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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

Long, weary sigh...

"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"

Minerals are metal salts which plants take up from the earth.

Plants cannot manufacture minerals, no matter how much they ripen.

Is the rest of the site like this???

Roger_132

08/13/2013 - 8:37am

at roger, the point the author is making is that a less ripe plant has less time in the ground which in turn gives them less time to "develop a spectrum" from the ground. So I'll have to agree that the less time the plants spend in the ground harvesting these nutrients from the soil, the less they'll have.

Anonymous

08/14/2013 - 1:23pm

@Roger_132 First and foremost, minerals and salts are two completely different things. Minerals are naturally occurring inorganic substances that have elemental metals/transition-metals such as nickel, cadmium, iron, etc. These inorganic substances are usually ores and are responsible for the depositing of metal elements throughout soils. Salts are crystalline, ionic compounds that are produced through acid-based chemistry. Some minerals may be salts (or vice versa), but minerals and salts are not the same.

Second, you are right, plants cannot synthesize metals through any of their metabolic processes which is why they obtain them from the soil. Hence, the longer they're in soil, the more metals/minerals they uptake.
"Plants cannot manufacture minerals, no matter how much they ripen", you said it perfectly yourself.

Long story short, if you flash freeze a plant product, you lock it in its current state. If the plant is flash frozen in its nutritional prime then its nutritional value wont degrade (or degrade as quickly) as fresh produce.

-Someone who is studying molecular biology

Anonymous

08/20/2013 - 8:07pm

when did it become so hard to make a slmipe meal is everyone else spawn of the "grab and go"? we can't really be that busy..d., you are my go to guy for finance even tho my mom is a retired old school banker you need a week in la jolla we snort salads welcome to the lite side you do rock. if i watched daytime tv it would be all you thx .yvonne

Anonymous

09/17/2013 - 2:17pm

I'd love to buy organic but not everyone has the budget for fresh organic things

Anonymous

11/09/2013 - 5:29pm

MICROWAVE YOUR VEGITABLES!...rather rude to tell people not to when you provide no empirical data about why not to. Research and empirical data shows that microwaving vegetables is no where near as detrimental to their nunutritional value as nay sayers would have you believe.

The real last resort would be boiling them in water that you are going to dump out as you will be dumping many of the nutrients that were leeched out.

Frying them (like...a stir fry) is actually somewhere in between boiling and microwaving them in terms of nutrient loss...so why would that be something someone would recommend over microwaving?

Let's be reasonable people and don't vilify everything that's convenient. That last thing we need to do is falsely portray things that are good as being bad...especially if it's going to turn a busy persone off to eating microwaved frozen vegetables. May as well just eat mac and cheese if nuking veggies ruins them. Good thing it doesn't!

-Josh

Anonymous

12/06/2013 - 4:43pm

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 - 12:18pm

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 - 12:11pm

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 - 8:51pm

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 - 5:04pm

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