It’s a question as old as time. What do you do when vegetables are out of season? Are fresh or frozen vegetables healthier? Well, we’re here to help settle the debate. Sort of. The answer isn’t black and white. (Sorry.) Follow along as we investigate the differences in nutrient content between fresh and frozen vegetables.
Making the case for fresh veggies
Fresh veggies are an important part of any diet. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020, the average American adult should consume 2-3 cups of vegetables (5 servings) per day.1 Many of the nutrients found in fresh vegetables are vital for the health and maintenance of your body, even when those vegetables are out of season. Fresh vegetables are especially high in heart healthy antioxidants and are also an excellent source of fiber.
Making the case for frozen veggies
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.
What does the research say?
Vitamin retention in eight fruits and vegetables: a comparison of refrigerated and frozen storage.
In this 2015 study, four vitamins – ascorbic acid, riboflavin, α-tocopherol and β-carotene – were evaluated in corn, carrots, broccoli, spinach, peas, green beans, strawberries and blueberries before and after freezing. The overall results found that vitamin content of the frozen vegetables was comparable to and occasionally higher than in their fresh counterparts. The lone holdout was β-carotene, which was found to drastically decrease in some frozen commodities.
Mineral, fiber, and total phenolic retention in eight fruits and vegetables: a comparison of refrigerated and frozen storage.
Conducted in 2015 by the same authors as the above study, this study focuses on the mineral, total phenolic and fiber content of corn, carrots, broccoli, spinach, peas, green beans, strawberries and blueberries before and after freezing. Nutrient retention was found to vary by commodity, with comparable initial values for both fresh and frozen vegetables. Over time however, the nutrient content of fresh vegetables decreased while frozen remained relatively unchanged.
Food processing and nutrition
According to this information provided by the Australian government, 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.
What does it all mean?
Taking into account the research cited above, the argument can be made that frozen vegetables are just as good for you as fresh vegetables, especially out of season. But, there are caveats:
You should eat fresh vegetables as close to purchase date as possible due to nutrient leaching that occurs the moment produce is picked
Refrigerating fresh vegetables slows down nutrient loss
Thawing frozen peas, spinach, okra and green beans before cooking can speed up vitamin C loss, so stick with fresh when possible
The best frozen foods are rich in vitamins K, A, D or E – i.e. carrots, leafy greens and broccoli
To reiterate what was said in the introduction, there is no clear cut winner when it comes to choosing between fresh and frozen vegetables. Instead, it is important to do your research and follow the guidelines laid out above when making your choice at the supermarket.
Tell us your opinion
Don’t think the facts add up? Tell us your opinion in the debate between fresh and frozen vegetables. Tweet #freshvegbestveg for fresh vegetables or #frozenvegFTW to vote frozen. And don’t forget to tag us in your tweet! (@LFIsocial) We can’t wait to hear what our readers prefer!
- Nutrients and health benefits. (2016, January 12). Retrieved January 15, 2017, from https://www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables-nutrients-health
- Bouzari, A., Holstege, D., & Barrett, D. M. (2015). Vitamin Retention in Eight Fruits and Vegetables: A Comparison of Refrigerated and Frozen Storage. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(3), 957-962. doi:10.1021/jf5058793
- Bouzari, A., Holstege, D., & Barrett, D. M. (2015). Mineral, Fiber, and Total Phenolic Retention in Eight Fruits and Vegetables: A Comparison of Refrigerated and Frozen Storage. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(3), 951-956. doi:10.1021/jf504890k
- Food processing and nutrition. Retrieved January 15, 2017, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/food-processing-and-nutrition