It would be ideal if we could all live in small Italian villages and enjoy delicious fresh vegetables during peak season. Given this is not an option for most, we find ourselves scavenging for our nutrients under the fluorescent lights of the local grocery store. You have your heaps of fresh vegetables piled high and then you have the frozen food aisle where you can find bags of frozen veggies adorned with blown up photoshopped images of the veggies they contain. So, let’s have a quick look at what your best bet is between these two options.
Fresh isn't always best, but it's complicated. Studies show that some fresh vegetables can lose up to half of their nutrients after transportation, handling and stagnation. The vegetables most susceptible to this sort of nutrient loss are naturally those that are out of season in your part of the world and have to be shipped long distances.
You can overlook this fact for some vegetables that are simply better for you when they're fresh. These include brassica veggies (i.e. brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, etc.) which better retain phytochemicals and antioxidants when fresh. Vegetables high in vitamins B and C (peppers, turnips, beets, etc.) are also good to buy fresh as these water soluble vitamins can be lost in the processing of frozen veggies.
What we think of as fresh aren't actually always the freshest. Several studies have shown frozen veggies to have just as many nutrients and vitamins as fresh vegetables and can sometimes contain even more. The reason for this is that when vegetables are harvested they begin to release nutrient and flavor killing enzymes (trypsin and chymotrypsin). Freezing vegetables stops this enzymatic process, better preserving many of the nutrients. Additionally, if properly sealed and stored, your frozen veggies will maintain the majority of their nutrients for about 1 year.
The veggies that stand up best to the freezing process are those that possess fat soluble nutrients such as vitamin A, carotenoids, and vitamin E. So when you decide to go subzero seek out carrots, leafy greens, and broccoli just to name a few.
You may also want to consider the price difference between the fresh stuff and its icy counterpart. Frozen veggies win when it comes to being more economical. Pound for pound they are always cheaper.
Beyond the shelf price, you also need to consider perishability and money spent on wasted food. How many times have you emptied your fresh produce drawer into the trashcan with tears of regret for the meals that might have been. Maybe you never got around to making that fresh veggie soup or getting crazy healthy with that week long juicing frenzy you had planned. It's all good, life happens, but it's just one more consideration to keep in mind when deciding on fresh vs frozen vegetables.
You’re going to want to make sure that when you cook your frozen (or fresh) veggies that you go light on temperature, time and the amount of water you use. All of these factors when used in excess can cause your veggies to lose their precious nutrients.
In terms of aesthetic, flavor and nutrients, fresh organic vegetables that are in season (locally) are the ideal choice. Frozen veggies are an excellent and cost efficient alternative, although some veggies stand up to processing better than others. And remember, when cooking them go easy on temperature, time and the amount of water you use.
To help you speed things up at the grocery store here's a quick list of what to buy fresh vs frozen.