Are Frozen Fruits and Vegetables as Healthy as Fresh?
Are frozen vegetables healthy?
When it comes to eating fruits and vegetables, there are many forms to choose from: fresh, frozen, canned vegetables, dried, freeze-dried—the list goes on and on! Of all the different options, fresh and frozen are among the most commonly consumed, but which option is most nutritious? Are frozen vegetables healthy?
While you might think that fresh produce is always healthier than frozen, that’s not necessarily true. In this article, we’ll be taking a close look at fresh vs. frozen vegetables and fruit to determine which will give you the biggest bang for your nutritional buck.
Let’s jump right in.
The Nutrients in Fresh vs. Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Contrary to popular belief, frozen fruits and veggies can be just as nutritious, if not more so, than their fresh counterparts.
Researchers from Leatherhead Food Research and the University of Chester conducted several tests to compare nutrient levels in produce that had been sitting in a fridge for three days and their frozen equivalents.[*] Overall, they found more beneficial nutrients in the frozen samples. In fact, in 2/3 of cases, frozen fruits and veggies contained higher levels of antioxidants, including polyphenols, lutein, and beta-carotene than fresh veggies and fresh fruits.
This is in line with research that shows that freezing produce doesn’t destroy its nutrients, but rather preserves them. In one study, researchers analyzed the antioxidant levels of ten small fruits before and after a year of freezer storage. After one year, the antioxidant and nutrient amounts stayed the same or even increased for all of the fruits except for hawthorn berry and white grapes.[*]
Other studies comparing fresh supermarket produce with frozen equivalents found the antioxidant activity and nutrient content to be similar.[*] The same study found that there were no significant differences in vitamin content between frozen and fresh vegetables.
Variations in studies likely depend on factors like when the produce was picked, soil quality, and the transit time of the fresh produce tested. Regardless, one thing is clear: frozen fruits and veggies are certainly not inferior to fresh.
Why Frozen Produce Is as Healthy Fresh
Why is it that frozen vegetables and fruit has just as many nutrients, or more so, than fresh produce? It comes down to a number of factors.
Fruits and vegetables destined to be frozen are generally picked when they’re at peak ripeness and, consequently, most nutrient rich. They’re then washed, blanched (vegetables only), packed, and frozen within hours.
While it’s true that blanching (flash cooking) vegetables causes some nutrients to deteriorate, the blanching process used in freezing vegetables is done very quickly to minimize the nutrient loss. Plus, whatever is lost is made up by the fact that freezing produce essentially “locks in” certain nutrients, preserving vitamins and minerals in their optimal, most nourishing form for many months.
The fresh fruit and fresh vegetables available at grocery stores, on the other hand, are picked before they’re ripe, stored in a warehouse, then shipped thousands of miles. This chain of events reduces the nutritional value in a few ways.
Produce is picked before it’s ripe so that it can survive the voyage to the grocery store. This is great for business, but not so much for nutrient quality. When a plant isn’t allowed to fully ripen before being picked, it doesn’t reach its full nutritional potential. Outward signs of ripening will still occur, but these fruits and veggies won’t have the same nutritive value they would have if they had been given time to fully ripen on the vine.
Additionally, fruits and veggies lose nutrients during transport, as the nutrient value of produce decreases soon after it’s picked or cut. For example, one study showed that green peas (not frozen peas) lost 51 percent of their vitamin C during the first 24-48 hours after harvesting.[*]
Incorporating Fresh and Frozen Produce into Your Meals
Since they both offer valuable nutrition, both fresh and frozen produce have a time and place in your kitchen. Fresh produce is a better option for including in salads and for light cooking, such as sautéing, grilling, or steaming. In contrast, frozen produce is an ideal choice for using in soups, casseroles, and smoothies.
Using Frozen Veggies and Fruit in Smoothies
Most people like their smoothies to be cold, making frozen vegetables the optimal choice for adding to nutritious smoothies. Not only does frozen vegetables make smoothies cool in temperature, but it also tends to create a creamier texture than fresh fruit.
At Blendtopia, we use frozen fruit in most of our smoothies, creating blends that are equal parts delicious and nutritious.
While fruit tends to be a staple ingredient in smoothies, don’t forget about veggies! The incredible thing about smoothies is that you can easily add vegetables like frozen spinach or frozen cauliflower and not even know they’re in there—or at least they’ll become much more palatable.
For example, Blendtopia’s Detox Smoothie is jam-packed with greens, but the veggie flavor is significantly masked by other tasty ingredients, including organic pineapples, organic bananas, and organic lemon juice powder.
You can put any veggies in your smoothie that you’d like, from greens to broccoli to celery. Mix it up daily to ensure you’re getting a diverse range of nutrients.
How to Use Frozen Vegetables and Fruit in Smoothies
One of the great things about making smoothies with frozen produce is its convenience. It’s already cleaned and cut up, meaning all you have to do is put it in your blender with any other ingredients you’d like and press blend.
In most cases, you don’t have to wait for frozen fruit or veggies to thaw before putting them in your blender, especially if you have a high-powered blender. If you don’t have a high-powered blender, you might want to let the frozen produce thaw for five minutes so that it’s easier to blend.
The Bottom Line on Fresh vs. Frozen Produce
While eating freshly-picked fruits and veggies from an organic farm or your own garden is likely the healthiest option, consuming frozen options is a close second. Freezing produce seals the nutrients in, offering you the nutrition of freshly-picked fruits and vegetables. Plus, most frozen vegetables in the freezer aisle tend to be more cost-effective, as they don’t go bad for several months. Whether frozen or fresh vegetables, getting more vegetables in your diet is a very good thing.
Ultimately, it’s best to eat raw and frozen produce in your diet. Always have some frozen vegetables, fruit, and smoothie packs as a freezer staple, but don’t miss out on fresh, juicy fruits and crisp veggies either.
Whether fresh or frozen, the most important thing is to ensure you’re getting several servings of these colorful, health-promoting foods each and every day. Do whatever it takes to ensure you're eating enough vegetables!