Frozen fruits and vegetables take a lot of heat because most people assume that if it’s frozen it must be of a lesser quality and nutritional value than the same items fresh in the produce department.
Is it true? Is fresh really better than frozen? And if so, is the difference great enough to spend more money to make sure we’re always eating fresh fruits and vegetables?
According to nutritionist Cynthia Sass, RD, frozen foods get a bad rap for being processed junk, but the truth is, some of the healthiest foods in the market are in the freezer section.
MATURITY. Ask any nutritionist and you’ll learn that the minute a fruit or vegetable is picked, it begins to lose nutrients. The amount of time between harvesting you eat it impacts its nutritional value. Because most frozen fruits and vegetables are frozen shortly after they are harvested, those items scheduled for flash freezing are allowed to fully ripen. That means they are chock full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Freezing actually “locks in” many of their nutrients.
On the other hand, much of the fresh produce in your supermarket was harvested 1,500 miles away—much of it in South America—and had to travel by truck to get to the store. It may have been picked before it reached its nutritional peak, then artificially ripened during transport.
NUTRITION. Frozen produce has been proven to be just as nutrient-rich, even superior to fresh, retaining most of their antioxidants and vitamins.
Scientists from Leatherhead Food Research and University of Chester, carried out 40 tests to measure nutrient levels in produce that had been sitting in a fridge for three days, compared to frozen equivalents. They found more beneficial nutrients overall in the frozen samples, in everything from broccoli to blueberries.
Of course, eating newly picked produce within minutes of harvest is the healthiest option. However, frozen can be almost as good and is often better than items sold as “fresh,” because unless you pick it yourself, you have no idea how long it has been since that produce was harvested.
ADDITIVE-FREE. Frozen goodies like spinach and strawberries have no additives because freezing preserves food—additives are not necessary to preserve quality. “Naked” produce (e.g. no added salt or sugar) is the norm. That’s why frozen fruits and vegetables carry a single word ingredient lists—just the fruit or veggie itself. Always check the ingredients, but I bet you’ll find at least a dozen varieties in the freezer aisle with absolutely nothing added.
CONVENIENCE. Even the freshest produce comes with a requirement of prepping. Sometimes that extra time requirement is just too much at the end of a stressful day. Know the feeling? Frozen produce, however, magically preps itself. It comes washed, peeled and chopped. Frozen produce can save you a ton of time, making it more likely that you’ll cook and eat at home rather than opting for take out.
Rejoice! March is the best time of the year to load up the freezer because frozen foods are on sale at their lowest prices of the year during National Frozen Food Month.