We’re big fans of fresh food (ahem, we are Freshly, after all.) But we also know it’s not always realistic to buy fresh produce all the time, thanks to busy schedules. Sometimes, the convenience of frozen vegetables can seem pretty attractive, given they can be good for up to eight months at a time. Frozen veggies are a perfectly good alternative to fresh produce – and can even be more nutritious – depending on the family of veggie you choose, how you cook it, and what kinds you buy. According to research that looked at home-frozen veggies and antioxidants, frozen vegetables still contain the same amount of nutrients as your freshly picked variety.
Having said that, not all frozen produce is made equal. Here are three of our favorite tips for shopping frozen “produce” the healthy way.
Tip #1: Buy fat-soluble veggies frozen. Buy water-soluble veggies fresh.
Some veggies can handle being frozen better than others. When buying frozen, go for veggies with lots of fat-soluble elements (like vitamin A, E, and carotenoids), since these retain nutrients much better during the freezing and storing process. Carrots, leafy greens, and broccoli all handle the stress of freezing pretty well. On the other hand, some veggies are still better fresh than frozen (since they’re water-soluble and lose their nutrients during the freezing process) like kale, bell peppers, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbages.
Frozen veggies might even be healthier than fresh ones, since they’re “flash-frozen” right after being plucked in their peak ripeness (and peak nutritional value) – thus locking in tons of minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins. Vegetables naturally lose their nutrients after being picked, and since fresh veggies tend to travel miles before reaching their destination, they’ve already shed off a few nutrients.
Tip #2: Prep your frozen produce right.
How you cook your frozen veggies can also affect their nutritional value. Studies argue that thawing certain frozen veggies right before cooking can speed up nutrient loss (especially vitamin C.) Instead, researchers suggest cooking the vegetables directly from frozen, a method that’s shown to help veggies keep their vitamin C. It’s also recommended that you use a minimal amount of water, a low temperature and shorter cooking time, and a double-based stainless steel pan (if you have one on hand) to retain nutrients.
Tip #3: Always aim for one-ingredient simplicity.
When it comes to picking out of the frozen produce aisle, there’s a few things to consider. What doesn’t matter: whether it comes in a bag or a box. What does: make sure they are plain, one-ingredient vegetables. Some frozen veggies also come mixed with cheese or sauce, which (if over-processed), can account for unhealthy ingredients like preservatives and artificial additives, and make the veggies less nutritious. Here’s another tip: look for a USDA “U.S. Fancy” label, since these most likely contain a richer amount of nutrients.