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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boiling frozen vegetables extracts all of the nutrients and therefore are of not much nutritional value. Steaming them is quick and easy while keeping the nutrients sealed in.


08/10/2015 - 2:27pm

The best way to serve frozen vegs is to soak them in boiling water and cover it. This first round will defrost them. Throw away the water and soak them again in boiling water add a bit of sea salt and allow vegs to soak until the desired crispness. Drain. Add pepper, lemon, butter or coconut oil to taste. No cooking, steaming or microwave required. Easy and healthy. Enjoy. Sherry


07/02/2015 - 6:23am

Yet another reason to either grow your own or buy US Organic if you can afford it. Anything in a can is pretty worthless-except for the fiber-rarely are we "sodium deficient". I appreciate the comments from the transporter. Most of the "vine ripe" vegetables in the grocery stores are trash. You can usually smell the ripeness in fruit and vegetables, which transfers to great tasting food when you eat them!


04/30/2015 - 1:35pm

frozen food is bad


04/27/2015 - 3:47pm

From experience as a former cross-country refrigerated fruit and produce hauler, most is far from ripe when shipped. Tomatoes were bright green, after loading the shipper would fill my trailer with methane gas and I was instructed to monitor and vent so that the tomatoes were pale pink when delivered. I’ve seen these tomatoes sold in stores as “vine ripened” and upon inquiry was informed that “vine ripened” only meant size.


04/23/2015 - 12:39pm

Farmer's market doesn't necessarily mean it is fresher than frozen. You would have to know how long ago did the farmer pick it and how long has it been out on the stand for sale. And by the time you get it home and eat it, unless your eating it that same day, it is going to lose even more of its freshness, depending on how many days go by. Frozen is by far the freshest as far as I'm concerned.


04/16/2015 - 1:39pm

Jewish people believe in koshering their vegetables, i.e. soak cut vegetables in water with salt that is not refined, for about an hour.

I buy mine at the market that comes from the farms, I soak it in salt water after cutting it, let the water run down after, into bags and in to the freezer. I do not blanch it. I think there is a general believe the salt would take care of the germs.

I shake the bags every 15min for about 2hrs, then give it a final shake after about 12hrs or so. I check on it regularly for the first day or so,

I had a whole freezer full of frozen vegetables and it lasted me over 2 months and nothing has gone to waste and we saved tons of money by doing it ourselves instead of buying frozen veg.


03/30/2015 - 2:30am

im confused, if they are frozen in a bag wouldnt you microwave them to cook, and doesnt microwaving food deplete alot of the nutrients?


03/26/2015 - 2:19pm

I love frozen vegetables and I worship them. You are a dork :))))))


03/19/2015 - 5:23pm

"fresh" on our supermarket produce shelves is far from fresh. It was picked unripened, many days (weeks) ago, perhaps sprayed with something to keep it from molding or rotting during transport and then unpacked and stocked by your produce guy at your supermarket. Frozen, on the other hand, was picked ripened by the sun naturally, blanched to destroy bacteria then flash frozen. It contains more nutrients by far, we have been manipulated by the system as it is to believe otherwise. "natural" and "fresh" are words we respond to as consumers and we have been so duped!


03/12/2015 - 2:55pm

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