Written by Lena Gill, RD, CSO, CD
I am often asked if it’s better to choose fresh vs. canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. Many people believe that fresh is best, but I generally encourage everyone to aim for the recommended 5 or more servings/day by any means they can get it. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages to fresh, frozen and canned produce.
Fresh vegetables and fruits may seem the most nutritious since they haven’t been “processed”; however, unless they are grown in your own back yard or purchased locally, they may have been stored in a cold warehouse for months before they even make it to your local supermarket. Also, if you are purchasing “out of season” produce, it may have had to travel quite a distance before it reaches your dinner table. The longer the “fresh” produce is stored, the less nutritious it becomes as the vitamins and minerals lose their potency over time. In addition, certain produce such as tomatoes (known for their cancer fighting lycopenes) aren’t well absorbed into the body unless they are fully cooked. It’s a good idea to learn what is grown locally and what is in season, so you can choose your favorites during their peak time for best flavor and maximum nutritional benefit.
Frozen vegetables and fruits can be a very nutritious choice as some are “flash frozen”, meaning they are frozen shortly after harvesting and thereby retain the potency of their nutrients. Occasionally, you can find fruits and vegetables (especially those favorites during off season times) in the frozen foods section at a reasonable price, making it perfect for those with a limited food budget. The disadvantage to frozen fruits and vegetables is that some may have added sugars or sauces, making them higher in refined carbohydrates, fats and sodium. Read the label and select carefully or if able, freeze your own home grown or locally purchased produce.
Canned produce may also be a good way to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables so long as you pay attention to the food label. It is best to choose canned vegetables with no added salt or rinse the added sodium off with water before cooking. When buying canned fruit, choose those packed in their natural juices or in light syrup (instead of heavy syrup). This will keep the sugar (and calories) in check. If you have the means and energy, you may also choose to can your own vegetables and fruits. This way, you have the control over the freshness and the amount of other ingredients used.
Lastly, I want to mention dried fruits and vegetables, as these can also be a fun, nutritious as well as delicious component to a plant based diet. As with frozen and canned produce, be aware of potential ingredients such as added sugars and sodium when making your selection or if able, dry your own. I personally enjoy making homemade “fruit roll-ups” for my four year old. These have no added sugar or food coloring like their (more expensive and less nutritious) commercial brands. Just remember, with dried fruits especially, about ¼ cup is the typical serving size…Any more than that, and you may be eating more calories than you intend.
Fresh, Canned or Frozen—We can enjoy fruits and vegetables in a variety of ways! Which way is your favorite?