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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

"Food banks and food stamps are not shameful things." -4th post down. Food Banks are not shameful, because the food was donated willingly. Food stamps are shameful things. You are using the police power of government to steal from someone at the point of a gun, to give up their hard earned cash, so that you can use it. It's robbery, and robbery is shameful.

Anonymous

06/24/2012 - 3:50pm

As far as i have read, on some foods, microwaves are better than cookers, whilst on other foods, cookers are better than the microwave. I think it's not a case of one is better than the other. d

Anonymous

06/22/2012 - 6:00am

well you could say that the frozen vegeies may have better nutrition than fresh vegeies.
you can't really tell until you research on it.

Anonymous

05/28/2012 - 6:04pm

one research showed microwave destroyed nutrients of first produced milk and the same effect was not produced when using the hob flame. consider this.. there's billions of pounds of investment in packed food items Designed for microwave cooking and then there's microwave manufacturer. surely these people won't want their sales affected hence they will do all they can to discredit valid research showing microwave destroying food nutrients...(AZ)

Anonymous

05/21/2012 - 7:42am

Snopes has the microwaved water and plant story. It's false. They performed the same experiment themselves. Microwaves are fine. Seriously- what could it really do to your food by exciting the molecules?? It's not adding chemicals. I just don't get it. I understand that sure it's not good to microwave your brain and my maybe cellphones excite your brain cells somehow- I don't know.. but microwaving food seems obviously harmless.

Anonymous

05/17/2012 - 10:59pm

I have not read many studies on microwaving food, but I do understand the physics involved. Microwaves are very bad for living things, but so is exposing them to pressurized steam. Microwave ovens cause water molecules in the food (or your head) to bounce around and create heat from the friction of their vibrations. The water heats up, makes steam inside the cells and the steam cooks the food. A lot of food prep involves cooking with steam or boiling water. Causing the molecules in food to boil or to be treated with steam is not new. Maybe we shouldn’t hold our cell phones to our heads all day, but the microwave popcorn from the break room won’t hurt you. I make no claims on the fake butter on that popcorn.
On the canned vs. frozen issue; I haven’t read much research, but I have read a lot of cans. Corn, peas and green beans; by the information on the cans, you would have to eat six cans of corn to fill your requirement of the available vitamins in corn! Some fine sawdust and a tab of vitamin-C, would be better for you.
Years ago I fell on hard times. For several months I got my vegetables from a food bank, canned vegetables. I got a mild case of scurvy! The resident in the ER had never seen a case before. Mottled and soft gums, infected tooth nerves, lethargy; “What have you been doing?” he asked. I got antibiotics for the infection, and I ate one hoagie a week, with tomato and extra lettuce. I was cured.
16% of Americans, one out six people that we see when we’re out and about, are having trouble getting enough to eat. Food banks and food stamps are not shameful things. Food banks don’t have the infrastructure to distribute lettuce and tomatoes. I admire the good will and efforts of the volunteers at food banks, but ill-informed compassion is as harmful as going hungry.

Anonymous

05/12/2012 - 6:25pm

wow.... I plan to experiment with the water and see what it does to my plants. If it kills my plant then I will throw my microwave out the door.

Anonymous

05/07/2012 - 10:53pm

I understand that cell phones and what not are bad for us also, but your not eating them and putting them in your body! The food you eat helps heal your body from all kinds of things and when you microwave your food your taking ALL of the vitamins out in addition to adding other harmful things to your body! There was an experiment done by scientists where they had 2 plants and 2 cups of H20. They microwaved one of the cups of H20 and allowed it time to come back to room temperature like the other cup of H20. They then watered both plants and the plant that was watered with the microwaved H20 died almost within hours!!!!!! It's up to you, but do the research!!!!!

Anonymous

05/06/2012 - 5:52pm

i dont understand how people can be so mean towards microwaves when its the same as cellphones and computers...without it we would still be in the dark ages

Anonymous

04/23/2012 - 1:22pm

comments like: "In my experience____happened, so I no longer do that anymore!" are ridiculous. If I notice that I feel bad after eating something, I don't jump to a conclusion that it was definetly the way i cooked it, or some other unsubstantiated claim. There are plenty of 'I heard' comments on here, leaving me to believe that many of us are not looking for answers from the sources, and that we are just blindly following other people's advice. If you have a question about how you are living your life, including how or what to cook..... FIND OUT THE ANSWERS!!!!!!!!!!!!! THERE ARE PLENTY OF MEDICAL JOURNALS< WITH REAL STUDIES< DONE BY REAL RESEARCHERS!!!!!!!!!! Look there for your advice. Our culture is so dumb.

Anonymous

04/03/2012 - 7:11pm

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