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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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...


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?


07/01/2013 - 4:33am

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


06/27/2013 - 2:34am

I went to check my label and to my horror I saw my vegetables where from China. It reads: Product of China, U.S.A.

So I would be extra careful to see see where the produce comes from. Read your labels, no matter how pretty the pictures are, or cleverly worded.


06/21/2013 - 5:32pm

most definitely
Take advantage of frozen fruits & veggies.
use spring water or filter water
Make yourself 3 fruit & veggie
Smoothies per day. Best meal on the planet.


05/18/2013 - 12:03am

I live in the Pacific Northwest and buy my frozen vegetables and fruit from Costco, Trader Joes and Safeway. To my surprise, there are no US fancy, nor No. 1 nor 2 nor ANY stamps on the packages I have. Does this mean these are not any good, and that I should avoid purchasing these brands in the future? I can't wait to check back at the grocery stores and read the labels of the other brands.


05/07/2013 - 2:56pm

I supplement my purchased local and seasonal vegetables with foraged edible wild plants from my yard. Since I do not use chemicals or pesticides on my property, and don't pick near the street, they are not contaminated. Some of the plants I forage are dandelion, chickweed, cleavers, wild lettuce, gotu kola, various docks, mullein, and milk thistle. I put them in smoothies or salads, make teas and tonics, and dry them for future use. I also grow my own herbs to season foods naturally. This is enjoyable to me and I believe my family and I get a nutritional and inexpensive benefit from these often overlooked common plants. There are many ways to learn which plants are edible, which is important to know before you began foraging.


04/25/2013 - 6:27am

Microwaving your food destroys its nutritional value!


04/11/2013 - 11:02am

I prefer to get all my nutrients by eating free-range vegetarians.


04/08/2013 - 6:10am

I changed sometime ago to frozen. I was sick of buying fresh that was rotten in the middle and in some cases had no taste at all. Buying good quality frozen veg and steaming it has to be better for you.
When I buy salad I try to buy that which is grown in this country as locally as possible. My family rarely suffer colds or flu and have plenty of energy.


04/04/2013 - 7:53am

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