Often times when we buy vegetables, we look for fresh ones. Nowadays, "fresh" can be a tricky word. At farmers' markets, produce is picked the day before or in the very early morning. That is fresh, but how about the vegetables in grocery stores? Since they are often shipped long distances, they are usually picked before they are ripe. They have not yet fully developed at the time of harvest, so they may not always have their complete package of nutrients. During the transportation and storage, they are losing nutrients. This is a double-loss situation. Sitting on the shelves, the vegetables may look fresh for a couple of days thanks to water spray and temperature control, but how fresh are they really? It may be similar to using make-up. Just like you can make your face look more glamorous, these vegetables may look appetizing and fresh but you cannot make up for the nutrients they've lost along the way.
In contrast, frozen vegetables may be much fresher than many of the so-called "fresh" ones. They are picked ripe and frozen right away. In their solid pieces, the vegetables stay whole and are more stable. There is no nutrient loss or aging. They are rich in flavors and colors, and are available all year long. This may not sound "fresh." But their quality remains. Freezing makes some vegetables actually stay fresher longer.
So when you use the word "fresh," think about nutrient content. Without rich nutrients, saying that produce is "fresh" may be like saying it has "beauty" that is only skin-deep. Seasonal, organic, and locally grown fresh produce is your best choice. But when it is not available, especially during the winter, frozen vegetables are a great "fresh" alternative.
- Ding Yu, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University