Are you trying to cut down on food waste, yet find yourself with piles of lifeless and discolored vegetables in your fridge after just a few days of purchasing them? We all know that eating our fruits and veggies are important because they provide us with essential nutrients. One big problem with loading the fridge up with fresh vegetables of all colors is that unless you plan on meal prepping it all…they go bad fast, which leads to money down the drain and a lot of food waste. We walk by the frozen isle and eye the frozen peas, carrots, and corn but keep walking due to the belief that frozen veggies are nowhere near as nutritious as fresh veggies. It would be nice to have vegetables that last long, but what is the point if they have no nutritional value? What if I told you that frozen vegetables are actually healthier than fresh ones? Glancing back at the frozen isle yet?
What do you think happens when vegetables are frozen? What makes them any less nutritious than fresh vegetables? Melanie McGrice, a spokesperson from the Dietitians Association of Australia said, “whether fresh is better [than frozen] depends on how fresh the veggies actually are.” The “fresh veggies” we think we are buying at the store are not as fresh as they might look. Freshness really depends on how long it took the vegetable to get from the farm to the store. Obviously, the freshest and most nutritious vegetables you can have are the ones grown in your own garden, but not all of us have that luxury. Believe it or not, frozen vegetables not only last longer, but also contain just as many if not more nutrients than the “fresh” veggies you pick at the store. The longer it takes for fresh food to get to us, the more the nutrients in the food decrease. On the other hand, the nutrients in frozen vegetables are sealed into them during the freezing process, which typically happens soon after they are picked. Special machinery is used to get the produce to -18 degrees Celsius in just a few minutes. The nutrients in the vegetables are essentially “frozen-in” during this process, which means that you can actually have more vitamins in frozen vegetables than in the “fresh” ones you get from the store days later.
A recent British study found that antioxidant levels in frozen produce can actually be higher than in fresh fruit and vegetables. This surprises people because people generally assume the antioxidant levels would be higher in fresh vegetables. But two independent studies, which together included more than 40 tests on the most commonly bought fruit and vegetables showed in two thirds of cases, frozen foods had higher levels of antioxidant-type compounds, including vitamin C, polyphenols, anthocyanin, lutein and beta carotene on day three of storage. They also found that the water-soluble vitamins including vitamin C and some of the B vitamins tend to be lost from our fresh produce the longer the veggies hang around, McGrice said. Frozen vegetables don’t have that problem. All of that is frozen in with it.
The main thing to keep in mind when trying to compare the nutritional benefits of fresh and frozen vegetables is the fact that freshness is not measured from the time it hits the grocery shelf — it begins right after harvesting. Once a veggie is harvested, it begins to release heat and lose water (a process called respiration), impacting its nutritional quality. Between pest-controlling sprays, transportation, handling, and plain ol’ time, fresh produce at the store might have lost roughly half its original amount of nutrients. The fact that frozen vegetables are put under the freezing process before a lot of this can happen means that they are as fresh if not fresher than the “fresh” ones at the store. The ultimate nutritional value, once again, really just depends on how it is prepared.
Whether a vegetable is “fresh” or frozen is not what matters. What matters is how it is prepared. We already went over how nutrients fare in fresh and frozen vegetables, not let’s touch on how to ensure no more nutrients are lost during cooking. “Boiling veggies in a large amount of water for a long time lets the vitamins leach out into the water,” McGrice says. Whether you are cooking fresh or frozen veggies, use as little water as possible and cook them for a short amount of time. Steaming or microwaving them are much better options than boiling and ensure that the nutrients remain intact for consumption.
Weighing the pros and cons of fresh v. frozen? Here are some points to consider according to ABC news in Australia:
- Can taste better than frozen (depending on the brand and type)
- Usually have a better texture.
- If you’ve picked them straight from the garden, they will be bursting with nutrients.
- Con: Produce can be more than a week old by the time we eat it.
- 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.
- Con: After defrosting, veggies can have a soggy texture, because ice crystals damage the vegetable cell wall.
Maybe you should turn back to the frozen isle and add a few bags of frozen vegetables to your cart. You won’t regret it 😉