Although fresh produce generally costs more and lasts for a shorter amount of time than frozen produce, there’s the widespread idea that fresh fruit and vegetables are healthier for you.
However, before you spend more money than you have to, you may be surprised to learn that you may be making the wrong decision.
(originally written by Dr. Weil)
Ideally, we would all be better off if we always ate organic, fresh vegetables at the peak of ripeness, when their nutrient levels are highest.
That may be possible during harvest season if you grow your own vegetables or live near a farm stand that sells fresh, seasonal produce, but most of us have to make compromises.
Frozen vegetables are a good alternative and may be superior to the off-season fresh vegetables sold in supermarkets.
Frozen Produce Can Be More Nutritious
In some cases, frozen vegetables may be more nutritious than fresh ones that have been shipped over long distances. The latter is typically picked before ripening, which means that no matter how good the vegetables look, they’re likely to short-change you nutritionally.
For example, fresh spinach loses about half the folate it contains after eight days. Vitamin and mineral content is also likely to diminish if produce is exposed to too much heat and light en route to your supermarket.
This applies to fruit as well as vegetables. The quality of much of the fruit sold in retail stores in the U.S. is mediocre. Usually it is unripe, picked in a condition that is favorable to shippers and distributors but not to consumers.
Worse, the varieties of fruits selected for mass production are often those that merely look good rather than taste good. I keep bags of frozen, organically grown berries on hand year-round – thawed slightly, they make a fine dessert.
Benefits of Frozen Produce
The advantage of frozen fruits and vegetables is that they usually are picked when they’re ripe, and then blanched in hot water to kill bacteria and stop enzyme activity that can spoil food. Then they’re flash frozen, which tends to preserve nutrients.
If you can afford it, buy frozen fruits and vegetables stamped USDA “U.S. Fancy,” the highest standard and the one most likely to deliver the most nutrients. As a rule, frozen fruits and vegetables are superior nutritionally to those that are canned because the canning process tends to result in nutrient loss. (The exceptions include tomatoes and pumpkin.)
When buying frozen fruits and vegetables, steer away from those than have been chopped, peeled or crushed; they will generally be less nutritious.
A Caveat for Frozen Produce
Now that you know you can save money and get more nutritious fruits and vegetables if you buy frozen instead of fresh (in some cases), just be sure that the frozen produce you reach for don’t have any additives, such as salt or butter. You should only find the vegetables listed in the ingredients.
Bottom line: “Off-season,” frozen fruits and vegetables will give you a higher concentration of nutrients. But when vegetables are in-season, buy them fresh and ripe from your local market. Make sure they are selling produce that have been picked on the same day.