It’s no tall tale that your plate should be teeming with veggies. We require at least nine servings every day, but the typical American only consumes one-third of that. While the cost of fresh produce might make you quickly turn around in the veggie aisle, you shouldn’t leave the store completely without checking out the frozen section. While it’s true that some veggies should be consumed while fresh, others can withstand the freezing process and provide the same—if not more—amount of nutrients. Which ones exactly? Keep reading to find out. Your budget and sickness-free body will thank you.
The fact that frozen veggies are cheaper and last longer used to stand as the sole reason to buy them, even if we didn’t quite know how nutritionally sound they compared to their fresh counterparts. It turns out you can continue stocking your freezer with these icy, bagged veggies as long as you stick to a certain variety. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain enzymes that cause the produce to lose its color, flavor and nutrients after harvest. Freezing the food stops the reaction by deactivating the enzyme and leaving the veggies with more nutrients.
Before you take a trip to the grocery store and stock up on every frozen veggie available, take a careful look at the nutrient label. Foods with high amounts of fat-soluble nutrients—think vitamin A, vitamin E and cartenoids—are best at freezing because they’re more stable during the food processing and storage process. In this case, your best bet is going for carrots, leafy greens and broccoli. When you’re ready to cook, studies show there’s no need to add in time for thawing (hooray to the last-minute power cookers out there!). Thawing can actually speed up the loss of vitamin C in frozen peas, spinach, okra and green beans, so it’s best to transfer them directly from freezer to fryer. How cool!
What’s better than biting into a fresh carrot or steaming some just-picked green beans? Not much when it comes to the culinary world. With the beginning of fall quickly approaching (tears for all the summer lovers out there!), it’s time to hit up the farmers markets while these veggies are still in season. While your freezer might be stocked with frozen produce, some vegetables are better fresh when it comes to taste and nutritional value. Brassica veggies—cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, to name a few—are better when fresh because they’re packed with the water-soluble vitamins B and C, which can be leached during the freezing process. These veggies also retain more phytochemicals and antioxidants, compounds that could help prevent certain cancers.
Keep in mind what it takes to get your produce from the farm to your grocery store aisle. Vegetables are often picked before they’re completely ready, so while they may continue to ripen before making it to your basket, this method gives them less time to develop all of the vitamins and minerals that could come from the veggies in your own backyard garden or at a local farmer’s market. Additionally, the long transportation process leaves the produce susceptible to heat and light, which can also degrade those water-soluble nutrients.
Your mom wasn’t lying when she said veggies are good for you. They provide powerhouse vitamins and minerals that ward off your body from sickness and disease. But does it matter if they come to your plate from the farm stand or freezer? Well, it’s best to take into account the season and type of veggie. You’re more likely to be consuming fresher veggies in the summer, when stores are able to get produce from local farms. When stores outsource from farms hundreds of miles or more away, the veggies are picked before they’re ready and ripen as they travel to your store, which means they likely didn’t have all of the time needed to develop the vitamins and minerals that could have come from staying on the vine longer.
However, if you’re looking to stock up on veggies as the cooler months creep in, keep in mind other veggies can handle the freezing process than others. Carrots, leafy greens and broccoli will keep better frozen than kale, Brussels sprouts or cauliflower, because they’re packed with fat-soluble nutrients, which aren’t as delicate as the water-soluble veggie varieties. No matter if you choose the iced or fresh-off-the-vine option, remember you’ll get the most nutritional value out of cooked vegetables by going easy on the temperature and cooking time and refraining from boiling. Steaming or microwaving is best (and often quicker). Win-win!