From childhood to adulthood, ideally, a healthy lifestyle and diet include fruits and vegetables. It is well known that their intake of vitamins and minerals is necessary for our wellbeing and there is no doubt about the fact that the healthiest food one can enjoy must contain fruits and vegetables. Being also rich in antioxidants, they’re a good start for a health-improve diet because of their complementary contribution in preventing or protecting against a wide range of diseases that are associated with an unhealthy lifestyle such as heart or digestive diseases. Considering their essential nutritional value, the question that is raised is what are the nutritional differences between fresh and frozen? Let's find out what which of these to enjoy all year round and more importantly how to catch everything that is good for each category.
Fresh Goodies Characteristics
Unless you have your own backyard secret garden, find out that most fresh veggies and fruits are picked before they’re completely ripe. The reason behind this is that they are easier to transport and process and for some, the completion of ripe happens during transportation. This also means that they have less time to completely develop the full range of their natural vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Depending on the distance between the originating field, distribution storage, and final seller, fresh fruits and vegetables are passing through a transient process of alternating transportation and storage from at least three days to several weeks. There are some products, such as pears and apples, which can be stored up to one year, in proper conditions. The bad news is that some of the nutrients are lost during this process. Fresh products are generally transported and stored in controlled temperature conditions and some of them are even chemically treated to prevent deterioration. This is the reason why, at the moment of their supermarket arrival, they still look good but their nutritional characteristics are partially lost. Add to this process an additional one to three days on display and an average of one-week storage in your homes before being consumed.
Frozen Treats and Some Research Data
As compared to supermarket fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen ones are commonly harvested at peak ripeness and fully developed from a nutritional point of view. Harvested vegetables are packed within a couple of hours, after being washed, blanched, sectioned and quickly frozen. This process is applicable for fruits too, except the blanching phase – consisting in submerging the product in boiling water for a few minutes –which can affect texture and color. The spoiling of frozen fruits is generally prevented by ascorbic acid treatment or adding sugar. The positive aspect in processing frozen fruits and vegetables is that, normally, does not involve chemical treatment. However, studies have shown that:
generally, the freezing procedure is helpful in retaining fruits and vegetable nutrients;
yet, some of the nutrient content is starting to break down if the product is kept frozen for over a year;
unfortunately, the blanching process favors most of the nutrients loss even though it is useful in eliminating bacteria, preserving texture, flavor, and color ;
the percentage of water-soluble nutrient loss, such as vitamins B and C, depends on the length of the blanching process and the type of vegetable, the average loss is 50% but could vary from 10% up to 80%;
at the same time, some studies results are sustaining that the antioxidant activity level it is retained even though some water-soluble nutrients are lost.
Storage Damage for Both Categories
It is quite sure that, in any case, storage plays an important role in keeping or losing the quality of a fresh or frozen product. A short time after picking, every originally fresh harvest, starts losing moisture and dropping both nutrient and antioxidant value. Studies have also established that in only three days of refrigeration, the level of nutrients descends below those of the processed and frozen varieties, especially for soft and moisture fruits. The C vitamin contained in fresh green veggies such as peas or spinach begins to decline minutes after harvesting and the process continues during storage. Green peas lose almost half of their vitamin C content in the first two days. This applies as well to chill stored or room temperature stored vegetables. Yet, when it comes to carotenoids levels and phenolic, looks like proper storage may increase their level due to the continuously ripening process that was observed especially in fruits. In terms of frozen fruits and vegetable storage, vitamin C and phenolic antioxidants levels are more susceptible to decrease during processing and a less than a year storage is advisable.
The Nutritional Values of Fresh vs. Frozen
Bottom line, the general idea is that the nutrient content of fresh vs. frozen fruits and vegetables varies slightly. Here is why:
studies completed over time used both freshly picked products and supermarkets products and, as previously stated, storage and transportation of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the urban environment has quite an impact resulting in nutrients loss;
also, the generally accepted idea is that processed frozen products are preserving nutrient value and in some cases, it was proven that the percentage of the preserved nutrients of frozen products are higher than in fresh supermarket displayed goods;
furthermore, there are some characteristics such as fibers, minerals, vitamin E and vitamin A levels as well as carotenoids levels that are equally present in both fresh and frozen as they are generally not impacted by processing, especially by the blanching phase;
considering only the supermarket products, the conclusion is that the antioxidant activity and the nutrients level is quite similar in fresh products such as green beans, peas, spinach, broccoli and carrots and their similar frozen varieties;
in some cases, such as green beans, spinach or broccoli frozen products could contain higher levels of vitamin C compared with their home-stored for a few days varieties due to the fact that fresh products have the following loss percentage of vitamin C within seven days storage: spinach 75%; broccoli 56%; green beans 77%.
There is no highest quality of fruits or vegetables as those that are freshly picked and consumed, preferably after a soft steam cooking when it comes to vegetables. However, if supermarket shopping is your only option, keep in mind that frozen products may have similar nutritional value than fresh ones, and in some cases, even more. The convenience and cost-effective aspects of the frozen goods are also to be taken into consideration. Keep in mind the seasonality of the fresh purchased fruits and vegetables and the validity period of the frozen ones, paying attention to important label information such as harvesting date, packing date, the type o processing used and storage temperature. A good and balanced mix of the both fresh and frozen might be the right choice.