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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

If you want to eat nutritious food, begin to eliminate MSG. It is in a large percentage of processed foods. Do a search on it, and you will find out more. My family began eliminating it when my two-year old grandson began to be out of control. We began to see results after only a few days. He calmed down and became more well-behaved and content.

Anonymous

11/27/2011 - 6:58pm

New York Times says that you lose the same or less nutrients microwaving than steaming.

I've also heard that freezing locks the nutrients in.
As for the warm water bath, won't all vegetables at some point be subjected to warm water?
We all love the veggies which are edible raw, but there are very few of us who would remain mentally stable if all we could eat was raw veggies!

Anonymous

11/22/2011 - 1:16pm

Boiling vegtables and fruits on the stove top kills more of the nutrients than microwaving.

Anonymous

11/18/2010 - 7:03pm

i have just started embarking on a new veggie campaign for myself i have very little energy and possibly at least partially due to the fact that i have a horrendous diet litterally sweets and fast food thats it so i have started eating better red meat white meat fish fruits veggies nuts and grains i started with frozen veggies i saw an increase in energy after the second package i ate (not in the same day) my concentration is better etc.... and i mean when i say i had no energy i mean litterally having to peel myself off of the couch and just wanting to sleep so i say go frozen veggies and i microwave them so far i would swear by it feel 100 times better

Anonymous

11/14/2010 - 7:15pm

Nuking your veggies is NOT BAD that it an Urban myth, and Dr. Mercola may be right on somethings but he is not right about everything.
Read here:

Nuke away! Microwaving vegetables isn't any worse for your veggies than other types of cooking. And, in some cases, it may be better.

Some natural-food enthusiasts have argued that microwaves "kill" food, breaking down its natural antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that theoretically protect against cell-damaging free radicals in the body, and they abound in fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, according to the American Dietetic Association.

To test these concerns, a team of researchers from the Universidad Complutense Madrid in Spain got out their cutting boards. They chopped up a variety of veggies, from artichokes to zucchini, and cooked them with techniques ranging from boiling to frying to microwaving. They measured the amount of antioxidants present before and after cooking.

They found that baking, griddle-cooking and, yes, microwaving produced the lowest losses, while boiling and pressure-cooking were the hardest on antioxidants. Frying was somewhere in between.

The percentage of antioxidants lost with each method depended on the vegetable and the antioxidant tested, but artichokes were particularly durable, keeping most of their radical-scavenging properties regardless of cooking method.

The amount of antioxidants lost in the microwave ranged from none at all to over 50 percent, which was found in the case of nuking cauliflower and measuring an antioxidant that protects against certain fat-soluble radicals.

In a few cases, cooking vegetables in a microwave actually increased the amount of antioxidants: After a round in the microwave, carrots, celery and green beans contained more of an antioxidant that fights a radical known as ABTS.

The real culprit for lost nutrition isn't how you heat veggies, but how much water you use, the researchers found. Boiling and pressure-cooking cause nutrients to leach out of veggies and into the cooking water. When it comes to preparing vegetables, the authors concluded, "water is not the cook's best friend."

Anonymous

10/18/2010 - 5:43pm

DO NOT MICROWAVE. DESTROYS ALL NUTRITIONAL VALUE!

Anonymous

10/07/2010 - 10:02pm

I eat some fruits and vegetables while they are still frozen, is that okay?

Anonymous

10/03/2010 - 10:39pm

i love this website i never new FROZEN is better than FRESH i always thought fresh was better than frozen

Anonymous

10/03/2010 - 9:08am

Re: microwaving foods...I have heard the same, that is, that microwaving destroys ALL the nutrients in the food. I cooked the last time (years ago) a particular food I have had no trouble with cooked in the usual ways. After I had microwaved it, I had horrible indigestion. I swore off microwaves from then on.

Re: flash-frozen food containing more nutrition than fresh... Yes, I have heard the same, that most fresh produce is harvested green. So if the author above is correct re: flash-frozen produce being harvested at the peak time of its nutrition, then certainly we could benefit from that!

Re: cooking the frozen veges...I do not recommend anything but "warming them" once they have been frozen. Any freezing method alters the structure of the plant. Once defrosted, the texture is *already* as if it had been cooked! Further *heat* (aside from low temp "warming") will make the vege mush and detroy what nutrients it had left in it!!

I sampled some flash-frozen veges for the 1st time ever, last night, and was most impressed! The color, texture and flavor were unlike--and far superior--to *any* frozen veges I had ever eaten before!!!

So if the flash-frozen veges are really harvested ripe not green and we are not cooking them to a pulp, I think they could be a good choice!

Oh, one last thing on steaming veges in general... My certified nutritionist says that most veges are better for us *steamed.* Steaming he says, helps break down the fiber and makes it more digestible. Exceptions are of course, potatoes which ought to be thoroughly cooked--that would include yucca root which is poisonous if not cooked completely. For me, but not necessarily for all people, the safest veges to eat *raw* are: cucumbers, greens (but not spinach; spinach should be wilted), peppers and celery.

P. Louise Everett
Baltimore, MD

Anonymous

08/25/2010 - 10:06pm

I think the steamed veggies in a bag is abd idea. It smells so much like plastic and it very unappetizing. It can't be good for you.

Anonymous

08/20/2010 - 11:53am

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