STUDENT CONTRIBUTOR: Cristina Cirone | Food & Nutrition, Ryerson University
November 17, 2020
Fruits and vegetables are amongst the most nutritious foods you can eat. Their high content of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants make them an essential component of a healthy, balanced meal!
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can put quite a strain on your wallet! It’s unfortunate that eating healthy tends to be so much more expensive! Keeping food fresh during transport and storage is very expensive, and the window of usability is very short. According to CBC News: The National “the price of fresh vegetables has risen by 15.7% in the past year, and fresh fruit has also increased.”
Stats Canada reports only 28.6% of Canadians aged 12 and up reported that they consumed fruits and vegetables 5 or more times a day! This means that most Canadians (71.4%) consume insufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables each day. Each year, the amount of Canadians meeting the recommended fruit and vegetable intake is decreasing.
Unfortunately, affordable, fresh produce is not always available for a variety of reasons, but frozen produce can serve as a more affordable and convenient alternative. However, a significant misconception exists concerning the nutritional value of frozen fruit and vegetables.
So, the question we'll address here is: Are fresh fruits and vegetables superior to their frozen counterparts? Let's take a moment to review the various benefits and limitations of frozen vs. fresh fruits and vegetables and will some myths about frozen foods!
Benefits of buying FROZEN fruits & veggies:
Cost: Normally, frozen foods are much more affordable, especially during the growing season.
Preparation time: Frozen fruits and vegetables are normally pre-chopped and washed. This makes it much more convenient to throw some fruit in a blender and some vegetables in a frying pan!
Growing season: When produce is not “in season” it’s better to buy frozen. Fruits such as berries are picked at their peak prior to freezing and frozen vegetables are often frozen as soon as they have been harvested. This process helps to preserve the nutritional value, retain the key vitamins and delicious taste.
Nutrient retention: After a fruit or vegetable is picked, it begins to lose heat and water in a process called respiration (especially bagged lettuce!). This negatively impacts its nutritional quality. When produce is frozen shortly after it is picked, this prevents loss of nutrients. In addition, some of the water soluble vitamins are preserved when freezing.
Shelf-life and food waste: The freezer life of fruits and vegetables is about 8-12 months before their quality is affected. This is much longer than fresh produce which is around a week. As a result, this prevents food waste.
Benefits of buying FRESH fruits & veggies:
Texture: When produce is purchased fresh, the texture is normally good for eating and has that perfect crunch for about a week. However, this is not the case for frozen produce. When produce is frozen, the water expands. This breaks cell walls and removes some of its structure, resulting in a soft and mushy texture once thawed.
Taste: There's no doubt that fresh produce often tastes much better than frozen when eaten soon after purchase. This is also due to the loss structure associated with freezing. As well, some vitamins and nutrients are lost making frozen food taste relatively bland, especially vegetables.
No freezer burn: Holding food at an extreme temperature for a long period of time can cause water molecules to escape from food and allow oxygen molecules to seep in. This modifies the taste, texture, and nutrient profile of frozen food.
How to Get the Most out of Your Produce
When cooking vegetables, it is best to keep cooking temperatures and time low to minimize nutrient loss.It’s also best to cook vegetables with as little water as possible since water soluble vitamins will dissolve in the presence of water.
Research has shown that steaming vegetables is the best way to preserve nutrients as it boosts levels of antioxidants, B vitamins, and phytochemicals like carotenoids. Potatoes are an exception and it is best to boil them to retain folate levels.
It’s best to store vegetables properly and to eat them in a timely manner. Freezing for extended periods of time can result in water and nutrient loss, especially in a fridge.
Freezing fresh produce
Foods that are high in fat-soluble vitamins such as broccoli, carrots, spinach, and kale are more suitable for freezing since they are most stable during processing and storing. Blanching and freezing is a great way to deactivate the enzymes that cause loss of colour, nutrients, and flavour in fruits and vegetables.
The Bottom Line
Overall, frozen produce has just as many nutrients as the fresh version. Incorporating both fresh and frozen produce into your diet is a convenient and affordable way to maximize your nutrition.