Fresh vs. Frozen Produce: Which Option Supercharges Nutrition on a Budget?

Deciding between fresh and frozen produce can be part of nutritious eating while being mindful of budget constraints.

Woman picking healthy ingredients from the fridge
Woman picking ingredients

Deciding between fresh and frozen produce can be part of nutritious eating while being mindful of budget constraints. Join us as we weigh the factors influencing this decision and provide insights to make choices for a budget-conscious approach to nutrition.

Fresh vs. frozen produce

Which is healthier?

Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at ideal ripeness, which encourages more nutritional value. Some research found that in two out of three cases, frozen fruits and vegetables had higher amounts of antioxidants (1). However, frozen fruits and vegetables are blanched first in hot water or steam. This can break down some water-soluble nutrients, such as B vitamins and vitamin C. Some frozen fruits and vegetables may have added sugar or artificial ingredients so check the food label before buying. 

Fresh picked fruits and vegetables picked and eaten soon after harvesting, such as from a garden, are the highest in nutrition. But fruits and vegetables in the grocery store are harvested before reaching full maturity, which causes them to miss out on some nutrients.

Fresh fruits and vegetables also lose some nutrients after being picked. Vitamin C, for instance, is especially sensitive to light and oxygen. Stored at 39℉ (4℃) for seven days, green peas lose 15 to 77 percent of their vitamin C. Storing vegetables in your refrigerator may help reduce losses. Broccoli stored for seven days loses 0 percent of its vitamin C at 32℉ (0℃) but 56 percent when kept at 68℉ (20℃) (2). 

The answer: Fresh picked from your garden is best. When it comes to fresh versus frozen at the store, they are similar as long as you get frozen versions without additives (3). Since the nutrient value of fresh versus frozen can vary a bit, it can be good to include a combination of both in your diet. 

Which is cheaper? 

Frozen produce tends to be more affordable than the fresh versions. However, the cost comparison can vary based on several factors, including the type of produce, location, and availability. Frozen produce tends to have a longer shelf life, reducing the likelihood of spoilage and waste and therefore saving you money. Local and in-season fresh produce may be more affordable, especially if it doesn't require extensive transportation.

The answer: Frozen produce is usually more affordable than fresh produce, but it depends on availability, seasonality, and location. Try shopping at a local farmers market to cut costs. 

Which is better for the environment?

The environmental impact of fresh versus frozen fruit involves various factors. Frozen produce can reduce the need for long-distance transportation, as it can be stored for longer periods. On the other hand, fresh produce may be transported over longer distances to meet consumer demand, contributing to more greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, transporting fruits and vegetables contributes to 36 percent of food mile emissions (4). 

Whether fresh or frozen is better for the environment also depends on the energy-intensive processing and packaging. Fresh fruit may require more immediate packaging to prevent spoilage during transportation, while frozen fruit often comes in packaging designed to maintain its quality during freezing. When it comes to seasonality, if frozen fruits and vegetables are processed and frozen during the peak season, it may be more environmentally friendly.

The answer: It depends on seasonality, packaging, and transportation. If you end up with extra fresh produce, try freezing it yourself and saving it for later. Check out how Lifesum’s chef Julia does it: Sustainable Cooking: Tips from Our in-House Chef.

Conclusion 

Most of us don’t consume the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables we need so eating produce in either fresh or frozen form is better than skipping out on the essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. Find produce that works best for you, your cooking schedule, and your budget! 

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