotient is so over-scrutinized these days with simply too many experts making their opinions on what should be. Genetics plays a huge role and those with weakened systems are going to absorb less, meaning no matter the amount of nutrients consumed, a limited portion will at best be utilized for some.
I would take one serving of a veggie that has no chemicals vs four that are laced and have the potential to give me cancer...


02/06/2013 - 3:55pm

I buy fresh then blanch and freeze at home. It works very well for someone with limit time frames in which to cook. I've never had any nutrition problems from this.


01/16/2013 - 10:48am

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