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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Just eat them raw, like man intended!


02/28/2012 - 1:30pm

stay away from a microwave.don't use it..


01/09/2012 - 2:45am

An easy safe way to cook frozen veggies...
Thaw ahead a time , even if just a little,place in large bowl , pour hot water in bowl to cover veggie, let sit while you make rest of meal , drain and eat. Another way is to just throw in med hot skillet and stir fry for 2 minutes. I also love the convenience of throwing frozen veggie into my homemade soup recipes, saves alot of time prepping and they just coo up lovely in the broth . Ready yummy eat !!
I like to put grapes and other fruits in the freezer and put out one at a time and eat like a cool refreshing popsicle or ice cream substitute. Ver y ripe bananas , with peels off and in baggies, store great in the freezer and just pull out for your smoothies or sometimes we just thaw for a one or two and mash up and eat ice ice cream , yumo ! I buy a huge bag of fresh spinach at the box stores and the season is over and just put right in the freezer. Great for green smoothies and soup and favorite dishes , omelets,etc.
I am very lucky to grow 10 months out of the year but I still us alot of frozen stuff too . They are great !
The framers market will be ended their run on juicing orange this month . We buy 25 pounds a week to drink , so I will start buying extra bags and juicing and then freezing the juice . So don't be afraid to use frozen fruits and veggies. And of course try to get organic ! :)


01/08/2012 - 3:43pm

I like how people on here are the most uneducated people on earth. Do you even know how a microwave works? Tell me, scientifically, how it will "create" carcinogens? That's a lot of crap.
Microwaves are the best method due to quick cook times, no leaching of water soluble B-vitamins into the cooking water (that is thrown out typically), and it merely emits energy that causes water molecules to vibrate faster against each other, creating friction and heat. So, unless you have an RD behind your name, please shut up and stop spreading such bullshit around the internet.


12/30/2011 - 3:54am

Microwaving degenerates the food making carcinogenic particles. That's why the average American looks like a stuffed pig and that's why the cancer is most widespread in US and countries US bombed.


12/16/2011 - 9:10am

"Frozen foods take more energy to make and is also a factor in global warming." LOL yeah right!


12/12/2011 - 1:07pm

Frozen foods take more energy to make and is also a factor in global warming.


12/08/2011 - 1:02am

interesting I eat flash frozen green beans right from the freezer bag.and have never had a problem.....additionally I eat raw baby spinach fresh and rarely wilted


12/07/2011 - 4:38pm

If you want to eat nutritious food, begin to eliminate MSG. It is in a large percentage of processed foods. Do a search on it, and you will find out more. My family began eliminating it when my two-year old grandson began to be out of control. We began to see results after only a few days. He calmed down and became more well-behaved and content.


11/27/2011 - 6:58pm

New York Times says that you lose the same or less nutrients microwaving than steaming.

I've also heard that freezing locks the nutrients in.
As for the warm water bath, won't all vegetables at some point be subjected to warm water?
We all love the veggies which are edible raw, but there are very few of us who would remain mentally stable if all we could eat was raw veggies!


11/22/2011 - 1:16pm

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