Fruits and vegetables are among the healthiest foods you can eat. They are bursting with vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants that contribute to maintaining both your general health and a well-functioning gut flora, which in turn also strengthens the immune system. If you don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, you can resort to frozen alternatives. But what is the difference in nutritional value, exactly? This article details the pros and cons of both options.
Small differences in nutritional value between frozen and fresh produce
In general, frozen fruits and vegetables contain as much nutrition as fresh fruits and vegetables, and if the nutritional content of the frozen produce is lower, the differences are very small. When comparing fresh foods such as peas, green beans, carrots, spinach and broccoli with their frozen counterparts, it turns out that there is no difference in nutritional value and antioxidants between the two alternatives. Fibres that are food for the good intestinal bacteria also occur in equal amounts in both frozen and fresh fruits and vegetables. The same applies to minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron.
The time of harvest and the subsequent handling of the produce are two factors that affect the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables are often harvested before they are fully ripe, giving them less time to develop all their vitamins and minerals. They often look ripe on the outside, but have a lower nutritional value compared to if they had been allowed to fully ripen under natural conditions. In addition, the transportation and storage of this produce can take anywhere from three days up to twelve months. During this time the fruits and vegetables are often exposed to a lot of heat and light, which reduces the amount of certain nutrients such as vitamin C, B vitamins and thiamine.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are instead harvested when they’ve fully ripened. They are then washed, blanched, frozen and packaged in just a few hours. When it comes to frozen vegetables, most nutrients disappear during the blanching process that takes place before freezing. When vegetables are blanched they are placed in boiling water for a short period of time in order to kill harmful bacteria and at the same time preserve their taste, colour and texture. This process results in slightly lower levels of water-soluble and heat-sensitive nutrients such as vitamin B and vitamin C. Apart from the loss of the water-soluble vitamins B and C, the nutritional value of the frozen vegetables remains the same. This loss of vitamins does not apply to frozen fruits, as they do not undergo blanching.
Frozen fruits and vegetables may in some cases contain greater amounts of vitamin C and antioxidants than fresh ones
However, studies conducted on frozen peas, green beans and frozen spinach have shown that these foods contain more vitamin C than if they had been bought fresh and left in the fridge for a few days. Some types of freeze-dried fruits have also been shown to contain more vitamin C than fresh fruits. Frozen produce generally contains slightly lower levels of beta-carotene, (vitamin A) however. Studies comparing frozen and fresh blueberries, have shown that frozen blueberries contain larger amounts of both vitamin C and antioxidants compared with the same amount of fresh blueberries.
The pros and cons of both options
Fresh fruits and vegetables:
- Taste better
- Have a shorter shelf life
- Are a little bit more expensive
Frozen fruits and vegetables
- Have the same nutritional value
- Usually taste a little bit less
- Have a longer shelf life
- Are a little bit less expensive
A combination of fresh and frozen produce is ideal
Fully ripened fruits and vegetables that have been picked directly from local farms or perhaps your own garden contain the most nutrition. Not all types of fruits and vegetables can be grown locally though, and in Singapore many foods are imported from other countries. Fresh goods that are transported longer distances might be stored for quite some time before reaching the grocery store. In these cases, the frozen produce contains the same amount, and sometimes even higher amounts, of nutrients compared to fresh produce. It is therefore best to begin with looking at which fruits and vegetables are in season and then choosing a mixture of frozen and fresh foods in order to maximise your intake of nutrients and fibre.
A few tips for maximising the nutritional value of your produce
Fruits and vegetables should be eaten fairly soon after being purchased, as the nutritional value of these types of produce decreases over time. This especially holds true for fresh produce, but the nutritional value of frozen fruits and vegetables also decreases slightly over time. Steaming your vegetables is preferable to boiling them, as many water-soluble vitamins disappear when vegetables are boiled.
As a complement to a healthy diet including lots of fruits and vegetables, taking probiotic/synbiotic supplements such as Synbiotic15 is a good way of providing the body with additional fibre and benign bacteria that benefit the gut flora and strengthen your immune system.