Fresh vs. Frozen Vegetables: Which Vegetables Are Best?
“I’m just too busy” is one of the most common excuses in this day and age, whether people are explaining why they haven’t read a book in years, or perhaps why they haven’t finished the new season of Narcos yet.
This also applies to cooking. Who wants to come home after a long day at work and slave away in the kitchen, prepping and cooking meals? One product that can make this process easier is frozen vegetables – buy these and you don’t have to peel or cut anything. But what about their nutritional value? Are frozen veg less healthy than fresh? Let’s take a look.
The short answer to this question is: it depends. Any food that is high in vitamins B and C is best fresh, as these vitamins are water-soluble and can leech from food during processing. This means greens such as bell peppers and cabbage are best cooked fresh so that you can enjoy all of their vitamin goodness.
Brassica veggies like kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are also generally better fresh, as they retain more phytochemicals and antioxidants that may prevent certain types of cancer.
Of course, fresh veggies can also lose nutrients. As soon as a piece of produce is harvested, it begins releasing heat and losing water, which impacts nutritional quality. Then, the processes of pest control and transportation mean that your greens could lose up to half of their nutrients by the time they hit the shelf. This isn’t a guaranteed figure across the board, but those fresh veg at your supermarket aren’t perfect.
Frozen vegatables do have some advantages over fresh, as well. Fresh produce creates enzymes that cause the loss of color, flavor and nutrients over time. If veggies are frozen correctly, these enzymes are deactivated, thus preserving those nutrients. The best foods to freeze are those with high amounts of fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A and E, as they are more stable when processed.
However, it is important to pay attention to how you cook frozen greens. Studies have shown that thawing frozen veggies before cooking can spur vitamin C loss in frozen peas, spinach, okra and green beans. Boiling or steaming is better for things like broccoli and carrots, as this can actually boost certain benefits. Meanwhile, stir-frying such veg can deplete important nutrients like chlorophyll and protein.
The best way to cook frozen veggies while retaining as many nutrients as possible is to avoid overdoing the temperature and cooking time. Also, remember to limit how much water you use for anything with lots of vitamins B and C.