Updated: Mar 24, 2022
Fruits and vegetables are known to be part of a healthy and well-balanced diet. They are full of #antioxidants and #nutrients, high in fiber while being low in calories and fat. Despite most knowing this, only about 1/3 of Americans eat the recommended amount.
Most assume fresh produce is best. If you are gathering it from your own garden or at a farmer's market when they are at their peak freshness, this carries some weight. However, if it is a Michigan Winter and you are buying from a grocery store, this may not be the case, Peggy Crum, MA, RD from Michigan State University's Office of the University Physician agrees. "Many people do not value frozen or canned foods, but the nutritional value from processed fruits and #vegetables can be just as good, if not better, than fresh. It really depends on where you live, if it's in season, and how you plan to prepare it."
Seasonality and availability are large contributors to #nutritionalvalue. If it is not in season in Michigan, it may have traveled many miles (potentially countries away) to get here. This exposes the produce to various conditions of light and temperature causing a loss of nutrients. Depending on the length of travel, some are harvested well before they are ripe so as to not rot by the time they're delivered. This doesn't allow the #produce to fully develop its nutritional value so while it may look ripe and fresh, its vitamins and minerals may not be up to par.
So, the question is, can you still get quality products from the canned and frozen sections of your grocery store? Absolutely. In both scenarios, the produce is sent from the farms to a nearby processor where they are canned or frozen at their peak freshness. While it can take an average of 10-14 days for fresh produce to be delivered to stores, it takes merely hours for them to get picked and processed which helps retain their nutritional punch.
If you want the most value for your dollar, there are a few things you should keep in mind. For canned or frozen vegetables, try those with no salt added or that are low in sodium.
"If you buy them unseasoned, you have more control when you are cooking them and can make them to your preference," says Sous Chef Kari Magee at Michigan State University. For canned or frozen fruits, look for those packed in 100% fruit juices or those frozen plain as some are processed with additional sugar. For both canned #fruits and vegetables, be sure the can isn't dented, bulging, or rusted. All this said, Crum encourages you to buy those you like, you're more likely to eat them, and that's of primary importance.
There are other things to consider besides seasonality or availability. Some dishes actually work better with a canned or frozen product, Magee says. "Canned beans or tomatoes work great in soups or chili, or frozen vegetables for 1-pot dishes such as pot pies or casseroles. Frozen foods are ready to go, but if you are using a canned vegetable, it's helpful to rinse them first." Many people also buy #produce with good intentions, but they can go bad before being used. Buying it to eventually throw it away doesn't do anything for us nutritionally.
"There is definitely a convenience factor to canned or frozen fruits and vegetables", notes Crum. "If you aren't going to eat fresh produce within a few days or you are short on time and need something quick, it may be better to choose frozen or canned products." The time spent cooking may also be shorter. "Frozen vegetables are blanched first and then frozen so they typically do not take as long to cook as a fresh vegetable", Magee advises.
Crum emphasizes that variety is the key to good nutrition. "Choose #fresh, frozen, and canned products as all foods have value. The more variety you eat, the better your nutrient intake will be." Either way, you choose, it's important to remember that some are better than none.