Frozen vegetables are just as healthy as fresh, and can be cheaper and more convenient
- Frozen vegetables have the same nutritional value as fresh, with the added convenience of being easier to store and less expensive, in many cases.
- Frozen produce can sometimes have added sugar, salt, or sauces, so read the label carefully before buying to avoid unwanted ingredients.
- How produce is prepared can impact its nutritional value, so it's best to steam or saute it, regardless if you buy fresh or frozen.
Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy
Frozen fruits and veggies have as many nutrients as their fresh counterparts, and can have added benefits such as affordability and convenience, according to Shanon Whittingham, a certified nutritionist with a private practice in Brooklyn.
"Frozen is just as good as fresh," Whittingham told Insider. "There are some pros and cons to each, so I like to keep both on hand and I like to mix it up."
Veggies and fruit don't lose nutrients during the freezing process
Fruits and vegetables that are destined to be sold in frozen form are picked at peak ripeness, according to Whittingham. They're then preserved using a freezing process that does not significantly damage the nutritional value of the produce.
As a result, frozen produce is still rich in:
- Vitamins: A, B, C, D, E and K are essential for human
health, helping keep your cells and organs healthy, convert food to energy, and support your immune system.
- Minerals: including calcium, potassium, sodium, iron, and zinc are also necessary for strong bones and teeth, healthy muscles, and a well-functioning nervous system.
- Fiber: an important nutrient for digestive health and potentially preventing diseases such as cancer.
- Phytonutrients: plant-based compounds such as polyphenols and flavonoids that help reduce inflammation and provide antioxidant benefits, lowering risk of some diseases.
Frozen vegetables and fruits can save time and money
Frozen produce can even have some advantages over fresh. For one thing, fresh produce is often picked before it's completely ripe, and shipped over long distances, according to Whittingham.
Fresh produce may also spend some time on the grocery store shelf before it ends up in your kitchen, which can reduce the nutritional value somewhat. Or, it may go bad as it sits in your refrigerator if you don't use it in time, which can be a waste of food and money.
In contrast, frozen produce can be easily stored up to a year without losing quality, Whittingham said. It also tends to be cheaper than fresh produce, and the convenience of storing frozen produce means you can enjoy even seasonal fruits and vegetables year-round.
Be mindful of additives like sugar, salt, or sauces
The one drawback of frozen produce, however, is that the texture or flavor of the produce may change during the freezing and thawing processes.
"It may not be firm, it may be soggy, and might have more water in it," Whittingham told Insider.
As a result, some frozen produce may be sold with sweeteners, salt, or sauce to preserve flavor and texture. Those additional ingredients can up the calorie content of your produce; something to be aware of if you're trying to watch your weight or avoid added sugars. Extra sodium, or salt, can also be a factor for your health.
"If you're trying to watch your blood pressure, keep an eye on this, because salt is in everything these days," Whittingham said.
Frozen produce does tend to have fewer additives than canned goods, she said. Canned fruits and vegetables tend to be packaged with more preservatives (including sugar, often in the form of syrups, as well as fatty oils, and more salt).
To avoid any surprise additives, Whittingham recommends reading the label carefully before you buy. Look for products that contain only the advertised fruits and vegetables, without any other ingredients.
She also recommends buying organic versions of frozen produce whenever possible, since it's likely to be cheaper than fresh organic produce and contains no synthetic pesticides.
How you cook your veggies is more important than whether you buy fresh or frozen
Either frozen or fresh produce can be a good source of nutrients, but how you cook your veggies is also important.
Some vegetables will have more or less vitamins or minerals depending on how they're prepared, according to Whittingham, as certain nutrients become more available to our bodies with different cooking techniques.
"That's simply because certain vitamins and minerals break down in exposure to heat, light, or oxygen. And certain vitamins and minerals are activated in exposure to heat, light, acid, or fat," she said.
For instance, fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins, A, D, K, and E are more readily absorbed in the presence of fats. To get the most out of produce rich in these nutrients, saute them in a little healthy fat, such as olive oil, before eating, Whittingham recommends. Try this technique with foods like leafy greens, peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, and tomatoes.
On the other hand, produce can also lose nutrients in the cooking process. Boiling, for instance, can reduce the availability of water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin B, and folate. To retain these nutrients in produce such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and carrots, it's a better idea to steam them, according to Whittingham.
When to choose frozen versus fresh
The main difference between fresh and frozen produce comes down to flavor, texture, and availability, according to Whittingham.
Fresh produce is likely to be a better option for:
- Eating raw, as salads or snacks
- Light cooking such as sauteing, grilling, or steaming
- Buying in-season, to make sure it's as fresh as possible, and
- Locally grown, such as from a farmer's market, with the added benefit of supporting your community
In contrast, opt for frozen produce for:
- Preparing soups, stews and casseroles, since these dishes have longer cooking times and won't suffer from a loss of texture
- Convenience, as it's often pre-chopped to save you some time having to cut up vegetables yourself
- Enjoying seasonal items, such as berries, year-round
When you buy fresh and end up with more than you can use quickly, you can also freeze produce yourself to make it last longer.
"If I thought I was going to have something during the week and didn't, I can freeze it, and it's good for months," Whittingham said. "I'm a huge fan of this to lower food waste."
To freeze produce yourself, she recommends washing it, spreading it out on a tray, and putting that in the freezer so that each piece freezes separately. This can prevent items from sticking together and make them easier to use later. Once frozen, you can put the produce in a reusable freezer-safe container. Frozen produce can be stored for up to a year, according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Frozen vegetables and fruits can be just as healthy as fresh, although they can vary in flavor and texture.
Your best bet is to buy frozen produce without any additives, and enjoy along with fresh, seasonal items when available to maximize convenience and reduce food waste. Finally, cook your vegetables appropriately, either steaming or sauteing in healthy fat, for the most nutritional value.
"What I would say is to have variety, so you can get the benefits of all the vitamins and minerals that your body needs," Whittingham said.
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