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Are Frozen Fruits and Vegetables as Healthy as Fresh?

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Ask Keri: If I buy my fruits and vegetables frozen, will they be as nutritious as if I buy them fresh?

Keri Says: Yes! Frozen fruits and vegetables actually contain the same nutrients as their fresh counterparts. Sometimes, they’re even more nutritious.

Of course, there are many (delicious) reasons to eat fresh spinach, broccoli, and berries, too. Here’s what you need to know.

The Research

Most studies that have been done to determine whether fresh or frozen produce is more nutritious come to one conclusion: It’s a wash. Sometimes frozen is a little more nutrient-dense than fresh, sometimes vice-versa, but the differences vary and are small enough to be negligible.

And when you think about what affects nutrient content, it makes sense. Let’s take broccoli as an example. When and where the broccoli is grown, harvested, and sold will affect the vitamins and minerals you end up biting into. If it’s grown in rich, healthy soil, it will contain more nutrients than broccoli grown in depleted soil. But that’s a hard variable to control for as a consumer. If you buy it the day the farmer harvested it, it will contain more nutrients than broccoli that’s been traveling to the grocery store for days (or weeks), since nutrients degrade. But if it’s harvested fresh and frozen right away, those initial nutrients will be sealed in and won’t degrade.

frozen vs fresh fruits and vegetables

So if you have access to a farmers’ market, broccoli is in season, and you’re making stir-fry that night, fresh will be the way to go. But if you’re at the grocery store and want to get some broccoli to serve your kids for dinner for the next couple of weeks, frozen might be better.

At the end of the day, you can’t spend your valuable time stressing over the fact that there’s probably slightly more riboflavin in frozen broccoli but there’s slightly more riboflavin in fresh peas. If you’re eating produce at every meal, you’re already doing it right. Good job!

RELATED: What Are Antioxidants, and Why Are They Important?

Other Reasons to Choose Frozen Vs. Fresh

Other things to consider when you’re contemplating which veggies to reach for?

frozen vs fresh fruits and vegetables

If you like to shop far ahead and stock up on things, frozen is a better option. The nutrients will stay sealed in and you can keep stuff in the freezer for a long time before they go bad. If you’re buying things that are super out of season, frozen is also probably better. (Think about it: if you live in New York and are buying strawberries in January, they’re traveling a loooong way to get to you, losing nutrients along the way.)

RELATED: The 7 Healthiest Frozen Foods at Trader Joe’s

But while frozen produce is great for things like smoothies or to throw in a stir fry, if you’re doing some serious cooking, it usually doesn’t measure up in terms of flavor and satisfaction.

Who doesn’t want to make salads with farm-fresh spicy arugula or bite into a tart, crisp apple that was just picked from a tree? In terms of enjoying your food, fresh nearly always wins in my book.

My overall advice? Have a stash of frozen, nutrient-dense produce in the freezer for when you need it and then by local, seasonal fresh produce each week (or when you can) for maximum nutrients and deliciousness.

(Photos: Shutterstock)

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