Fresh or frozen: which veggies are healthier?

When it comes to buying vegetables, there are some good reasons to head to the freezer aisle.

Is fresh best?

It can take several days from the time a vegetable is picked at a farm until it’s being sold at your local supermarket or greengrocers. 

Additionally, roughly 10 per cent of supermarket produce comes from overseas, and conditions such as controlled-atmosphere storage and packaging to reduce the rate of deterioration are often used. 

All these factors  can have a detrimental effect on the nutritional content of your veg and studies have shown that fresh produce may lose up to 45 per cent of its essential nutrients during the journey from farm to table.

Frozen veg, by comparison, are usually snap frozen almost immediately after they are picked, keeping the vegetable and its nutrients pretty much intact. 

Are all frozen foods created equal?

Scientists at Leatherhead Food Research and University of Chester, UK, found that overall there are more nutrients in frozen veg than ones that had been in a fridge for three days. In two out of three cases, frozen veg had higher levels of antioxidants, including polyphenols, anthocyanins, lutein, and beta-carotene. 

Some green vegetables lose around 50 per cent of their vitamin C content within one week of buying. "Just 10 per cent of vitamin C is lost in green veg when frozen," says Maria Packard, from the Dietitians Association of Australia.

frozen spinach in bowl body

Does this mean I should only buy frozen veggies?

No, "fresh vegetables which have been stored for a long time do lose nutrients, but [they] are [still] nutritious options" says Packard.
With just 1 in 20 Australians eating the recommended five serves of vegetables every day, any sort of vegetables, fresh or frozen, is important for a healthy diet.
Ideally, buy your veg from a farmer's market, where the paddock to plate journey will be much shorter, and have some frozen veg on hand for convenience. 
One of the main health advantages of eating vegetables (fresh or frozen) is the fibre content. Fibre doesn't deteriorate as quickly or easily in week-old veg, so it's still worth eating fresh.
Fibre is important for helping:
  • Maintain healthy and regular bowels.
  • Control blood sugar levels.
  • Lower cholesterol levels.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. 
How you cook your vegetables – frozen or fresh – can also affect the nutrient content. "Vegetables that are boiled in large amounts of water for a long time lose most of their nutrients as they are leached into the water," says Packard. "Vegetables which are lightly steamed will retain much more of their nutrients."

"Fresh food, particularly when eaten in season is great, but frozen foods are good alternatives – equally nutritious, and really convenient, with long shelf lives if stored correctly," says Packard. "If you're on a budget, buying frozen vegetables can be more cost effective as they last longer and that cuts down on wastage."

Whichever you decide to use, as long as you're eating two serves of fruit and at least five servings of vegetables every day, your body will thank you for it. 

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