You may have wrinkled your nose at them when you were kids but, like it or lump it, vegetables are an important factor in a healthy diet. Good quality vegetables are packed with vital nutrients to keep the mind and body in optimum working condition, but the question that remains on many consumers’ lips is: are fresh or frozen vegies best?
“It’s a difficult question, because there is actually very little nutritional difference,” says senior nutritionist and spokesperson for Nutrition Australia Aloysa Hourigan. “In theory fresh can be best, but when we say fresh we mean truly fresh. We don’t want our vegetables to be bruised and wilted, but cared for and well transported to the shop and home.”
Those bruised and wilted leftovers certainly look very sad and sorry for themselves, but they are best left on the supermarket shelf rather than ending up in your vegie crisper.
Because fresh vegetables lose a significant amount of nutritional value as each day passes, you may occasionally be better off with the frozen variety, which in fact scores surprisingly well on the nutritional front as well as being incredibly cost effective.
The fact that frozen may have just as many benefits as fresh is fabulous news for those struggling to meet their recommended five servings a day on a tight budget. According to predictions, consumers could see the cost of broccoli and cauliflower – tried and true kitchen staples – rise by a staggering 80 per cent.
The fresh facts
Just because something doesn’t come packaged, canned or frozen doesn’t necessarily indicate the epitome of freshness. Some vegetables from supermarket chains and even fruit and vegie stores with little turnover may have been picked more than two weeks before they land on your dinner plate, which results in significant loss of nutritional value as each day passes.
In fact, a UK study by the Institute of Food Research found such lengthy waiting periods can result in a loss of nearly 45 per cent of vital nutrients.
The best way to assure freshness is being able to trust your source. A growing phenomenon serving the nation that can make this guarantee to their customers is Aussie Farmer’s Direct, who pride themselves on delivering 100 per cent Australian-grown produce to their customers’ doors generally within 48 hours of harvest.
“The main reason people choose frozen is because of convenience and poor quality at many fresh produce retail outlets,” says Aussie Farmers Direct general manager Shane Hodskiss.
“Our produce doesn’t sit on container ships, in international air-freight containers or out on display on supermarket shelves, so having an Aussie Farmers Direct produce box delivered to your door each week is a great way of getting your recommended two servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables a day.”
The frozen facts
Vegies grown for freezing are picked at their peak and snap frozen to lock in the nutrients. Prior to being frozen, the vegetables are blanched at a high temperature, which means they also hold onto their colour.
Hourigan says blanching is a very quick process that doesn’t result in loss of vitamins or nutrients, and in fact activates antioxidants that protect the body from free radicals, which can cause severe damage to cells.
Other benefits of ferreting in your supermarket freezing section include:
• Availability: snap freezing means frozen vegetables are available all year round.
• Convenience: no more washing, peeling, slicing and dicing.
• Food safety: freezing stops bacteria from multiplying.
• Labelling: knowledge of the food’s origin, nutrition and cooking instructions.
• Longer storage: between six and 12 months (but check your use-by date!).
• Less waste: 100 per cent of packet contents are edible.
The three Cs
Research by the University of Western Sydney compared the levels of calcium, potassium and vitamin C in both fresh and frozen carrot, corn and cauliflower. While calcium and potassium were slightly more prevalent in the freshest of fresh produce, the frozen did win hands down in the vitamin C department with almost double the amount of fresh.
The Frozen Food Information Bureau recommends freezing these vegies during particular months: carrot – all year round (unless full freshness is guaranteed); sweet corn – June to January; and cauliflower – October to March.
The three Ps
Peas, potato and pumpkin complete the Aussie roast, so we want to do it properly, right? Frozen oven roast vegetables are always available as a convenient option; however, be wary of added fats and sodium. Roasting from scratch means you can monitor not only what oils are used, but also the quantity.
Peas are one of the fastest deteriorating vegetables once harvested and are in season for a short period of time. A recent study conducted by the New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research showed that three-month-old frozen peas contained more than twice as much vitamin C as three-day-old fresh peas. The Frozen Food Information Bureau suggests opting for frozen peas from April to August – you’ll save tonnes of time peeling and shelling!