Is fresh always a better choice than frozen vegetables? It depends. Fresh produce isn’t always in-season. And keeping fresh veggies and fruit in stock can be difficult — produce makes up over half of the food we throw out. Frozen foods are convenient and can save us money. But are we sacrificing nutrition?
Follow along as we investigate the differences in nutrient content between fresh and frozen vegetables.
The Fresh Veggie Experience
Fresh veggies are an important part of any diet. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020, the average American adult should consume at least 2-3 cups of vegetables (5 servings) per day. Many of the nutrients found in fruit and vegetables are vital for the health and maintenance of your body. Fresh vegetables are both high in antioxidants and many are an excellent source of fiber.
The farm-to-table concept supports local agriculture, helps educate people about sustainability and food systems, and, lest we forget, promotes healthy eating. Cooking with fresh ingredients is also a hands-on way to learn about food and can inspire a trip to a farmers market. Check out our In-Season Produce Spring & Summer and Fall guides.
Tips for Maximizing Freshness
Food continues to ripen after it is harvested. The way you store produce can accelerate ripening, which can lead to spoilage. Here are some tips to enjoy fresh produce:
- Eat fresh vegetables as close to purchase date as possible. Refrigerating fresh vegetables slows down the nutrient loss.
- Keep fruits away from vegetables. Fruits release ethylene gas, which speeds up the ripening process.
- Manage moisture for each food. Mushrooms need a dry environment, like a paper bag. Whereas the moisture released from tomatoes can make salad greens wilt.
“Freshly” Frozen Vegetables
Frozen vegetables have many of the same benefits as fresh veggies, plus they last longer in storage. Advocates for frozen vegetables don’t see the point in purchasing expensive, out of season veggies when frozen vegetables are picked at peak ripeness and then flash frozen for primo quality and consistency.
Vitamin & mineral retention
Frozen vegetables retain their nutrients, often better than fresh since they’re frozen just after harvest. Whereas the peak nutritional profile of fresh vegetables has a short shelf-life after harvest and decreases
In this 2015 study evaluated the nutrient retention of corn, carrots, broccoli, spinach, peas, green beans, strawberries and blueberries before and after freezing. They found that the frozen foods retained as much, or more, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), riboflavin (vitamin B-12), and α-tocopherol (vitamin E) than in their fresh counterparts. The exception was β-carotene, which was found to drastically decrease in some frozen commodities.
Making the Choice: Fresh vs Frozen
The most important thing to consider when choosing between fresh and frozen vegetable is the effects of processing and storage on food. Frozen vegetables, for example, typically lose nutrients due to cooking, not freezing. Veggies high in water-soluble vitamins, like the B and C groups, are more likely to be affected by freezing than their fat-soluble counterparts, vitamins K, A, D and E.
The take away: Freezing most vegetables halts the process that breaks down the nutrients and turns natural sugars into starch. The exception is frozen broccoli since it loses the myrosinase enzyme that activates anti-cancer compounds.
Whatever you choose, eat more fruits & veggies!
Remember, the goal is to eat 5-9 servings of fresh fruits and veggies. The choice to eat fresh or frozen should be whatever is available to you and fits with your lifestyle. Make the best choice for your circumstance. If going to a weekly farmers market is not an option, grab that bag of frozen spinach or stirfry mix and enjoy a healthy meal.
Healthy Eating Resources
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Nutrients and health benefits
- Vitamin Retention in Eight Fruits and Vegetables: A Comparison of Refrigerated and Frozen Storage (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry)
- Mineral, Fiber, and Total Phenolic Retention in Eight Fruits and Vegetables: A Comparison of Refrigerated and Frozen Storage (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry)
- Maximizing the Nutritional Value of Fruits and Vegetables