Do you think fresh vegetables are more nutritious?
Let's set the record straight about frozen vegetables.
From a young age, most of us are encouraged to eat our vegetables. Despite this early emphasis, most children and adults alike fail to meet the daily recommendations for these important sources of nutrients (7-10 servings of fruit/veg).
Before diving into the difference between fresh and frozen vegetables, I think it's important to state that fruits and veggies shouldn't be seen in the same light. Although nutritious, fruit also contains far more sugar and calories than vegetables, which are higher in fibre. For anyone looking to lose body fat, fruit should be minimized in the diet while vegetables should be maximized. With that bit of housecleaning out of the way...
Why are vegetables so important?
- They are rich in antioxidants (protection against free radicals and disease), vitamins, minerals, fibre (gut health), and phytonutrients that protect us against carcinogens and have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.
- They contain lots of water to help you stay hydrated.
- They are alkaline producing, which can help to preserve bone mass and muscle tissue.
- They are nutrient-dense and calorie-poor, meaning they make you feel full without a high calorie intake, making vegetable a key weapon for managing body weight and composition. Increasing veggie intake is one of the first things you should do if you want to lose body fat.
Are fresh vegetables more nutritious than frozen vegetables?
There is little-to-no evidence to support this claim. Many "fresh" vegetables (like those you find in large commercial grocery stores) have spent multiple days in transit, and the longer fresh veggies are from the moment they are picked, the more nutrients they lose. In order to preserve these vegetables for as long as possible, they are sprayed with chemicals (which is why you should always wash your vegetables) and are kept under UV lights at the grocery store. Frozen vegetables, on the other hand, are typically picked at their peak ripeness and snap frozen, preserving the at-the-stem vitamin and mineral content.
Most studies have shown that frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh produce, and there are additional studies showing that frozen vegetables are actually more nutritious than out-of-season imported produce. Other studies have shown lower calcium or beta-carotene content in frozen vegetables, but those same vegetables held a higher vitamin C value than their fresh counterparts.
Although frozen vegetables can be healthier than fresh produce, this will only be true if you avoid veggies packed with additional chemicals or processing formulas. Sodium is sometimes added for taste and any vegetables prepared in a sauce will contain high amounts of fat and preservatives. Vegetables that are properly frozen and kept frozen should not need any preservatives. You can look at the Nutrition Facts Label to find the vitamin and mineral content and tell if there was any processing done to diminish the nutritional value.
Bonus question: Are raw vegetables more nutritious than cooked vegetables?
Again, there is very little proof that this is true, and in fact, some cooked vegetables have proven to be more nutritious than their raw counterparts.
Depending on the cooking method and the particular food, cooking can either enhance or diminish the nutrient availability in food. High temperature cooking (like boiling) is likely to reduce the availability of most water-soluble vitamins (ie, Vitamin C). However, many vegetables (carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers, zucchini, etc.) have been found to supply more antioxidants when cooked, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid. Where boiling and steaming better preserve antioxidants, frying eliminates them through oxidation.
In the end, nutrient loss from cooking generally amounts to no more than 10-25% of most vitamins and minerals. Cooking vegetables helps to maintain the integrity of some nutrients, and causes a small loss of others. In the end, a mix of raw and cooked vegetables is likely the most nutritious approach.
Summary and Recommendations
- If possible, grow your own vegetables; this will ensure the highest nutritional value.
- If you cannot grow your own vegetables, find a local market or roadside stand where you can purchase fresh vegetables from local gardens.
- If neither of these options are possible, buying frozen vegetables is a great option, as they will have avoided any transit time, preservative sprays, and have little nutrient-loss. However, if you can find locally grown produce at the grocery store (anything that hasn't travelled through multiple time zones), this is also a great option. Here in Canada, it will be easier to eat fresh, local produce in the summer months, but the winter months are where frozen vegetables may need to become more prevalent in your diet.
- The least nutritious vegetables you can buy are those that have been imported from distant countries and are the furthest from the date they were picked. Again, frozen vegetables will almost surely be more nutritious in this case.
- In regards to raw vs. cooked vegetables, the most nutritious approach is to eat a mix of both.
- For raw vegetables, be sure to thoroughly wash the fresh produce prior to consumption.
- For cooking, try to avoid frying and boiling vegetables, but instead stick to steaming, baking or grilling (under medium heat).
** Bonus tip: Fat helps your body absorb the vitamins and minerals in your vegetables. Try adding a small amount nuts or avocado to a salad, or eating a fresh locally-raised steak with your veggies.
Vegetables are good for you, no matter how you get them into your body. If you can pick your own vegetables, these are surely your best option; if not, frozen vegetables are the next best thing (and won't be far off nutritionally). In the end, there isn't a huge difference between raw and frozen vegetables, nor between raw and cooked veggies, so mix it up and do what's best for your lifestyle. As always, I will encourage you all to buy local and buy Canadian, but above all else, listen to your mother and eat your greens.