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When you think about healthy food, you probably think of fresh, crunchy vegetables, bursting with colour and flavour. Many a health kick has begun with a trolley load or cardboard box piled with fresh produce, all ready to be chopped into inspiring salads, soups, stir-fries and veggie-based sides – or crunched straight from the fridge as a snack.
Frozen vegetables, on the other hand, are longer lasting, more convenient and unlikely to end up in your bin at the end of the week. They’re also said to pack a stronger nutritional punch. So the next time you’re doing your weekly grocery shop, which option should you be buying? Are frozen vegetables really better than fresh?
To separate fact from fiction, we’ve outlined the pros and cons of fresh and frozen vegetables.
There’s a misconception that frozen vegetables lose nutrients, but as they are usually picked or harvested at peak ripeness then snap frozen within hours, they maintain maximum nutrient levels.
Two independent studies by the University of Chester and Leatherhead Food Research found in 66 per cent of cases, frozen fruit and vegetables contained more antioxidants such as vitamin C, polyphenols, beta carotene and lutein compared to fresh varieties stored in the fridge for three days.
While they’re jam-packed with nutrients, keep in mind that boiling frozen (or fresh) vegetables may cause the nutrients to leech out according to Anika Rouf, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia. That’s why she recommends steaming or baking your veggies instead.
While organic or freshly picked produce purchased through a farmers market, grocer or your own backyard offer peak nutrients, they’re not always easy or possible to get your hands on. Frozen veggies, on the other hand, are convenience food and are widely available at a range of price points.
While supermarkets offer many out of season fresh fruit and vegetables all year round, many of these have been in cold storage for up to or even longer than a year, while others may have travelled long distances to get to your local store.
In an age where we’re more conscious about food waste than ever before – and the veggie crisper often the place where vegetables slowly turn mushy and unappealing – frozen veg is the better option as it stores well for months.
Visual appeal, taste and texture all play a role in what we choose to eat and Anika says frozen vegetables simply can’t compete with a salad bursting with crispy greens, juicy capsicums, crunchy carrot and creamy avocado (especially this Jessica Sepel rainbow salad filled with veggies).
“At the end of the day, we know only seven per cent of Australians eat the recommended daily intake of vegetables – being five serves per day. Even if your lettuce is a few days old and it has less nutrients than the day it was picked, it is still enormously valuable to your health, so if it’s a vegetable you want to eat, it’s a good choice – fresh or frozen!” Anika says.
It’s so easy to peel or wash a carrot when you get home from work, while frozen vegetables need to be thoroughly cooked first.
As well as vitamins, fresh vegetables are a great source of dietary fibre, essential for proper digestion and good gut health – in other words, it helps keep you regular. And, fibre levels are not impacted by how many days have passed since harvesting.
While frozen vegetables maintain maximum nutrient levels, there are many benefits to eating veggies fresh too. At the end of the day, the only ‘wrong’ way to consumes vegetables is to not consume them enough, and by combining the availability and budget-friendly frozen options with the more visually and flavour-filled fresh, you can have the best of both worlds AND up your intake (yes, that’s a hint).
For more tips about giving your body the fuel it needs to function, check out The Check Up’s dedicated nutrition section.