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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

seasonal, local, fresh organic, fruit and vegetables, all raw as far as possbile or stir fry veg in extra virgin olive oil - the freezing process must lose some of the nutritional value, just as the process of farm to fork with fresh does, better still grow your own, organic and from mud to plate within minutes :) frozen veg just don't have the same texture, taste or feel to them even when steamed or stir fried always seem a bit 'soggy'!

Anonymous

08/09/2013 - 3:03pm

Buy organic. Period.

Anonymous

08/05/2013 - 1:37pm

summer or winter fresh fruits and vegetables are always expensive

Anonymous

07/22/2013 - 4:55pm

Please read reputable resources for information. This article accurately points out the benefits of microwaving frozen vegetables as a way of gaining the most nutrients from vegetables picked ripe, and those nutrients not being decimated or cooked away by the cooking method.

Anonymous

07/11/2013 - 1:11pm

This entire article is good except for one part. DO NOT MICROWAVE YOUR VEGETABLES.

Unless you have NO other option besides microwaving them, do not microwave them. Just please don't.

1. Steam them. Yeah, you're going to need a steamer or one of those pans that sit inside the pan that has the holes, I don't remember what it's called.

2. If you're adding them TO a meal (like...a stir fry or...mashed potatoes with broccoli, just toss them in still frozen. The damned things will soak up the flavors while they're flash thawing and make the meal like 10x better anyway.

3. For small, 6 or less ingredient dishes (Mashed Potatoes for me have butter/oil, cayenne pepper, basil, potatoes, broccoli, whatever I feel like putting in there), you might want to go out of your want to get fresh. While frozen veggies do have all of the nutrients, you do lose a little bit of the natural flavor in the freezing process, so unless you have like...an army of seasonings in the particular dish...just get fresh, if you can.

Anonymous

07/10/2013 - 3:16pm

If you figure out how to satisfy your need to gain while he needs to lose, please share. I have yet to figure out how to accomplish this one yet. I am about to the point where I give up and suggest that we cook out own meals separately, because our needs are so very different...

Anonymous

07/08/2013 - 2:16am

Fresh seems better than frozen or canned, but fresh spoils relatively quickly. Frozen can keep for a while. Canned has salt or sugar added, and a lot of cans are lined with bpa so that it protects the metal from breaking down. In my opinion, frozen is the best bang for the buck, because you have the freedom to add what you'd like to your meal as you are going along (stir-fry, for example). If fresh were more cost effective, I would go that route, but so many times, I simply don't want to waste food. I just really hope frozen hasn't lost a large amounts of nutrients (although I do try to make up for that by taking multi-vitamins...

Anonymous

07/08/2013 - 2:15am

The point is here that the in season fruits and vegetables, need to be demanded buy buyers, educated to not just children but anybody lacking a healthy diet, and promoted. How much more functional would we be if we where all healthy and subsequently, happier?

Anonymous

07/01/2013 - 4:33am

I though its better to avoid mictowave since it kills vitamins more than steaming / boiling...

Anonymous

06/27/2013 - 2:34am

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