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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Educate yourself and make the best choices you can based on your lifestyle and budget. I subscribe to multiple health newsletters. I have built a library of books about health and healing alternative therapies and better food choices. I pick something that's manageable and affordable and put it into practice for a few months; then I select another one to put into practice; and so on. It's a workable approach to improve your lifestyle and health without being overwhelmed by trying to make drastic changes all at once. About 15 years ago I decided to quit drinking soda pop and replace it with water (filtered where it's available) or unsweetened tea. When that became a habit; then I started ordering sandwiches without mayo and cheese and began using only half the bun to cut down on white flour. One step at a time in the right direction is manageble. Now we've decided to purchase a toaster oven and use the microwave less. I too have read that if you plant two seeds and water one with microwaved water and the other with tap or filtered water, the one microwave watered will never sprout. Haven't tried it, but it doesn't matter because it is logical that microwaving food changes it's molecular structure. Why take a chance on what the long term effects might be if you can cook and warm your food without it? You don't have to give your microwave up, but you can start using it less. It's all about educationg yourself and deciding to make better, manageable choices.


07/19/2012 - 10:07am

food stamps are not stealing, nor shameful if you make an honest living. I have a one year old and if it were not fot food stamps, she would not be able to eat healthy! I pay my taxes, therefore I see it as using MY money to fill my fridge!!!


08/16/2012 - 8:50pm

Who ever commented about microwaves not being harmful to food is clearly not educated, although I use a microwave for some things I do avoid it as much as I can. But honestly cell phones are bad for the human brain too and I am posting this comment with my smart phone, not such a smart idea lol. I am certain fresh veggies from the garden are much healthier than frozen. I do argue the fact fresh veggies from grocers are not, most are sprayed to ripped faster or preserved longer, that's not mother nature doing her toll, that machines and chemicals.... If you are not a gardener or shop at a farmers market, I would consider frozen veggies! Lou Lou


08/20/2012 - 5:16pm

@ Below, but if everyone in society shared your view of food stamps and used them since they already pay taxes, then where would the money come from to feed those who honestly can't afford any food? You should be ashamed to use food stamps if you make an honest living. You are leeching a system that was designed for those who NEED it. Not those who simply want to save a buck or two.


08/21/2012 - 2:35pm

If you can get fresh veg, obviously skip over the frozen and canned stuff.
The fresh stuff is probably better for you, and tastes better as well, frankly.


09/07/2012 - 8:02am

@food stamp queen: You'd have been better off choosing the government free birth control than scamming the system on taxpayer dollars. And btw your baby could have been eating healthy all this time simply by nursing her.


09/24/2012 - 6:35pm

I agree with starting small and making them a habit. About 15 years ago I alsoI stopped drinking soda. But with me I just didn't like the carbonation. I do drink it rarely still when nothing else is available such as at informal get togethers, church meetings, etc. So I do want to eat more vegetables but with the Midwestern drought our garden didn't do very well and the option was canned veggies most of the time. And I'm finding out that in a pinch there's really not a lot of difference vitamin-wise between fresh or frozen vegetables. So I eat BOTH! But my husband doesn't like brussel sprouts and I love them so we don't eat them as often as I would like. I miss them!!


09/26/2012 - 9:23am

Nursing for how long? Ever hear of milk anemia? Probably not.


10/13/2012 - 12:31am

You have got to be kidding me... Most of you continue to spread urban legends without any logic or science to balance your claims. "microwave ovens change molecular structure" "causing seeds not to sprout with microwaved water".. oh and having not tried it to prove to yourself how ridiculous it is to begin with. And fresh vs. frozen. You all are splitting hairs. Do a little research about what a microwave is and how it works will do wonders for your mind and ability to learn. Do us all a favor and educate yourselves....

- Anonymous


11/18/2012 - 3:01pm

Depends on how cold your freezer is. The genarel rule of thumb for most home freezers is to keep food in the freezer no longer than 3 months. For a deep freezer, frozen food can last a year to several years.Most freezers attached to home refrigerators maintain a temp of 0 F to 20 F. A deep freezer can get down to -20 F or lower.Just so you know, frozen vegetables are not a hazardous food product like meat. Meat can spoil in the freeze; this is known as freezer burn. The 3 month rule just means that the vegetables MAY not taste as good as they did when you first bought them. They'll be fine and they will be perfectly safe to eat many months from now.


11/27/2012 - 3:54pm

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