Building on last week’s blog of how to maximise the available nutrition in the food we eat – the polarising question of ‘Fresh or Frozen’ comes up. What’s better?
I hear you saying- am I really asking this question? Yes I am! A self-admitted fresh produce snob (at least until doing research for this post), many of my personal training clients have asked whether eating fresh or frozen fruit and/or vegetables packs the same nutritional punch. Peaking my interest, I wanted to know more.
Those of my clients who prefer frozen vegetables, indicate they choose them for 3 reasons:
Convenience: Frozen vegetables are chopped and prepared – ready to use.
Availability: The question of seasonality never comes into play. They are readily available in the freezer section of the supermarket anytime.
Shelf life: If you are extremely low on time, or really dislike food shopping, frozen vegetables can be a time saver. You can purchase in bulk and they seemingly store in your freezer forever!
Given the apparent convenience that comes with frozen produce, the question still looms- is it as nutritionally sound as fresh produce? I was intrigued to research this question because, as a busy family that is really into our fresh produce, we regularly use frozen berries. My husband goes through so many berries in his morning smoothies I can’t keep up!
I have had absolutely no experience with frozen vegetables, so in the name of science, let’s explore:
Team Fresh: Most fresh fruit and vegetables are picked long before they are ripe. This allows them to continue ripening during the transport and handling processes.
Most of the fresh produce that we buy from supermarkets spends days (even weeks) in transit from the farm, to the market, to supermarket chiller rooms and finally to our fridges, where they can then continue to sit for a few days. This delay is even greater for items not in season that are stored in chiller rooms for extended times.
Team Frozen: Well – frozen produce is – frozen. While this by definition makes it less ‘fresh,’ frozen fruits and veg are snap-frozen shortly after harvest, which locks in those freshly picked nutrients. Admittedly, frozen will never have that ‘crunch’ of fresh produce.
Frozen produce can also help cut down food waste. If you are one of those people that, by the end of the week, has a pile of limp discoloured produce in the back of the fridge, frozen produce stays ‘fresh’ until you are ready to use it.
Team Fresh: Due to the delays described above from the farm to our homes in most supermarket sourced fresh produce- studies have shown that many nutrient levels decrease during this time.
Now, if you source your produce from a farmers market or other locally grown/sourced alternative, this delay could be minimised and nutrients maintained.
Team Frozen: Produce that is to be frozen is generally picked at peak ripeness, when they have the best nutritional content. Once harvested, vegetables are generally washed, blanched, cut and packaged within a few hours. Fruits are generally just frozen, with no additional processing. The freezing process “locks in” all of the nutrients, antioxidants and fibre content, as demonstrated by various studies on this topic.
However, studies have shown that nutrient breakdown can occur in frozen produce that is stored for over a year.
More importantly, the blanching process leads to loss of some water-soluble nutrients, such as Vitamin B and C in frozen vegetables.
The biggest take-away lessons from this little exploration of fresh vs frozen (which, by the way, has been eye opening and beneficial for me):
Team Fresh: Freshly picked fruits and vegetables straight from the farm or your own garden offer the highest nutritional quality (spray-free ones, of course!).
Team Frozen: However, if you are shopping at the supermarket, frozen produce may be equal to, or in some cases, even more nutritious than fresh varieties.
I seriously never thought I would be saying this, but…
As it is so important to get enough fruit and veggies in our diet, if you are time poor and can’t source your product directly from your local farmers (or as close as possible to harvesting), then by all means, frozen fruit and vegetables are a convenient and cost-effective alternative to fresh that can help cut down on food waste!