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


11/09/2013 - 5:29pm

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


09/17/2013 - 2:17pm

@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


08/20/2013 - 8:07pm

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.


08/14/2013 - 1:23pm

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???


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'!


08/09/2013 - 3:03pm

Buy organic. Period.


08/05/2013 - 1:37pm

summer or winter fresh fruits and vegetables are always expensive


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.


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 army of seasonings in the particular dish...just get fresh, if you can.


07/10/2013 - 3:16pm

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