Fresh vs. frozen: What's best when it comes to veggies?
Should you give frozen vegetables the cold shoulder? When it comes to peak produce freshness and cost, you’ll want to keep several factors in mind.
During the winter months, fresh produce prices can soar. And, if certain things aren’t in season, it can be challenging to find them in your produce section. Fresh sweet corn in January? Probably not going to happen. But, when you’re in the mood for fresh rhubarb or broccoli and there’s none to be had, shelve your disappointment and head down the frozen foods aisle. You may be surprised by the variety and quality of produce.
If you’re wondering if frozen veggies as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, we’ve got good news.
Freezing vegetables seals in nutrients
Research suggests that freezing produce “locks in” nutrients, while fresh veggies slowly lose nutrients between the time they’re picked and the time they hit your table.
Once harvested, fresh produce often travels thousands of miles before it arrives at the store. From there, it sits in the produce section, likely followed by a short stint in your refrigerator. This long sojourn is hard on these farm-fresh goodies. Traveling and exposure to heat, light and air all lead to a loss of nutrients. To avoid this, consider eating local produce when possible. A great way to find locally grown produce near you? Your local farmer’s market.
“Fresh vegetables are most nutritious when they’re picked at peak ripeness and eaten soon after, but that’s not always possible,” says Amanda Otruba, a registered dietician at Geisinger. “Veggies that are frozen shortly after they’re picked can be just as nutritious as fresh produce.”
What to look for in frozen veggies
When it’s not possible to pick fresh produce, there are some things to look for when buying frozen vegetables.
- Choose vegetables that have been “flash frozen.” Freezing vegetables stops the aging process and preserves the nutrients. When veggies are flash frozen, they’re picked at the height of their ripeness and frozen quickly to seal in nutrients.
- Look at the label. Though most frozen vegetables are free of salt or other ingredients, it’s always good to double check.
- Think twice about veggies cooked in sauces. These can add sodium to your meal — along with unnecessary calories, fat and preservatives that you might not expect.
Fresh or frozen, the benefits are bountiful
Eating a mix of colorful veggies helps you get enough important nutrients, such as:
- Vitamin A: Supports healthy vision, immunity, reproduction and organ function.
- Vitamin C: Acts as an antioxidant to eliminate free radicals in the body. Also supports collagen development, improves iron absorption and helps the immune system.
- Fiber: Keeps you full and supports a healthy digestive system.
- Folic acid: Helps make red blood cells and aids in the prevention of birth defects in pregnant women.
- Potassium: An electrolyte that supports nerve function and muscle contraction.
“Frozen vegetables make it easier to get your vitamins during the winter,” says Otruba. “They also provide an excellent shortcut to make sure you get two to three cups of veggies a day — all year round.”
Ideas for packing a nutrition punch
Having a bag of frozen peas on hand can add some extra fiber, protein and flavor to your otherwise ho-hum dishes. Try these ideas to sneak more produce into your diet:
- Make smoothies. Frozen spinach and other greens can make any morning potion more palatable — especially since they will most likely turn your drink a fun shade of green.
- Toss in pasta. Broccoli, peas and carrots — oh my! When you’re boiling noodles for pasta dishes, adding a handful of frozen veggies to the pot to add some substance to your spaghetti.
- Take and bake. Frozen vegetables can add moisture (due to the water content) and bulk to baked dishes. Or you can thaw them and use like fresh, such as in this recipe for Shepherd’s pie.
- Make them the star. Who needs fresh? Frozen veggies can be quicker to cook and work just as well as fresh in your favorite dishes, like in this rice and veggie skillet recipe.
Check out these other fun ideas.
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