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.

Download a FREE Healthy Vegetable Side Dish Recipe Cookbook!




03/28/2010 - 10:31am

I thinks fresh veggies are more better than frozen one, dont buy veggies in bulk, always purchase in small quantity and do shopping weekly or quaterly.One more important thing is that when we cook fresh veggie it give good taste than the frozen veggie


03/19/2010 - 2:23pm

best to grow them yourself or visit your local farmer's market where the fruit and vegetables are picked ripe. if you have extra, share with friends or neighbors or yes, freeze them for later.


03/05/2010 - 6:57am

glad to see this article, as my son asked me the question. "Are Fresh or Frozen better"? I said Fresh, big mistake, he read your article, and guided me to this web site, saying the frozen are better, I am a fresh vegetable eater,(changing now) and know that they lose important vitamins and that they are picked before they are the time they reach the supermarket shelves they are depleted frozen in the long run would be better. There is also the case that most fruit products are now force grown in glasshouses, so how good would these be.....your topic is very interesting. Thank you for the info.


03/04/2010 - 7:28pm

I will always keep frozen veggies in the freezer and will add any fresh veggies I have left in the fridge at the time.


03/02/2010 - 10:58pm

Oh great! Now I am never going to hear the end of this as my English girlfriend reminds me that she was right every time we eat in!


02/27/2010 - 9:02pm

you didn't want to waste food so you bought frozen?? how bout you buy fresh, eat what you eat, then freeze the rest? your frozen are better than stores frozen.


02/24/2010 - 7:53pm

Prefer frozen, 'cause when I purchase fresh, something will come up and I end up throwing the fresh fruit and veggies away. I get the giant size packages and store in gallon size zip lock bags until part is needed. Eating far more fruits an veggies since I started this routine. Possibly healthier as well.


02/23/2010 - 9:50pm

I thought frozen veggies and fruits were better for you because they are frozen shortly after they are picked. And wouldn't that be fresher than fresh veggies.


02/14/2010 - 1:33pm

I have never heard of this "USDA “U.S. Fancy” shield".
Not everyone on the internet is American.


02/12/2010 - 12:15pm

Connect With Us

20 minute dinner recipes

EatingWell Magazine

more smart savings

Today's Favorites

20 minute dinner recipes
Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner