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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

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

You are good to go on the frozen veges/fruit. They are definitely NOT processed. Processed food are foods that are not natural, and are "man-made" in a lab. This includes things like fast food, trans fats, high fructose corn syrups, etc..... lots of things in cans as well. If you look at the label and there are a lot of things on there you have no clue what they are.....that's processed food.

Frozen Fruit/Veges is just that, its fruit/veges that are froze!

Anonymous

07/30/2010 - 3:19pm

My doctor wants me to start a non-processed food diet. Are frozen veggies and fruits processed?

Anonymous

07/28/2010 - 3:02pm

Tomatoes have more nutrients when cooked.

Anonymous

06/18/2010 - 7:25pm

I concur!

Anonymous

06/14/2010 - 12:59pm

I agree with everything written above by Rachael Moeller Gorman except for one thing! She had me convinced that she knew what she was talking about until her last sentence: " Finally, steam or microwave rather than boil your produce to minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamin".

In my opinion and also in the opinion of others i.e. Dr. Mercola, microwaving anything especially vegetables completely destroys all the nutrients!
Go to Google Search: 'Dr. Mercola microwave oven hazards.' and see for yourself.

Furthermore, it should be noted that overcooking vegetables also destroy's nutrients. Steaming is undoubtedly better than boiling, eating them raw is best of all and crispy or partly cooked is much better than overcooked. Back in the 1950's, it was commonly thought that boiling cabbage with bi-carbonate of soda made it taste better until it was discovered that all the nutrients were neutralized.

I also believe that organic fruits and vegetables are better than non organic, but once again, what is the point of the extra expense if you are going to microwave them? It would make more sense to buy non organic and steam them!

Apart from the harmful fertilizers used in non-organic foods, they also contain preservatives that act as appetizer's which means you want to eat more.
Therefore, eating organic means that you eat less which results in buying less which saves you money.
Organic frozen fruits and vegetables are also more economic than fresh fruits and vegetables as there is less waste.

David Suckling, Orlando Florida.

Anonymous

06/13/2010 - 12:19pm

SOUNDS LIKE FROZEN VEGTABLES ARE A GOOD CHOICE WHEN THE VEGGS ARE IN SEASON AND U GROW UR O VEGGS WOULD BE BETTER. _ MARIA PARKER

Anonymous

06/06/2010 - 2:31am

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