Fresh vs frozen vegetables: Which is best?

When it comes to fruit and vegetables, we’re constantly told by the media, our friends, or families, that fresh is always the best option in terms of nutrition – “that’s a fact”, they tell us.

Well, not quite.

“You can’t be telling me that a bag of frozen veg is better for me than a nice, freshly-picked vegetable?”

Not better, no – but no worse.

Something that isn’t widely understood is that so called “fresh” fruit and vegetables will have already lost a large proportion of their nutrients.

Garden peas, for example, lose half their vitamin C in the first 24 to 48 hours after picking – and when you take into consideration the picking process, transit from the farm, storage at the supermarket, and then storage in your fridge, you see how the nutrients can drain away.

A study conducted at the University of California examined the mineral profiles of eight different fresh and frozen products, including peas, strawberries, carrots and broccoli. The researchers found that on the whole there were no consistent differences between fresh and frozen samples.

In some cases, such as alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), there was actually a higher content in frozen peas, carrots and corn compared to their fresh counterparts.

To make doubly sure, the researchers conducted a further study examining other minerals – magnesium, zinc, iron, copper and calcium.

The same eight foods were harvested at the same time and split into two batches, one kept fresh, the other kept frozen. Their nutrient content was examined over different storage times as before, and again, no significant differences were observed between frozen and fresh samples.

This may come as a shock to some. But really, it does make a lot of sense.

The process of “flash-freezing”, rapidly freezing the produce after it’s picked fresh, effectively holds the nutrients in. This explains why their nutrient profiles are so similar, as the frozen fruit and vegetables contain the same nutrients to begin with, but are just stored in a way to make them last longer.

Either way, fresh or frozen, make sure you’re getting your five (or more) a day to keep your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death at bay.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dominic Rees
Editorial Health Researcher