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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.

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COMMENTS POSTEDsort icon

I prefer Fresh even know its more exspensive its still a better choice.

Anonymous

10/29/2014 - 2:20pm

More importantly, call your food suppliers and ask for genetically modified food to be labelled. We should have the right to know what we eat.

Anonymous

10/27/2014 - 1:24pm

It is so stupid to think that those frozen vegetables are healthier than fresh ones!!
In South America most of us consume fresh vegetables and there is not such a lot of illnesses like here in this part of the world!!
Whoever invented all this rubbish packed food is really not thinking about health but about business!!!
Dora Helena

Anonymous

10/14/2014 - 4:37pm

I use exclusively frozen vegetables but do not microwave them I warm them up in a steamer, easy convenient and works great.

Anonymous

08/25/2014 - 1:56pm

Doctors who treat people with cancer tell them NOT to microwave. Let's all be more aware of staying cancer-free. Good luck!

Anonymous

08/17/2014 - 8:06pm

recipe calls for 2 cups fresh chopped kale. Is that the same amount of frozen?

Anonymous

08/13/2014 - 12:14pm

Fresh is better

Anonymous

06/19/2014 - 8:03pm

It's really good idea to eat frozen food with full of nutrient

Anonymous

06/10/2014 - 9:59pm

Looks like a few of the comments could be from microwave manufacturers! I have looked into them a while back and as a result I unplugged ours and got rid of it immediately. They basically remove most of the nutritional value of the food.

Anonymous

05/30/2014 - 10:12am

What to the random poster saying the carrots peas and beans are fruit??????? DUH use your eyes!!

Anonymous

05/25/2014 - 10:45pm

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