Are fresh vegetables healthier than vegetables in the pot?

Crispy spinach is always better than the frozen variety, and fresh carrots are probably healthier than jarred carrots. It seems logical, but is this assumption correct?

Guido Salden

According to Matthijs Dekker, a food technologist at the Dutch University of Wageningen, the nutritional value of vegetables depends mainly on how long they were harvested and how they were prepared.

To better understand this, let’s first take a look at what makes broccoli or green beans so healthy. First of all, vegetables contain a lot of water and therefore contain fewer calories than potatoes or pasta for example, while making you feel full.

Vegetables also contain all kinds of important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber and other healthy substances with weird names like flavonoids or glucosinolates. After harvest, levels of many of these healthy substances decrease.

So vegetables are the healthiest if you eat them right after harvest. However, this is difficult if you do not have your own vegetable garden or you do not live near farms, then you should be satisfied with “fresh” vegetables from the supermarket.

Five new months

But how ripe are these fresh vegetables really? “Due to the lack of legislation and regulations, the term ‘new’ is really just a marketing term,” Decker says.

For example, the red cabbage you take with you to the supermarket could have been harvested at least five months ago. Now the nutrients in red cabbage don’t decrease very quickly, but with other, more brittle vegetables, such as spinach or other leafy greens, they can go on very quickly.

“Even a week after harvesting the green beans, a third of the vitamin C is already gone,” Decker says. During the time these grains are no longer attached to the plant, the nutritional value continues to decline.

Vegetables that are not in their current season or that have been in the supermarket for a long time are better to eat from a jar or from the refrigerator in terms of nutrients. After harvesting, the vegetables are frozen or heated in a container almost immediately, after which they can be stored for a very long time without rapidly deteriorating in quality.

don’t wash

In both processes, the nutritional value is somewhat reduced, but this does not compare much with “fresh” vegetables harvested several days or even weeks ago, such as green beans from Africa or asparagus from Peru.

However, in the case of frozen vegetables, you should pay attention to how they are prepared next: during freezing, ice crystals puncture the cells of the vegetables. As a result, sanitary substances leak out, but remain well in the package. So be sure not to wash the vegetables after they have thawed, so that they retain as many vitamins as possible.

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Megan Vasquez

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