You might think frozen produce is inferior to fresh and not worth your time or dollar. It turns out that’s not necessarily true. In some cases, frozen can actually be a better choice – it’s all about timing and preserving nutrients. And convenience.
If you get your produce from a supermarket or grocery store, your produce might not be as “fresh” as you think. If you consider the time it takes to get the produce from field to store, and then how long items might sit out before they are purchased, the “fresh” label is starting to wilt! Then how long does your produce sit on the counter or shelf at home? Eating fresh produce as close as you can to the time you buy it is key to getting the nutrients (such as vitamins and antioxidants) that degrade over time and otherwise get lost on the shelf.
The idea that frozen produce is nutritionally inferior to fresh is often not the case. Although if you eat directly from your garden, that would give you a strong advantage!
If you buy directly from a farmer, at a farmers’ market or through a produce delivery box (some are known as CSA’s, or Consumer Supported Agriculture), the freshness and nutrient levels of your weekly greens may increase. Prepare and eat all fresh produce within a few days or… freeze them!
The frozen produce you buy at a store is normally processed at peak ripeness, within a few hours of being picked, and no (or minimal) nutrients are lost. At that point, few nutrients will degrade over time. This is in contrast to non-frozen produce, which constantly loses nutrients due to exposure to heat, light and oxygen, unless it’s still in a process of ripening.
A similar story exists for canned fruits and vegetables, provided they are free of added salt and sugar.
According to researchers at UC Davis, nutrient profiles of produce are comparable between fresh, canned and frozen, taking into account factors like time on the shelf, oxidation of frozen foods, and heat applied before canning.
If you bake or fry your food, or expose it to any other high-heat cooking method, you will lose even more nutrients. Minimally cooking frozen produce, like steaming frozen broccoli or putting frozen blueberries into oatmeal, is therefore another great strategy for not losing the nutrients you originally purchased.
A whole variety of frozen produce is available at most stores, including organic, and can keep you eating summer berries all year long! I recommend keeping healthy, frozen staples at home, like pre-cut broccoli, spinach leaves and mixed berries. That way you always have an easy, nutritious option when time is in low supply or you can’t make it to the grocery store before your next meal.
In the end, the most important thing for health is that you eat fruits and vegetables at every meal, whether frozen, canned or fresh, organic or conventional. Having more convenient versions of these foods available may help ensure that you eat them more often.