Consuming enough fruits and vegetables every day is a challenge for most people. Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Vitamins and minerals are essential as they perform hundreds of roles within the body. Fresh produce may not always be available. This has led to the expansion of the frozen foods market.
Frozen foods aid in the consumption of fruits and vegetables by providing an easily accessible and convenient option. However, there is debate around whether frozen foods are as nutritionally beneficial as fresh foods. Both fresh and frozen foods are harvested in similarly the same way. But what happens after this point is different for fresh and frozen foods.
Ideal consumption of fruits and vegetables would be fresh, in-season, locally grown produce. Farmers' markets are a great option to find fresh local produce. This ensures you are getting produce picked when nutrient levels were at their peak and on your counter within a couple of days. Or, the even more ideal option, grown in your backyard and on your table the same day. However, home-grown or local produce is not always a possibility. Enter fresh fruits and vegetables at your local grocery store.
Purchasing produce from a grocery store is the next best option to find fresh produce. In the US, produce can spend anywhere from 3 days to several weeks in transit before arriving at your local grocery stores. Fresh produce is stored in a chilled, controlled atmosphere and sometimes treated with chemicals to prevent it from spoiling. Produce is then on display for 1-3 days before you purchase it. It then tends to spend a couple of additional days on the counter at home before consumption.
Due to advanced transportation, we can enjoy fruits and vegetables all year round regardless of where we live. Produce from far-away places can be transported to our local grocery store. But for this to be possible, fresh produce found in stores must be picked before fully ripe. This allows time for the fruit or vegetable to fully ripen during transportation. However, this means that produce at the grocery store may not always be at its nutritional peak.
Picking produce before it fully ripens does have its disadvantages:
When picked early, produce has less time to develop a full range of vitamins, minerals, and natural antioxidants.
Fresh fruits and fresh vegetables start to lose moisture and experience a drop in nutrient value shortly after harvesting.
Water-soluble vitamins start to decline immediately after harvesting. Vitamin C content continues to decline during transportation and storage.
Green leafy vegetables are the most delicate and susceptible to nutrition loss as they have no outer shell or skin to protect them. For example, spinach loses about half of its folate by about eight days after being harvested. However, because spinach is full of vitamins and minerals, consuming it not directly after harvest still offers lots of great nutrients.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are convenient and are picked at peak ripeness. This means they are harvested when they are at their most nutritious. The process after harvest looks slightly different when comparing vegetables and fruits.
After vegetables are harvested, they are typically washed, blanched, cut, frozen, and packaged within a few hours. The blanching process is where frozen vegetables tend to lose some of their nutritional value. Blanching involves placing fresh veggies in boiling water. This takes place for just a few minutes to kill off harmful bacteria and prevent the loss of flavor, color, and texture. The vegetables must then be cooled quickly in ice-cold water to stop the cooking process.
Fiber is relatively unaffected, but the greatest loss of nutrients occurs at this point. The boiling water draws out some of the water-soluble nutrients. Most notably vitamin B and vitamin C. On the other hand, the heat may enhance fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin E. The heat releases these vitamins from their cellular matrices making them more bioavailable.
Fruits are washed, cut, frozen, and packaged similarly to vegetables. But typically, fruit does not undergo the blanching process. This is because blanching may affect the texture of the fruit. Instead, fruit experiences a different process to preserve texture, color, and flavor. Fruit can be treated with ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is a form of vitamin C that can help prevent spoiling. Because fruit does not undergo the blanching process, it loses fewer nutrients in the freezing and packaging process.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are great and offer consumers a healthy convenient option. Frozen peas, green beans, blueberries, spinach, you name it. You can find all kinds of great frozen produce in the frozen food aisle at your local grocery store. From the store to your freezer. From your freezer to your table in minutes. Frozen produce is a consumer's dream.
Overall, the nutrient content varies only slightly between fresh and frozen foods. Fresh foods start with less than maximal nutrients as they are picked before peak ripeness. They then lose some nutritional value during transport to the store. Frozen foods can lose some nutrients in the blanching process. But freezing can also help preserve nutrient value.
While the nutritional content of fresh and frozen produce is relatively similar, frozen produce may have a slight advantage as it offers an added level of convenience. Often your clients may struggle to eat enough fruits and vegetables simply due to time demands. Frozen foods offer a simple, nutritious, and convenient solution.
In addition, frozen fruits and veggies help eliminate food waste. When you bring home fresh blueberries you have a window of time in which they will be ripe and good for eating. Berries tend to ripen quickly once harvested, making for a short window. Often, we forget about our produce and find them once it's too late. This leads to us throwing them out. Frozen berries offer a solution to avoid unnecessary food waste. Frozen blueberries can be kept in the freezer for much longer and offer a convenient alternative.
At the end of the day, the biggest issue is that people don't eat enough fruits and vegetables. Not that they are eating the wrong fruits and vegetables. Fresh vs frozen lends to a bigger question: How do you get your clients eating more fruits and vegetables?
If your client has access to fresh produce and they enjoy preparing it, awesome. If they prefer to purchase frozen vegetables and steam them in the microwave while working on another project, great! At the end of the day, the nutritional value of fresh vs frozen is closely comparable. Encourage your clients to find what works best for them and their lifestyle.
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