Frozen vegetables have a pretty awful reputation. They’re often seen as inferior, a less appealing choice than fresh ones. That makes sense, right? After all, food is always best for us when it’s fresh. The more processed it is, the fewer the benefits.
Yet, taking the logical approach with health doesn’t always work. Some foods have different health effects than we expect them to. Spinach is a classic example here. Despite being a famous nutrient-dense dark leafy green, spinach is also shockingly high in oxalates – to the point that overconsumption can cause serious harm.
Frozen vegetables could be misunderstood similarly. Indeed, plenty of evidence suggests that they retain most of the same nutrients that you get in fresh vegetables. So then, are frozen vegetables good for you? Are they something that’s worth including in your diet or should you stick to fresh ones instead?
Is Frozen Vegetables Good For Your Health?
- Benefits Of Frozen Vegetables
- Problems With Frozen Vegetables
- Are Frozen Vegetables As Good As Fresh Ones?
- How To Get The Most Out Of Frozen Vegetables
- Can You Freeze Your Own Vegetables?
- Final Thoughts
Benefits Of Frozen Vegetables
They’re Still Nutritious
Researchers seem fascinated by frozen vegetables, interested in learning exactly what happens to the nutrient composition when vegetables are frozen. The idea is somewhat complicated, as there are many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in vegetables and each vegetable may behave a little differently after it has been frozen.
Still, research consistently shows that frozen vegetables have a similar nutrient composition to fresh ones. Most of the valuable nutrients are retained, so you still get plenty of them when you eat frozen vegetables.
The biggest potential loss is in water soluble nutrients, such as vitamin C, because the vegetables are blanched first. However, because they are snap frozen soon after, even these nutrients aren’t lost like you might expect.
That’s not all, some antioxidants may actually be higher in frozen vegetables than fresh ones.
This happens because frozen vegetables get picked at the ideal time, then frozen within a few days. Doing so seals in the quality, giving you a vegetable that was picked when it was as fresh as possible.
This doesn’t happen with the produce you buy in a local store. That produce has often been sitting for a while. Not just in the store either. It may have even traveled halfway across the country in the journey from the fields to you.
Then, you might be storing the produce in your fridge or cupboard for a few days before you eat it. As this time passes, the quality of your fresh produce is decreasing, which can mean fewer antioxidants and perhaps even fewer nutrients.
Plus, fresh vegetables are sometimes picked before they’re ripe to help them survive the transport process better. They still ripen up along the way, but they’re not as nutrient packed as vegetables that ripened on the plant.
Some nutrients could be a little lower in frozen vegetables, that’s true. However, if this is the case, the difference isn’t likely to be dramatic – and doesn’t matter much. You’re getting plenty of nutrients regardless, nutrients that help you to stay healthy.
They’re Widely Available
Frozen vegetables are also easy to find, as they’re sold in almost every grocery store. Plus, you can find the same collections of vegetables regardless of the season, which isn’t true for fresh vegetables at all.
This is incredibly helpful. Frozen vegetables tend to be consistent in their quality too, while fresh ones are all over the place.
They Last For A Long Time
Fresh vegetables lose their quality quickly. Most are no good at all once a week has passed and start losing their quality after even a few days.
Frozen vegetables are different. They don’t stay good forever, but they’ll last for 8 to 12 months in your freezer without a problem, especially if you keep them in a sealed container.
Frozen vegetables don’t need to be thrown out after this 12 month mark. However, their quality does decrease considerably, so they won’t tend to taste as good.
Regardless, the ability to store vegetables for months is pretty amazing. It gives you much more flexibility than you find with fresh vegetables – and can mean that you always have the vegetables you need on hand.
They Help You Cut Down On Waste
Fresh vegetables lead to a lot of food waste. Part of the problem is that our intentions often don’t match reality, so we sometimes buy fresh vegetables then don’t use them.
We’ve all done it, from time to time, purchased some delicious fresh fruit or vegetable, then end up throwing it out because we didn’t get to it soon enough.
There’s also a size issue. You often need to buy an entire bunch of celery or bok choy, even if you just need a single serving. This gets frustrating fast, especially if you live on your own.
Relying on frozen vegetables gets around this issue, as you can take out the amount that you want to use and leave the rest in the freezer. Not all types of vegetables freeze well, of course, but you can easily choose meals that focus on freezable vegetables.
They’re Often Less Expensive
Frozen vegetables are also much cheaper than fresh vegetables.
This is incredibly valuable if you’re on a tight budget. It means you can get more vegetables for the same amount of money. Similarly, focusing on frozen vegetables rather than fresh ones frees up more of your food budget for other healthy foods.
For some situations, using frozen vegetables could be the difference between getting enough nutrients and not.
They’re Very Practical
The low price and stability of frozen vegetables make them incredibly practical. Because frozen vegetables last for so long, they’re an easy backup, one that you can keep in the freezer just in case you don’t have enough fresh vegetables on hand.
While you could use frozen vegetables exclusively, most people end up using fresh vegetables sometimes and frozen vegetables at other times.
We’ve been a lot talking about the practical side of things, which might seem strange in a post focused on nutrition. Honestly though, practicality is very relevant for your health.
Suppose the low price and long storage time of frozen vegetables means that you eat vegetables a little more often. In that case, you’ll see health benefits from relying on frozen vegetables.
Problems With Frozen Vegetables
You Might Lose Some Nutrients
While frozen vegetables often contain as many nutrients as fresh ones, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Instead, the impacts of freezing may vary depending on the vegetable and nutrient being considered.
In particular, vegetables are blanched before they are frozen. This is important for preventing the loss of texture and flavor, but could decrease the levels of some nutrients.
The nutrient content will also decline if you’re storing frozen vegetables for more than a year. That’s not too surprising, though. While frozen vegetables have a long shelf life, they’re not going to retain their quality forever.
Fresh Vegetables Are More Interesting
Fresh vegetables are bright, vibrant, and delicious. They’re often bursting with flavor, particularly if they came from a farmer’s market or from your own garden. Plus, many types can be eaten as-is, without any cooking.
Have you tried eating a fresh tomato straight out of the garden or using fresh spinach in a sandwich? The flavors can’t be beaten.
Frozen vegetables aren’t nearly as exciting and they need to be cooked before you use them. They certainly don’t inspire creative meals in the way that an unexpected farmer’s market find will.
The colors, flavors, and smells of fresh vegetables can also encourage you to eat them. Frozen vegetables? Not so much.
They Can Go Mushy
When vegetables are frozen, the water expands out, stretching the cell walls or bursting them entirely. Because of this, your vegetables end up much softer and somewhat mushy when they’ve been thawed.
You can reduce the effect a little by cooking your vegetables from frozen, rather than allowing them to thaw. But, even then, the texture will never be as good as fresh vegetables.
This also means that some meals simply don’t work with frozen vegetables. In particular, if you’re looking for crunchy and vibrant veggies in your dish, you’re better off using fresh versions.
Plus, trying to thaw frozen vegetables and eat them raw generally won’t work. This limits your options somewhat.
There Can Be Added Ingredients
Frozen vegetables are often just vegetables and nothing else. This isn’t always the case, though. Some companies add sugar or salt, giving you a less healthy product.
The added ingredients won’t always be obvious, so reading the ingredients label is a wise practice.
Be particularly careful with any products that have seasoning mixes or premade sauces. These may contain even more unexpected ingredients.
Not All Vegetables Handle Being Frozen
Finally, some vegetables handle freezing much better than others. Water rich vegetables often behave poorly indeed, especially if you defrost the vegetable then try to use it.
Try freezing cucumbers or celery, and you’ll quickly see what we mean. So, you’ll need to skip these vegetables or buy them fresh rather than frozen.
Are Frozen Vegetables As Good As Fresh Ones?
There’s plenty of evidence showing that frozen vegetables can be just as good as fresh ones. They might even sometimes be higher in antioxidants and some nutrients.
However, most comparisons have looked at frozen vegetables compared to fresh vegetables from your grocery store. Some of the studies even compare frozen vegetables to fresh vegetables that have been sitting in your fridge for a few days.
What if you get your vegetables straight from the garden? Or, if you buy them from a farmer’s market, where they were freshly picked that morning?
In those situations, fresh is likely to win – hands down. There hasn’t been any time for the vegetable to deteriorate, so you’re getting the maximum possible benefits.
So then, eating freshly picked vegetables remains the ideal. That doesn’t make frozen vegetables redundant though. They’re still very good for you, even if they’re not quite as healthy as vegetables that come straight from your garden.
How To Get The Most Out Of Frozen Vegetables
Realistically, the way you cook your vegetables matters far more than whether you’re choosing fresh or frozen ones. In both cases, boiling vegetables for prolonged periods means that the water soluble vitamins will leach out into the water. That water often gets discarded, so you’re losing valuable nutrients.
Other methods of cooking tend to work much better. Sautéing frozen vegetables is an excellent approach, as this gives you the ideal texture. You can also steam, roast, or even grill them too, depending on the type of vegetable you choose.
Here are some other tips to give you delicious frozen vegetables every time.
- Don’t overcook them. Because frozen vegetables are blanched first, they’re ready faster than fresh vegetables. So, if you’re using frozen vegetables in a recipe, you’ll need to add them later than fresh ones.
- Don’t thaw them first. Unless you’re cooking corn on the cob or dark leafy greens, thawing frozen vegetables before you use them is a bad idea. Doing so often leads to a mushy mess. Instead, it’s best to cook your vegetables straight from frozen.
- Choose your dishes wisely. Frozen vegetables are best used in meals that will hide their texture somewhat. Stews and casseroles are fantastic examples. You can even use frozen vegetables in a stir fry, as the hot dry heat stops the vegetables from getting soggy.
- Use fresh or frozen vegetables. Meals that combine fresh and frozen vegetables don’t tend to work well. Most of the time, it’s best to use one type or the other, not both.
- Choose the product carefully. In particular, you to avoid frozen vegetables that are clumped together in the bag. That clumping is an indication that the vegetables partly defrosted during their journey and were later refrozen. When this happens, the flavor and quality of your vegetables is often compromised. A frozen chunk of water and vegetables is also frustrating to try and use.
- Keep your vegetables in sealed bags. Doing so helps you avoid freezer burn. While freezer burn isn’t dangerous, it does influence the quality and flavor of your vegetables.
Can You Freeze Your Own Vegetables?
We’ve been mostly talking about buying frozen vegetables from the grocery store. What about freezing your own though?
Doing so is certainly possible and is a useful way to preserve the freshness and nutrients of vegetables that would otherwise deteriorate.
You can freeze any type of vegetable, but anything with high water content like cucumbers, lettuce, and mushrooms generally isn’t worth the effort. Those end up too mushy afterward.
When doing so, it’s vital to blanch your vegetables for a couple of minutes before freezing them. Doing so arrests the action of some enzymes and prevents loss of quality.
If you are careful with your blanching and freezing processes, your vegetables should retain much of their taste and nutrition. That said, home frozen vegetables will never be quite as good as those from the grocery stores – as you don’t have the technology to flash freeze your vegetables.
Frozen vegetables mightn’t be as good for you as vegetables that were harvested fresh from your garden and eaten that same day. But, they may even be more nutritious than vegetables that traveled for miles to reach the grocery store, along with any that have been sitting in your fridge for a few days.
Honestly though, the nutritional difference between fresh and frozen vegetables don’t matter all that much. Both types provide you with plenty of nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber.
Given that most of us need to be eating more vegetables anyway, the best approach is to choose whichever type works best for you. Perhaps this means focusing on fresh vegetables when they’re in season and using frozen ones in the off-season. Alternatively, if you’re tight for time and money, you might eat mostly frozen vegetables.
In the end, whichever approach gets you eating more vegetables is worth doing.
And, on a side note, most of the same benefits and risks apply to frozen fruit as well.