What produce is most nutritious for my family?
Frozen and fresh produce have been shown to have a similar nutritional value. And depending on how long you wait to eat your fresh produce, frozen produce can actually have a higher nutritional value. This is because oxygen, over time, depletes vitamins and minerals. The sooner you eat produce, the more nutrients you will gain. For this reason, frozen can be a great alternative!
Frozen produce is often frozen close to the time that it was harvested, locking in many of those valuable vitamins and minerals. Frozen produce can also cost less, especially if the food is out of season, making it a great alternative all around!
The downside with frozen produce is often the additives (e.g., sodium, sugar, sauces) and texture. Freezing causes water to expand, and since most produce is made primarily of water, the resulting structure of the food can often be a softer and mushier texture that can be unappealing. However, if frozen produce works for your planned recipe, know that you are feeding your family good fruits and vegetables that will help to keep them healthy!
Fruits and vegetables that are better to buy frozen.
There are a couple of foods that are better to buy frozen. Spinach is a great example of this. After 7 days, refrigerated spinach loses 75% of its Vitamin C. That is a lot of nutrients going down the drain! The reason for this is the makeup of the produce itself. Spinach is very thin, so there is a lot more loss of moisture with exposure to heat and oxygen than say carrots, which are dense. Freezing, on the other hand, pauses the oxidation process. When frozen, spinach loses only 30% of the vitamin C. If it works for your recipe, use frozen spinach.
Spinach and other leafy greens are often enjoyed in their raw form. When buying fresh, keep them refrigerated and eat them as quickly as possible. For those that have a garden, these are great to grow yourself!
Green beans are another vegetable to buy frozen. Fresh green beans lose 50% of their Vitamin C after 7 days compared to no loss when frozen (Unilever Research). The issue here often gets back to texture and whether frozen green beans work in your recipe and for your family. If frozen doesn’t work for you, the recommendation is the same with all fresh vegetables – buy them as close to the source as possible and eat them quickly!
And don’t forget peas when you’re in the frozen aisle, but not because of nutrition. As soon as peas are picked, the associated sugars begin turning into starch, leading to the peas tasting grainy and dull over time. Freezing them stops that process, giving you the taste that many are looking for. Nutritionally, frozen peas are similar to eating them fresh, making them a great choice to pick up in the frozen section the next time you shop.
So what about canned produce? Canned produce has gotten a bad reputation. And, for the most part, it is justified. Historically, companies that can produce have used a can liner that contains BPA (bisphenal A). BPA is now widely recognized as being linked to cancer. While most companies no longer use it, it is still important to make sure that any cans that you are buying say ‘BPA free’. Additives are another concern. Many canned produce products contain added sugar, sodium and artificial colors. When buying canned produce, read the labels carefully.
Texture is another reason many shy away from canned produce. When canning, companies often cook the fruit/vegetable longer to prevent bacterial growth. This can cause the produce to become overcooked and mushy. Often this does not work for the receip being made or the way you want to serve it
Nutrients in Canned Produce…
Nutrients are often lower with canned produce. However, as with everything, there are exceptions. Canned tomatoes are the big winner here! When tomatoes are heated, they go through a process that releases lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant that helps prevent breast and prostate cancer. Of course, you can cook fresh tomatoes yourself, but if you find yourself short on time, this is a great alternative.
What about money? This is where canned produce is the big winner. Canned produce often costs less than fresh or frozen. When managing your budget, if it comes to canned produce versus no produce, canned is the way to go! Just remember to watch out for the additives mentioned above.
Once you’ve brought all those delicious fruits and vegetables home, the next step is deciding how to serve them. If you are cooking your produce, the method you use is equally as important as the type you buy. Read my article on Cooking to Improve Your Health to learn more!
Healthy Happy Eating!