Team Fresh or Team Frozen: Who wins the health contest?

Team Fresh or Team Frozen: Who wins the health contest?

The nutrients in fresh vegetables and fruit dwindle down each day that ticks by after harvest, so does that mean produce frozen at peak ripeness is often healthier for consumers by the time they sit down at their dinner tables to eat it?

After all, many groceries wait in the fridge at least a couple of days. And produce that comes from afar has to travel a few days by truck, ship or plane and sit in a distribution warehouse, not to mention the supermarket display before purchase.

Nutritionist, author and CNN contributor Lisa Drayer wrote a piece on May 31 that revived this familiar debate. Drayer and the experts she interviewed appeared to be Team Frozen.

“It might be time to favor frozen,” Drayer wrote, pointing to research that shows some of the eight chosen commodities retain more of the four selected vitamins than their fresh counterparts at three stages of testing.

But the writer’s reference to the January 2015 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry doesn’t name frozen fruits and vegetables the clear winner over Team Fresh.

“Overall, the vitamin content of the frozen commodities was comparable to and occasionally higher than that of their fresh counterparts. B-carotene, however, was found to decrease drastically in some commodities,” lead researcher Ali Bouzari wrote. 

Bouzari told Drayer that when fresh isn’t available at corner stores in food deserts, frozen can be a viable, affordable alternative.

The key is to eat more fruits and vegetables however you can manage it, said Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, president and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, which supports increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables in all forms: fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice.

“The more ways we can make them enjoyable and get them into our bodies, the better,” Reinhardt Kapsak said, calling it a tie between teams Fresh and Frozen. “All forms provide important nutrients people are lacking and have their place on the plate.”

Mollie Van Lieu, senior director of nutrition policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., agreed, saying only one in 10 Americans are eating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables.

“The average person should be most focused on increasing their servings of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and decreasing consumption of less healthy foods — not stressing over somewhat nominal differences in nutrient levels between forms of fruits and vegetables,” Van Lieu said.

Whether fresh or frozen, the healthiest produce is mostly whole without added sugar or sodium, she said. 

“Consumers should think about their preparation of any fruits and vegetables and how they ultimately consume them,” Van Lieu said (source Amy Sowder, June 2019).