Fresh, Frozen, or Canned?
By: Trice Sweet
“I’m going to be adventurous and try to make something out of this spaghetti squash,” you think to yourself as you round the corner in the produce section. “I can get this celery for dipping with peanut butter… and when was the last time I had okra?” Before you can even get to the meat section your cart is halfway full and you’re feeling like one of those health nuts everyone else is envious of.
Flash forward to one week later, the celery has turned brown, the okra is soggy, and the spaghetti squash is hidden behind a mound full of potatoes on the counter. You were busy all week, you didn’t meal prep and now all that expensive produce just went to waste.
Food waste is frustrating and expensive, and can be partially remedied by buying a mixture of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables. Before turning up your nose to anything not on the perimeter of the grocery store, keep in mind the ridiculous amount of options most of us have to choose from.
Eating freshly picked vegetables from your farmers’ market is going to your best bet when it comes to finding nutritional value in your produce. Fresh veggies and fruits pack the most punch when it comes to the quantity and variety of nutrients.
Unfortunately, the time produce spends being transported, exposed to heat, and sitting on a shelf in a grocery store means a decrease in the number of nutrients. The content of the protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and minerals is going to be the same, but you’re going to inevitably lose some of the benefits of while you watch the food on your counter or refrigerator shelf.
Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are an increasingly more utilized option for people looking to increase the amount they’re eating per day. According to a study that analyzed data from 24,800 participants, adults who consumed canned produce ate 17 percent more vegetables, 19 percent more fruits, and got more fiber and more potassium in their diets than adults who did not eat canned produce.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually picked when they are ripe, minimally blanched, then flash frozen. This means that most of the nutritional value is not only preserved right after harvesting, but throughout transportation and shelf life. Nutrients such as vitamin C, polyphenols, and phytonutrients can actually be higher in frozen foods than in fresh ones.
Be careful when picking out frozen foods as they commonly have additional cheeses and sauces which have high sodium (and sometimes even sugar) contents. Try to find the ingredient labels with just the actual fruit or vegetable and add your own seasoning.
Canned vegetables are also picked ripe and cooked more than frozen vegetables are. Cooking the vegetables at over 212 F ensures that the food is safe and bacteria-free. Naturally, the food will lose some nutritional value during the heating. On the other hand, canning some foods makes the nutrients easier for your body to absorb such as licopene in tomatoes.
Just as with frozen vegetables, be wary of the ingredients used in the canning process. For vegetables, make sure that the sodium is none or low. Additionally, food companies like to add sugary syrups to canned fruits. Again, read your labels!
So, what should a health-conscious person like you to do with all of the options?
You should have recipes already planned for the fresh produce that you do buy (whether that is from the farmers’ market or the grocery store) so that those foods don’t just sit in the refrigerator or on the counter for weeks. This way, you have an immediate reason to eat them and you won’t waste money throwing away valuable food. It’s great to be adventurous, but try to have a purpose for all of the fresh produce that you do buy.
Having plenty of frozen vegetables on hand such as cut leaf spinach to add into dishes, mixed veggies for quick side items, or mushrooms to throw into an omelet, can be the perfect way to take advantage of the convenience of your freezer.
Keeping a pantry with various canned vegetables and fruits that you commonly use for recipes such as diced tomatoes or cut green beans can save you when you’re in a pinch.