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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

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

Anonymous

05/25/2014 - 9:45pm

Microwaves are awesome, and should preserve more nutritional value

Anonymous

05/11/2014 - 8:55pm

I honestly just love how they have a picture of frozen fruit on an article about frozen vegetables.

Anonymous

04/29/2014 - 12:23am

Pffft Microwave? I unplugged my microwave about six months ago and have since been doing everything with as much convenience in the oven or in a pot. Recent studies have shown that microwaving food changes many components and makes many nutrients un-recognizable to the human digestive system. It's a no brainer folks it's artificial, we're not.

A nice simple recepie I like is 2 minute noodles (I choose megorengs) and lots and lots of frozen veggies in the pot, add some water and the seasoning and eat a big bowl of nutrition with a little salt, so the salt sensitive might want to just do half the sache instead of a full.

Anonymous

03/26/2014 - 8:01am

Why not just chose the frozen veggies you want for the next day. Pour them in a bowl and thaw over night... I merely nuke mine for 10 sec in the microwave so my toddler will eat them.

Anonymous

03/23/2014 - 11:05am

Where Are some of you getting the idea that the article instructs NOT to microwave??? In fact, the author clearly states that you should steam or microwave, rather than boil, your frozen vegetables!

Anonymous

03/04/2014 - 8:55pm

It isn't really about laziness or quick fixes. It is the fact that when you are on a tight budget you need to buy things that can stay good for several weeks rather than fresh produce that goes bad rather quickly. If I have already spent my two week food budget and then things start to go bad there is no money left to replace them. It is better to sacrifice some nutrient content than to end up going days without eating veggies at all.

Anonymous

03/02/2014 - 4:04pm

There is information all over the inter net That Green Giant is now own by a Chinese Co.
an all veg. are grown there??

Anonymous

02/28/2014 - 7:51pm

If you ar on budget organic may not be an option. Most foods listed organic are very very expensive. The best option is to by fresh or frozen.

Anonymous

01/21/2014 - 11:11am

To anonymous that commented on salts vs. minerals. Some salts can be minerals, but not all minerals are salts. What is a salt? It is made of a metallic cation such as sodium or magnesium, and an anion, which could be something like chloride, sulfate etc. In nutrition, a mineral refers to any non-vitamin nutrient, so when you get calcium for example, you are probably ingesting it in the form of a salt -- calcium phosphate. Some minerals we get predominantly through salts, such as sodium, but which also exists in its mineral form halite and can be found in nature. However, other nutrients (which we would consider to be minerals) are actually not salts and are found in organic compounds. An example would be magnesium which we can get in chlorophyll from eating green leaves.

Anonymous

12/11/2013 - 11:18am

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