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.

Download a FREE Healthy Vegetable Side Dish Recipe Cookbook!


food stamps are not stealing, nor shameful if you make an honest living. I have a one year old and if it were not fot food stamps, she would not be able to eat healthy! I pay my taxes, therefore I see it as using MY money to fill my fridge!!!


08/16/2012 - 7:50pm

Educate yourself and make the best choices you can based on your lifestyle and budget. I subscribe to multiple health newsletters. I have built a library of books about health and healing alternative therapies and better food choices. I pick something that's manageable and affordable and put it into practice for a few months; then I select another one to put into practice; and so on. It's a workable approach to improve your lifestyle and health without being overwhelmed by trying to make drastic changes all at once. About 15 years ago I decided to quit drinking soda pop and replace it with water (filtered where it's available) or unsweetened tea. When that became a habit; then I started ordering sandwiches without mayo and cheese and began using only half the bun to cut down on white flour. One step at a time in the right direction is manageble. Now we've decided to purchase a toaster oven and use the microwave less. I too have read that if you plant two seeds and water one with microwaved water and the other with tap or filtered water, the one microwave watered will never sprout. Haven't tried it, but it doesn't matter because it is logical that microwaving food changes it's molecular structure. Why take a chance on what the long term effects might be if you can cook and warm your food without it? You don't have to give your microwave up, but you can start using it less. It's all about educationg yourself and deciding to make better, manageable choices.


07/19/2012 - 9:07am

Gotta love all the BS written in the comments about these "Studies" on microwaved foods but; no one lists links to such studies.
People; where are your sources to back your stupid comments?


07/08/2012 - 1:12pm

"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.


06/24/2012 - 2:50pm

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


06/22/2012 - 5:00am

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.


05/28/2012 - 5:04pm

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)


05/21/2012 - 6:42am

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.


05/17/2012 - 9:59pm

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.


05/12/2012 - 5:25pm

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.


05/07/2012 - 9:53pm

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner