Fresh vs. Frozen: Which is better?
Fresh vs. frozen continues to be a debate between many people in the food community. Which one is really better for your health? The answer to this question, it depends! The nutritional content of your fruits and vegetables depends on how soon they are consumed after harvesting. Your fruits and vegetables can lose nutrients just sitting in your refrigerator.
There is no significant research that shows that fresh is necessarily better than frozen or vice versa.1 A 2013 study conducted by the University of Georgia compared fresh and private-label frozen blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, green beans, corn, spinach, cauliflower, and green peas from six local grocery stores. In a comparison between fresh and frozen, there was no significant difference in nutritional content between the day of fresh produce and the frozen. The fresh produce was then left in the refrigerator for five days. Researchers compared the fresh with the frozen again and found that the fresh produce had sustained losses in Vitamins A and D.2
Fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm--especially a local farm--are the best for you, especially in regards to Vitamin C content. They have been picked at the peak of ripeness with minimal transport time.3 However, this often is not the case with fresh fruits and vegetables, even the ones you buy in the store. Many of these fruits and vegetables have been picked before peak ripeness and are left to ripen during transport to your local grocery store.4 Frozen fruits and vegetables that have been frozen just after harvesting can retain the healthy nutrients that are lost in fresh fruits and vegetables during transport.5 The actual freezing process of fruits and vegetables does not greatly reduce Vitamin C content, rather it is the subsequent cooking processes.6
If you decide to go the frozen vegetable route, it is important to be extremely selective in what you choose. Look for plain frozen veggies, no sauce or added salt! Often the sauces added to frozen veggies are full of sodium and trans fats. Also, look for high nutrient content relative to the number of calories--look for the potassium, calcium, iron, and fiber content on the nutrition label.7
To cook frozen vegetables, never boil them! Many of the vitamins in vegetables are water-soluble and can be boiled out leaving you with minimal nutritional benefit. Instead, try to lightly steam your frozen veggies.8
Frozen fruits can be a good substitute for specific fruits when those particular fruits are out of season. Of course, look for frozen fruit that has no added sugar.
The most important thing to remember is that more fruits and vegetables are always better. Locally sourced fruits and vegetables are going to be the freshest and best for you, but your local grocery store or market may not always carry local farmers’ produce. In this case, frozen can be a good alternative.
In frozen foods besides fruits and vegetables, you often pay for convenience with nutritional negatives. If you do choose to buy a frozen meal, look for one with primarily organic ingredients and with ingredients you recognize! Anything that has hydrogenated ingredients is a no go.9 Keep an eye on serving sizes as well. Many frozen meals often list multiple serving sizes for an item that you will realistically eat in one sitting.
1. Joy C. Rickman, Diane M. Barrett, and Christine M. Bruhn, "Nutritional Comparison of Fresh, Frozen and Canned Fruits and Vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and Phenolic Compounds," Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 87.6 (2007): 930-44, Web, 12 Oct. 2016
2. "The Pros and Cons of Frozen Foods." Health & Nutrition Letter Article. Tufts University, Feb. 2015. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
3. Linda J. Vorvick, MD, "Foods - Fresh vs. Frozen or Canned," MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 14 Aug. 2015, Web, 12 Oct. 2016, <https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002095.htm>.; Rickman, Barrett, and Bruhn, "Nutritional Comparison of Fresh, Frozen and Canned Fruits and Vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and Phenolic Compounds."; Sean Kelley and Jodi Helmer, "Fresh, Canned or Frozen Produce?" Arthritis.org, Arthritis Foundation, n.d., Web, 12 Oct. 2016, <http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/arthritis-diet/healthy-eating/fresh-vs-frozen.php>.
4. Kelley and Helmer, "Fresh, Canned or Frozen Produce?"; Vorvick, "Foods - Fresh vs. Frozen or Canned."
5. Vorvick, "Foods - Fresh vs. Frozen or Canned."
6. Rickman, Barrett, and Bruhn, "Nutritional Comparison of Fresh, Frozen and Canned Fruits and Vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and Phenolic Compounds."
7. <http://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2014/11/110714_cvarticle-frozen-food.php>.; Roberta Duffy, MS, RD, FAND, "Frozen Foods: Convenient and Nutritious," EatRight, Eatright.org Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 13 July 2016, Web, 12 Oct. 2016, <http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/planning-and-prep/smart-shopping/frozen-foods-convenient-and-nutritious>.; Vorvick, "Foods - Fresh vs. Frozen or Canned."
8. Vorvick, "Foods - Fresh vs. Frozen or Canned."
9. Elea Carey, "10 Processed Foods to Avoid," Healthline, Healthline Media, 19 Sept. 2014, Web, 12 Oct. 2016, <http://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/processed-foods-to-avoid>.