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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

Let's go back to a basic question that is revelant to both fruits and vegetables regardless as to whether they are fresh, canned or frozen. Where are the nutrients first derived from? The soil.... Is the soil rich in nutirients? You can not produce good nutrient rich produce from poor nutrient soil...make sense? the only way to know that is is grow your own.... is that feasable? in most circumstances no.. can you believe what you read? no...everything has been made more complicated. Try to think simple and basic.

Anonymous

12/31/2012 - 8:50am

There is one consideration that I have when choosing frozen over fresh -- price. If I can get more for less then I do so.

Anonymous

12/26/2012 - 3:30pm

We are programmed to think that fresh is better. I agree it is more visually appealing, but this article is addressing the nutritional value of these foods. The enzymatic breakdown that happens in a lot of food that is picked in some other region, shipped to stores and then needs to be able to keep for several days to a week before purchase is extensive. These fruits and vegetables are picked early before their peak nutrient densities have been reached and then induced into ripening which is essentially just enzymatic breakdown of what is already in the plant. Frozen veggies and fruit are allowed to ripen on the tree or on the vine longer, picked at full ripeness with a higher nutrient density and then flash frozen within hours of picking. This arrests the enzymes that break down the nutrients in the product the best.

Ask yourself what is the difference between buying a head of broccoli at the grocery store from the produce department and puting it in the fridge for a few days before using it vs. getting a back of frozen broccoli? The broccoli that was in the produce isle was picked days and days ago, shipped, and stored in the produce department at room or slightly below room temperature as well as exposed to light. The result is a ripe looking but nutrient degraded vegetable. The frozen product (freezing is just a slightly colder version of what your fridge does if that wasnt obvious and just serves as a way to slow the enzymes down even more) was picked later, flash frozen to stop the enzymes sooner and then put in light proof packaging. It is superior product in terms of nutrient quality.

They both cook differently, they both have different textures and frozen veggies are not always the best supsitute for fresh in a lot of recipes. But if we are really talking about what you absorb, bite for bite, the frozen veggies win. The only way that you can do better is if you grow it yourself, pick it and then it has to go straight to your dinner table. Any storage for any amout of time above freezing temperatures, even for home grown food will end up with the same degredation as what you get at the supermarket.

Anonymous

12/10/2012 - 7:28pm

I'm pretty sure they are wahsed before hand, people usually use frozen fruit for smoothness and such I doubt they wash it before they throw it in. It wouldn't hurt to wash again just a quick rinse that way they stay frozen. And no I don't think frozen fruit would go bad unless you had it up there for like a year or so.

Anonymous

11/27/2012 - 10:49pm

I went to a naturopath due to prebolms with oestrogen levels (which are necessary for ovulation, egg development etc) she recommended that I eat plenty of orange vegetables carrots, pumpkin swede etc. You should also avoid caffeine as little as one cup per day can decrease your chances of conceiving. Don't change your diet too much or it will disrupt your body and it will take you longer to conceive. Just be sensible.

Anonymous

11/27/2012 - 9:45pm

put them in a small pot with a lid with only like 1/3 cup of water,and a mint leaf.simmer on low until theyve rehcaed a desired tenderness.remove mint and drain.while still hot add some butter to the pot,toss and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Anonymous

11/27/2012 - 6:18pm

Depends on how cold your freezer is. The genarel rule of thumb for most home freezers is to keep food in the freezer no longer than 3 months. For a deep freezer, frozen food can last a year to several years.Most freezers attached to home refrigerators maintain a temp of 0 F to 20 F. A deep freezer can get down to -20 F or lower.Just so you know, frozen vegetables are not a hazardous food product like meat. Meat can spoil in the freeze; this is known as freezer burn. The 3 month rule just means that the vegetables MAY not taste as good as they did when you first bought them. They'll be fine and they will be perfectly safe to eat many months from now.

Anonymous

11/27/2012 - 2:54pm

You have got to be kidding me... Most of you continue to spread urban legends without any logic or science to balance your claims. "microwave ovens change molecular structure" "causing seeds not to sprout with microwaved water".. oh and having not tried it to prove to yourself how ridiculous it is to begin with. And fresh vs. frozen. You all are splitting hairs. Do a little research about what a microwave is and how it works will do wonders for your mind and ability to learn. Do us all a favor and educate yourselves....

- Anonymous

Anonymous

11/18/2012 - 2:01pm

Nursing for how long? Ever hear of milk anemia? Probably not.

Anonymous

10/12/2012 - 11:31pm

I agree with starting small and making them a habit. About 15 years ago I alsoI stopped drinking soda. But with me I just didn't like the carbonation. I do drink it rarely still when nothing else is available such as at informal get togethers, church meetings, etc. So I do want to eat more vegetables but with the Midwestern drought our garden didn't do very well and the option was canned veggies most of the time. And I'm finding out that in a pinch there's really not a lot of difference vitamin-wise between fresh or frozen vegetables. So I eat BOTH! But my husband doesn't like brussel sprouts and I love them so we don't eat them as often as I would like. I miss them!!

Anonymous

09/26/2012 - 8:23am

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