Fresh vs Frozen
There’s so much focus on eating nutrient dense whole foods, staying away from processed and getting as close to nature as possible. So when it comes to the question if fresh or frozen produce is better for you, the answer for most people is simple: it’s fresh of course! Right?
Picking veggies from your own garden is the optimal situation but this isn’t the case for most of the United States. As it stands, most of us don’t even get in the recommended daily intake of our vegetables. Typically we only eat one-third of what’s recommended (three servings instead of nine) of fruits and vegetables in a day. When it comes to situations like this, then a vegetable in any form is better than no vegetable at all. Whether fresh is better [than frozen] depends on how fresh the veggies actually are when you buy them [fresh or frozen].
As winter approaches, fresh produce can be limited—or more 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 healthier than some of the fresh produce sold in supermarkets. 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.
Fresh Veggies: Not Always, All Good
The fresh fruits and vegetables lining your produce aisle are typically picked before they are able to reach their peak ripeness. This gives distributors a cushion of time to ship it across the country and to get it on your shelves before they fully ripen. While this helps to ensure the availability of appealing-looking produce, it also gives those fruits and vegetables less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, most produce must travel long distances to reach their final destination, being exposed to varying amounts of heat and light along the way. This may diminish or degrade some of the more sensitive vitamins in the produce.
Fresh fruits and vegetables also produce enzymes which cause a natural ripening, accompanied by a gradual loss of color, flavor and nutrients after harvest. This means that as soon as that produce is picked, it naturally starts to decay. While each vitamin and mineral have their own sensitivities, as a whole, fresh fruits and vegetables tend to lose nutrients up until they are eaten. Accordingly, fresh, local produce eaten soon after harvest and properly stored at cool temperatures between harvest and consumption are ideal for maximum nutrient content. It’s the water soluble vitamins including vitamin C and some of the B vitamins that tend to be lost from our fresh produce the longer the veggies hangs around, arguably some of the most needed especially in winter.
Frozen Veggies: Frozen at Peak Ripeness
Frozen vegetables are usually flash frozen very soon after they are picked. Special machinery is used to get the produce to 0°F in minutes. The nutrients are “frozen in” during this process, meaning you can quite easily have more vitamins in a frozen vegetable than in its ‘fresh’ counterpart.
So frozen can be a better option, particularly where produce has to travel a long way. Produce chosen for freezing tends to be picked at their peak ripeness, a time when (as a general rule) they are the most nutrient-packed. After harvest, they are processed immediately, minimizing the time for nutrient loss. The freezing process entails blanching the produce in hot water or steam to kill any bacteria and to halt the food-degrading enzymes. While some water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and B, are sensitive to this and may be partially degraded or lost, frozen fruit and vegetables generally keep a majority of their nutritive value when processed. Therefore, the subsequent flash-freezing locks the produce in a relatively nutrient-rich state.
Proper storage is critical when maintaining the nutrient content of frozen produce. Excessive oxidation can cause the loss of some additional nutrients over time, so the longer it sits in the freezer, the less it will provide overall. However, in general, produce handled properly and frozen promptly after harvest can be just as nutritious as fresh produce that has been held many days after harvest.
So which is better? Frozen vs Fresh
There is more to fruit and veggies than just vitamins. Let’s not forget about fiber, the cooking process, or just getting any veggies at all!
One of the biggest reasons we eat fruit and veggies is to absorb fiber. The fiber content doesn’t deteriorate easily which means that week-old fresh veggies still have value despite lowered vitamin levels.
How you cook your veggies is far more important than whether they are fresh or frozen. Regardless of whether you are cooking fresh or frozen veggies, use as little water as you can and cook them for a short time. Steaming veggies are much better options than boiling. Boiling veggies in a large amount of water for a long time provides less nutrients in the finished meal.
Here are some points to consider when you’re weighing up the pros and cons of fresh vs.frozen veggies:
Fresh Veggies, The Pros and Cons
- Can taste better than frozen.
- Usually has a better texture.
- If you’ve picked it straight from the garden, it will be bursting with nutrients.
- But produce can be more than a week old by the time we eat it.
Frozen Veggies, The Pros and Cons
- Many nutrients are ‘frozen in’ soon after picking.
- Convenience – can store for months.
- Allows us to have veggies and fruit that are out of season
- Adds variety to our diet.
- After defrosting, veggies can have a soggy texture, because ice crystals damage the vegetable cell walls.
- Vegetables with high water content – such as bok choy or lettuce – do not freeze well.
What to put in your shopping cart?
If you are doing a weekly shop, buy some fresh veggies and some frozen.If you can, shop two or three times a week for your fresh veggies so that they don’t spend too long in the fridge at home. Otherwise, try starting the week by eating the fresh veggies and end it by eating the frozen.
The bottom line is that the health and nutritional value of all foods, fresh or frozen, depends on source and processing.