Frozen food gets a bad reputation. There’s a huge emphasis on fresh; fresh food, never frozen, seems to be the standard for healthy food, from Subway to Fresh Slice. Cooking frozen food for your family sometimes seems like a faux pas, carrying a negative connotation and suggesting that health comes second when it comes to feeding your family.
But is this really the case? When it comes to produce, are frozen vegetables as healthy as fresh vegetables? We’re hoping to dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding frozen food. We believe that when it comes to health, convenience and affordability doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy. We believe that you don’t have to choose between the two. We believe that you can eat healthy food and maintain a balanced schedule.
Here’s what we found when trying to answer the question, “are frozen vegetables healthy?”
The Real (Nutritional) Value of Frozen Vegetables
Many people believe that frozen vegetables are less nutritious than fresh vegetables—but why is that?
The fact of the matter is that vegetables that are grown to be frozen and sold are actually harvested at their peak ripeness then frozen immediately, which means that they generally retain most, if not all, of their nutrients.
With that said, the nutritional value of certain vegetables may differ when frozen; some nutrients are recorded to be higher in studies (for example, riboflavin was higher in frozen broccoli in comparison to fresh broccoli), and others, lower when frozen (frozen peas were lower in riboflavin when compared to fresh peas).
How the vegetables were prepared to be frozen may actually play a factor in its nutritional value as well. One study showed that blanching vegetables before freezing may significantly decrease the amount of nutrients that are heat-sensitive, such as vitamin C and thiamine. In certain vegetables, vitamin C could deplete by 10 to 80 percent after the balancing and freezing process, with the average being a loss of 50 percent.
Blanching, of course, is not the only cooking method that may compromise the nutritional content of vegetables. Frying, microwaving, and boiling can all lead to nutrient loss as well.
The Fine Print
Though many frozen vegetables manage to maintain their nutritional content, it’s also important to ensure that the frozen vegetables that you’re buying do not have additives or preservatives. By reading the label carefully, you can avoid added sugar or salt as well.
Many brands of frozen vegetables now come with pre-made sauces, such as cheese sauces or gravies, and are meant to be served as a meal. Steering clear of these brands of frozen vegetables is particularly important if you’re trying to be mindful of your caloric intake.
Those who struggle with high blood pressure may also want to ensure that the sodium content of the frozen vegetables you’re eyeing is low. Though some salt isn’t the end of the world, too much salt can lead to bloating and insatiable thirst, in addition to high blood pressure.
When to Choose Frozen Vegetables
One of the most common reasons as to why people prefer frozen vegetables over fresh vegetables is the fact that they’re a stress-free, minimal-effort product. They take only a few minutes to bring to temperature, making them a convenient option for those who are often short on time.
Frozen vegetables are also more cost effective than fresh vegetables, and they have a longer shelf life than fresh vegetables. Considering the fact that Canadians waste 396 kilograms of food per capita, frozen vegetables are a great way to reduce food waste.
Another benefit to frozen vegetables is that all vegetables are available to you year-round, no matter the season. Because they’re frozen when harvested, you’re getting the best of every crop. Certain vegetables are scarce in the wintertime, which makes frozen vegetables a great option.
Finally, for those who have trouble incorporating vegetables into their diet, having vegetables on hand can help encourage an increase in vegetable intake. Studies have shown that increased vegetable intake can help with a myriad of health issues, such as heart disease and stroke.
When to Choose Fresh Vegetables
As we mentioned before, there are certain vegetables that do lose out on some of their nutrients during the blanch-and-freeze preparation. Fresh vegetables, when harvested, are usually picked before they are fully ripe. You’ll notice that at grocery stores, you’ll often get unripe vegetables like tomatoes or avocados. Because of this, less time is given to fresh vegetables to develop their vitamins and minerals in full.
The transportation of vegetables from the farm to your local grocery store may take a long time; it can take anywhere between days to weeks, and in some cases, months to arrive from the farm. This can lead to the nutrients in those vegetables to deteriorate. Studies have shown that in some vegetables, nutrients can drop lower in refrigerated vegetables than the nutrients that are present in frozen vegetables.
With all of this said, fresh vegetables that are straight from the farm are often the highest quality vegetables you can get. If you’re planning on preparing a meal that highlights the freshness of an ingredient, like a tomato salad, then you would definitely want some fresh tomatoes from the garden or the farmers’ market.
The Final Showdown
So when it comes to fresh versus frozen vegetables, which is healthier? Are frozen vegetables as healthy as fresh vegetables?
The short answer is yes, and in some cases, frozen vegetables may even be able to retain greater nutritional value. Frozen vegetables, because they are picked at peak ripeness then immediately frozen, they manage to retain not only the flavour and texture of the vegetable, but oftentimes, also its nutrients.
Of course, blanching and freezing certain vegetables will deteriorate some of their nutrients, though fresh vegetables at your grocery store may suffer the same fate during transportation of produce from the farm.
Frozen vegetables are perfect for those who are looking for a convenient and cost effective way to increase their vegetable intake, and last far longer than fresh produce. It can even be a great way to reduce potential food waste.
When it comes down to it, the differences between fresh and frozen vegetables are marginal. The minor differences are dependent on things like how long the vegetables have been frozen for, or how long the produce has been out since being harvested. What’s most important is that you try to eat more vegetables, frozen or fresh!
With convenience being a main factor in choosing frozen food over fresh food, Planted Meals is another great option for those who are short on time. Our menu features a rotating selection of approximately 30 healthy, wholesome, and delicious meals. It’s a great option for whether you have a full schedule, or you just want to try out some new plant-based ingredients!
Do you prefer frozen or fresh vegetables? Let us know in the comments below!