Whether fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce in your part of the country or you just happen to love the produce of one specific season, perusing the frozen food aisle can be a good way to maintain a well-balanced diet—so long as you're shopping in the fruit and vegetable section, that is. And if you're a big fan of fruit, you'll be pleased to know you can find everything from strawberries to blueberries and beyond in this aisle, and they're all washed, bagged, and (almost) ready to eat; they'll need to be defrosted before you can enjoy your haul. But how does frozen fruit stack up against its fresh counterpart in terms of nutrition?
Related: Our Favorite Ways to Cook with Frozen Fruit and Vegetables
Frozen Versus Fresh
Whether a food is frozen or fresh, Megan Meyer, PhD, director of science communication at the International Food Information Council, says it will have very similar nutrient profiles. "Some nutrients may be less available when frozen while others, like vitamin C, vitamin E, and riboflavin, may be more available when frozen," she explains, adding that some nutrients are completely unaffected by the freezing process.
Is Frozen Fruit Healthy?
Nutrient levels may actually be higher in frozen fruits, since they are generally picked at peak ripeness. Fruit that is harvested to be frozen is picked, blanched, cooled (to prevent cooking), and frozen—and this all happens within hours of harvest. "This process helps to keep the nutrients in the food, whereas fresh produce will typically lose some of its nutrient content during transportation to market," says Kris Sollid, RD and senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council.
And that's not the only benefit. According to The United Nations, almost a third of the food that is produced annually gets wasted. "Purchasing frozen fruit can help reduce food waste because it can be stored and eaten at our convenience, whereas fresh fruit has a shorter window of time where it must be eaten before it spoils." Even though it has a longer shelf-life than fresh produce, it's important to remember that frozen fruit won't last forever. According to Sollid, you should be sure to eat it within a year of purchasing.
How to Eat Frozen Fruit
With all the benefits of frozen fruit, you may be in a rush to add it to your diet; whatever you do, make sure it's properly thawed before enjoying. Ashley Shaw, a RD and prenatal nutrition and infant feed specialist at Preg APPETIT, says there's a right and a wrong way to thaw frozen fruit. "Thawing should be done in the refrigerator, as foods should never be left out at room temperature for longer than two hours, and it is not recommended to refreeze what you thaw."
If you just can't wait, there are some ways to use your fruit before it's defrosted. "They are perfect additions for smoothies, and make great sauces or fillings for baked goods," she says, adding that you will lose a tiny bit of nutrient capacity in the heating process. "Heating over low heat on the stovetop is ideal, because if you use the juice that comes out of the fruit, you keep those vitamins and minerals." Unfortunately, experts warn against boiling frozen fruit—if you boil it, much of the nutrients (and flavor) will be leached into the water and lost.