Fresh is best, there’s no doubt about that, but just how fresh is the fruit and vegetables in our supermarkets?
Americans typically eat only one-third of the recommended daily intake (three servings instead of nine) of fruits and vegetables, so if you’re in a bind, a vegetable in any form is better than no vegetable at all. And as winter approaches, fresh produce is limited—or expensive—in much of the country, which forces many of us to turn to canned or frozen options. While canned vegetables tend to lose a lot of nutrients during the preservation process (notable exceptions include tomatoes and pumpkin), frozen vegetables may be even more healthful than some of the fresh produce sold in supermarkets, says Gene Lester, Ph.D., a plant physiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, Texas. Why? Fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing tend to be processed at their peak ripeness, a time when—as a general rule—they are most nutrient-packed.
While the first step of freezing vegetables—blanching them in hot water or steam to kill bacteria and arrest the action of food-degrading enzymes—causes some water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and the B vitamins to break down or leach out, the subsequent flash-freeze locks the vegetables in a relatively nutrient-rich state. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables destined to be shipped to the fresh-produce aisles around the country typically are picked before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Outward signs of ripening may still occur, but these vegetables will never have the same nutritive value as if they had been allowed to fully ripen on the vine. In addition, during the long haul from farm to fork, fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to lots of heat and light, which degrade some nutrients, especially delicate vitamins like C and the B vitamin thiamin.
When vegetables are in-season, buy them fresh and ripe. “Off-season,” frozen vegetables will give you a high concentration of nutrients. Choose packages marked with a USDA “U.S. Fancy” shield, which designates produce of the best size, shape and color; vegetables of this standard also tend to be more nutrient-rich than the lower grades “U.S. No. 1” or “U.S. No. 2.” Eat them soon after purchase: over many months, nutrients in frozen vegetables do inevitably degrade. Finally, steam rather than boil your produce to minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamins.
Both fresh and frozen fruits are high in fiber, packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, and loaded with vitamins and minerals.
When you want a healthy grab-and-go snack, opt for fresh fruit. It also makes a great side dish for any meal. The downside is that it can be expensive, and it may lose some nutritional value while sitting on store shelves.
Frozen fruit is frozen at its peak nutritional value, it’s often less expensive than fresh fruit, and it won’t go bad. So if you’re trying to stay on a budget, frozen fruit is a good choice. It’s also ideal for making smoothies and healthy desserts.
The bottom line : Eating fruit, fresh or frozen, is great for your health. Get as many colorful fruits in your diet as possible.
Any fruits and vegetables are better than no fruits and vegetables. For peak flavor and good value, fresh produce in season is always a good choice. But frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, without added salt or sugar, are just as good for you as fresh. Here some easy ways to sneak more fresh and frozen fruits and veggies into your diet.
- Buy many kinds of fruits and vegetables when you shop. Buy frozen and dried, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables
- Experiment with new types of fruits and veggies
- Keep a fruit bowl, raisins or other dried fruit on the kitchen counter and in the office
- Keep a bowl of cut-up vegetables on the top shelf of the refrigerator for snacking
- Add fruit to breakfast by having fruit on cereal
- Choose fruit for dessert and use frozen fruits for smoothies
- Add fruits and vegetables to lunch by adding them in soup, salads, or cut-up raw
- Add extra varieties of frozen vegetables when you prepare soups, sauces, and casseroles