Nutrition Loss in Frozen Foods

Man looking at frozen foods in grocery store
A man is shopping for frozen food. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Healthy foods often mean fresh fruits and vegetables. However, fresh foods do not have the nutritional value that they did one or two generations ago. Fresh foods on average are shipped 1,700 miles from field to supermarket. While they are being shipped, they are losing nutrients. People often wonder about the nutrient loss in frozen foods.

Nutrient Values

Frozen food is picked at ripeness and flash frozen right in the field, so the maximum nutrients are retained. There is a small nutrient loss in the first part of the freezing process. For vegetables, washing, peeling and perhaps blanching is done prior to freezing. The point of blanching is to retain the color of vegetables. Blanching can affect heat-sensitive nutrients. For example, thiamin, a B vitamin, is susceptible to heat and blanching can decrease the levels of thiamin. Vitamin C is susceptible to air and the longer a fruit is frozen, the more vitamin C is lost. Fruits may be washed and peeled, but are not blanched. The freezing temperature keeps produce good to eat for up to a year. Methods of cooking can also decrease nutritional content. Frozen foods actually retain more of their nutrients than fresh or canned vegetables. Vitamin C levels decrease on average about 50 percent in frozen foods. Fresh vegetables can lose from 10 to 75 percent of vitamin C by the time they’ve been in storage for a week, which may be the time it takes the vegetables to get from the field to the grocery store.

Reduce Nutrient Loss

Steaming frozen vegetables in the microwave in little or no water can preserve the nutrients present in the vegetables. Boiling vegetables in large quantities of water will result in more nutrient loss. Roasting vegetables retains nutrients also. Short cooking times and little to no water, as well as larger pieces of vegetables lose the least nutrients. Use the fruits and vegetables as soon as possible, whether they are frozen, fresh or canned. The longer foods are in storage, the more nutrients they lose.

Smart Picks

Some people think additives are added to frozen food. This is true only if the food has added sauces or other ingredients in addition to the vegetables or fruits. Sodium and sugar are often added in sauces. Plain frozen fruits and vegetables have no need for additives. To get the most nutrients from your fruits and vegetables, buy them at a farmer’s market. When choosing frozen fruits and vegetables, pick bags of food where you can feel the individual foods. If the bags are hard and solid, this is an indication the food has thawed and refrozen. Make sure the bags are intact, so bacteria hasn't entered the package.

Conclusion

Even with the nutrients lost in the processes of freezing, canning and delivering fresh, fruits and vegetables still have a great deal of nutrients, along with fiber, phytochemicals and water. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables still contain the most nutrients, but you won’t find these in your local grocery store. Growing your own or making a regular trip to your local farmer’s market is the way to get the freshest of the fresh. Ultimately, the three versions of storage are pretty much equal, nutrient-wise. Pick the ones that are convenient and taste best to you.

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