Is Fresh Really Better Than Frozen?
Ask any health conscious person about vegetables – if they’re better fresh, from frozen or canned and most likely they will answer “fresh is best”. Preparing your vegetables fresh from the market can give you a deeper connection with your food like no packet food can. With fresh vegetables, they’ve been on a journey to your plate the minute you hand selected them for their perky green leaves and smooth skin, thinking of how delicious they would be in your casserole. No doubt, it is a very different story to selecting your can of vegetables from the supermarket; the fresh vegetables just seem so much more nutritious… or are they?
Research on the nutritional differences between fresh and frozen and canned vegetables is sometimes conflicting. There is inconsistency in methodologies and reporting of results, there are a limited number of studies, and many variables; such as season, cultivar, time of harvest, time in storage before or after processing, the processing method as well as cooking method. These factors all have a part to play in paddock to plate nutrient retention.
Though freezing might negatively affect the structure and texture of vegetables, the good news is that freezing vegetables retains β-carotene (precursor to vitamin A), vitamin E and fibre similar to levels in fresh vegetables. There is some initial loss of vitamins C, B vitamins and phytonutrients during blanching, but when storage and cooking is accounted for, the levels are similar across fresh and frozen vegetables for most nutrients.
This is supported by a study published in 2017 in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis that found there to be no significant difference between vitamin C, β-carotene and folate found in fresh, fresh-stored and frozen vegetables. Furthermore, the study consistently found that five days of refrigerated storage had a negative impact on nutrient concentration, highlighting that nutrient retention of vegetables has many additional variables beyond whether they were bought fresh, frozen or canned.
To put things in perspective, nutrient losses do not equate to canned or frozen vegetables being completely devoid of nutrients; in fact, in the case of frozen vegetables they have been found to be just as nutritious, or in some cases, even more nutritious than fresh. Frozen or canned, they still deserve nutritional merit and are recognised by the Australian Dietary Guidelines as a suitable source of vegetables. The guidelines recommend eating five serves of vegetables a day for health, to maintain a healthy weight and to protect against chronic disease.
An easy way to boost your vegetable intake is to place them on the plate first, filling half the plate with them at meal times. For good measure, choose a variety of different coloured vegetables to make sure you are getting a good mix of nutrients. Considering that Australians are eating just 2.7 serves of the recommended five vegetable serves per day, there are clearly barriers to vegetable consumption. Canned and frozen vegetables can certainly help improve vegetable consumption as they are easy to keep on hand in the pantry or freezer, they allow access high quality produce all year round and they are often economical, making them a practical, convenient and nutritious alternative to fresh.
Jennifer Arguelles, Accredited Practising Dietitian, Simplot Australia