Fresh or frozen? The produce debate continues
Thursday, April 13, 2017
When it comes to produce, the fresh vs. frozen debate has been going on for years. However, a new study in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis has revealed interesting results.
It seems that fresh fruits and vegetables may not worthy of the pedestal we have put them on. The study uncovered that fresh produce loses out on nutrients and vitamins even when stored properly in the fridge. Frozen fruits and veggies fared better when it came to retaining and preserving their nutrients.
Fresh produce contains the highest amounts of nutrients at harvest, but those nutrients start degrading through the entire process of picking, packaging, assembling and shelving. By the time we bring home these fresh, colorful fruits and veggies, most of them have lost more vitamins and other nutrients than their frozen counterparts. The latter, chilled almost as soon as they're picked from the fields, retain the essential goodness far longer.
Why didn't we know of this before? Earlier studies have found that though fresh vegetables contain higher levels of vitamin C, they break down fast. Peas can lose as much as 52 percent of their wet weight within two days of picking, while freezing immediately may preserve the nutrient value longer.
Yet consumers typically prefer fresh produce. The common belief is that fresh food has greater nutritional value than frozen, and to a certain extent this is true. If we buy fresh and eat them right away or within 48 hours, we will get significant nutrients from our food.
But most of us have no time to shop every day. So, we buy in bulk or at least for a week, then store our produce. Even when we have paid more to appease our notion of buying fresh and healthy for our families, in reality we are losing out.
In this study, three kinds of produce were monitored — fresh, frozen and "fresh-stored" (mimicking consumer storage patterns of buying fresh and storing in the refrigerator for five days). The researchers found that frozen consistently outperformed fresh in nutritional value, which led them to conclude that frozen food is not unhealthy for us at all.
If we follow this premise, then we could change our buying habits and prevent food waste. A Washington Post story published earlier this year stated that 50 percent of the food waste we generate comes from fresh fruits and vegetables. Some are rejected as "ugly," while others simply decay during storage.
If we switched to more frozen produce, this food waste could be contained and even reduced. Of course, it won't be easy or happen right away. Surveys show that 74 percent of consumers consider fresh fruit healthy, and about 66 percent believe fresh to taster as well.
Fresh is good until it starts degrading quickly. Consumers have to absorb this fact before they make changes to their shopping habits.
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