Earlier this year, I had a startling revelation: I was one of the 90% of American adults consuming far too little produce. I was averaging one, maybe two, servings of fruits or veggies per day—not for any particular reason, just a general lack of planning. Today, I’m averaging between four and five servings, which is the recommended amount for maximum health benefits. I’m on top of the world! I’m going to live forever! I am ungovernable! And it’s all thanks to my sneaky helpers: bags upon bags of frozen produce.
Not only are frozen fruits and vegetables shelf-stable and price-stable; they’re also just as nutritious, if not more so, than their fresh counterparts. Unfortunately, these sneaky greens are unfairly maligned by decrees to “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store. Don’t get me wrong; I love the fresh stuff and am desperately counting down the days until my local farmers’ market opens. But it’s time to dispel the myth that frozen produce is somehow lacking in nutritional value.
Yeah, man! They are! That said, I understand the misconception. Sit a fresh carrot and a frozen carrot side-by-side, and one of them certainly seems more nutritious than the other. The fresh carrot is vibrant and juicy, with a satisfying crunch. The frozen carrot is cold, maybe a bit shriveled, and pale in color, suggesting that it’s lost its mojo. But the mojo isn’t lost—it’s just preserved. That carrot still has a fabulous nutritional profile thanks to speedy harvesting.
Before vegetables are frozen, they’re harvested at their peak. Once plucked, the veggies are washed, blanched, and frozen in rapid succession. The blanching process is key, as it deactivates enzymes in the produce. Left untouched, those enzymes contribute to loss of nutrients and flavor changes in the produce. The blanched produce is then frozen, essentially locking in those valuable nutrients.
Here’s a fun tidbit: frozen fruits and veggies can actually be more nutritious than fresh produce, especially during the off-season for an individual type of produce. Think of it this way: If you’re paying top dollar for strawberries in January, those strawberries have undergone quite a journey. They’ve been harvested, transported, and stored in the grocery store, a process that could take days, if not weeks. Remember those enzymes I mentioned up top? They’ve been hard at work during that time, causing the fresh strawberries to lose flavor and nutritional value. The frozen strawberries, however, were preserved at their peak.
If you want proof, look no further than this 2013 study from the University of Chester. The study found that fresh blueberries lose vitamin C after sitting in the fridge for just three days, whereas frozen blueberries have a generally higher vitamin C concentration. The University of California-Davis published a similar study, finding that “the vitamin content of the frozen commodities was comparable to and occasionally higher than that of their fresh counterparts.”
There you have it: proof that frozen produce should be a part of your five servings a day. Nutrients aside, frozen veggies can also speed up your food prep process. Cheap, nutritious, and easy to prepare? Hard to beat that.