Vitamins in Veggies

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on November 12, 2003 · 0 comments

You’re in the supermarket buying green beans for dinner. Which should you pick – fresh, frozen or canned?

If you’re buying green beans, you’re already on the right track. Fewer than 25% of Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables each day. But, back to your dilemma.

When we talk about vegetables being “fresh,” there’s garden fresh and there’s market fresh.

Green beans picked from the garden are the freshest, and richest in vitamins and taste.

Green beans at the store are market fresh, generally shipped from another state or country. Days or weeks can pass from the time the green beans leave the fields to when they land in your shopping cart.

Vitamins break down over time, so the longer the trip the greater the loss. There is no way to judge how much nutrient loss has occurred, but appearance can be an indicator. Wilted or mushy green beans have probably been stored poorly and for too long. Green, crisp, firm green beans are definitely younger, fresher and more vitamin-rich.

Would frozen be a better choice? When green beans are not in season locally, yes. Frozen produce is closest to fresh in vitamin content because it is processed very soon after picking. The key here is handling. Frozen vegetables should be loose in the bag. If they are in a block, it usually means they have been partially thawed and refrozen, destroying their taste and overall quality.

Canned vegetables are almost always mushier than fresh or frozen. Because they are preserved in water and salt, the sodium content is higher, and some of the vitamins will dissolve into the canning liquid. But, if the choice is to eat canned vegetables or no vegetables, canned are good choices. Most of us normally eat a variety of all three – fresh, frozen and canned.

But storage and processing are not the only way to lose nutrients. It’s estimated that 50% of vitamins are lost in cooking. But, there are things you can do to make the loss less.

Microwaving is the kindest to vitamins – short cooking time, moderate heat and little water. Steaming is a close second. Stir-frying is also gentle on vitamins because it cuts down on water and vegetables cook quickly. The downside is, you need to add some fat to your normally fat-free vegetable.

Boiling is the most destructive. You can recycle some of the lost vitamins by using the vegetable water in soups, sauces and other recipes.

For maximum nutrition and taste – use fresh vegetables within three days, keep frozen vegetables frozen, and cook everything quickly, using as little water as possible. Keep the lid on for faster cooking.
And remember, there is no such thing as a bad vegetable, because all provide some vitamins, even when handled and cooked poorly.

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