Grabbing pork chops from the freezer, your eyes linger on the bag of frozen peas, weighing them against the broccoli in the produce drawer below. Both fresh and frozen vegetables make healthy additions to any diet, but understanding the differences between the two will help you make the best nutritional decision for each meal.
“Fresh is always best, but even frozen or canned vegetables are better for you than almost anything else,” explained Mary Angela Miller, registered dietician and administrative director for nutrition services with the Ohio State University Medical Center.
The amount of time between the harvest of a vegetable and when it lands in the freezer or on a plate dictates how many nutrients stay and go. , while many fresh vegetables spend time in shipping and sitting on store shelves. Some nutrients in fresh vegetables, especially green vegetables, are sensitive to light or heat and this waiting period puts them at risk.
Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables also store easily and have a long shelf life–up to 24 months in unopened packaging. Avoid products that don’t appear fully frozen or those with ice on the outside, indicating they may have been thawed and re-frozen. Though thawing and re-freezing vegetables doesn’t make them dangerous, it reduces quality and taste. Shop for frozen vegetables last and bring a small cooler for the ride home on the hottest summer days to ensure veggies stay frozen. Also, watch for high sodium and sugar additives and opt for low-sodium, low-sugar and salt- and sugar-free alternatives.
Despite the benefits of processed vegetables, fresh veggies remain the top choice for many people.
“The one good thing about fresh is that it tastes better,” Miller said. “And as dieticians, we’re always looking at positive things to tell people instead of what not to do. If you eat more veggies, you’re less likely to eat other things you shouldn’t.” Fresh veggies also retain certain nutrients, such as fiber, that may be diminished during processing.
Whether opting for fresh or frozen veggies, preparation also affects quality and taste. Boiling vegetables in large amounts of water for a long time can strip away water-soluble vitamins. Preserve these nutrients by reducing the amount of water and limiting heat and cooking time. For optimum taste, only wash vegetables immediately before cooking, leave the skin on when possible to retain fiber and prepare vegetables as close to serving as possible. Keep these things in mind and both fresh and frozen vegetables will remain a tasty and nutritional part of your daily diet.
Mary Sterenberg is a freelance writer from Franklin County.