Are frozen fruits and vegetables less nutritious than fresh ones?

Should we really give them up?

How many times have you heard peo­ple say that frozen prod­ucts have no vi­ta­mins? Or that it makes no sense to eat them if you want to be healthy? At first glance, this seems log­i­cal. But if we look deep­er, we’ll find that it’s not ob­vi­ous at all. Should we re­al­ly give up frozen fruits and veg­eta­bles then? It’s high time we found out.

Creative Commons by Steven Depolo is licensed under CC BY 2.0 [Flickr]

Let’s have a look how fresh pro­duce gets from a field to your home. When fruits and veg­eta­bles are picked, they are not in the peak state of their ripeness. Ear­ly har­vest­ed or­gan­ic prod­ucts are not as rich in vi­ta­mins as in their ripe state, be­cause they have not had enough time to pro­duce and store all nu­tri­ents. Un­ripe fruits are eas­i­er to keep in­tact on the long jour­ney to the su­per­mar­ket, as prod­ucts are ex­posed to a great deal of heat and sun­light, which can dam­age them. The vi­ta­mins C, B6, B12, A, E and K are un­sta­ble, and can eas­i­ly break down due to ox­i­da­tion and sun­light.

Creative Commons by Andrew Malone is licensed under CC BY 2.0 [Flickr]

Frozen = emp­ty?

On the oth­er hand, frozen veg­eta­bles are picked at their pri­ma­ry state of ripeness, when they have max­i­mum nu­tri­tion­al val­ue. Af­ter that, they are ster­il­ized and frozen im­me­di­ate­ly. Ster­il­iza­tion is car­ried out by brief heat­ing to kill bac­te­ria. At this stage, some loss of vi­ta­mins such as C, B2, B12 is in­evitable. How­ev­er, fruits and veg­eta­bles main­tain most of their nu­tri­tion­al val­ue. In a frozen state they do not ox­i­dize, so their nu­tri­ents can­not be dam­aged dur­ing lengthy trans­porta­tion.

A small hint

To get the max­i­mum vi­ta­min val­ue from frozen fruit or veg­eta­bles, you should heat them up in the mi­crowave or steam them, rather than boil­ing them.

Creative Commons by Colin Dunn is licensed under CC BY 2.0 [Flickr]

Ex­pert opin­ion

In 1998, the Fed­er­al Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FDA) pub­lished an of­fi­cial sur­vey that found no dif­fer­ence in nu­tri­tion­al val­ue be­tween fresh and frozen prod­ucts. Fresh pro­duce los­es its nu­tri­ents be­cause of ear­ly pick­ing and long ship­ping, while frozen food un­der­goes ster­il­iza­tion, which is de­struc­tive for some vi­ta­mins.

Re­gard­less of what sort of pro­duce you pre­fer, fresh or frozen, you need to eat fruit and veg­eta­bles ev­ery day to stay fit and healthy.

The fol­low­ing video shows how vi­ta­mins cir­cu­late in our bod­ies:

Source: Joy C Rick­man, Di­ane M Bar­rett and Chris­tine M Bruhn. Jour­nal of the Sci­ence of Food and Agri­cul­ture, 2007, 87:930–944