We all know that fruits and vegetables are an important part of any daily diet. Unless you plan out all of your meals far in advance, however, it may be hard to have all of your produce be fresh items right out of the grocery store's produce section or from the local farmer's market. That's where frozen or canned fruits and vegetables come in. They are easy to store, affordable and convenient. But which of these two options is healthier - frozen or canned? Read this article to learn about which products you should be buying to ensure that your diet remains as healthy as possible.
How Frozen and Canned Products are Packaged
The key to deciding whether frozen or canned fruits and vegetables are better for you is to get a better understanding of how these products are prepared. Frozen fruits and vegetables, for example, are usually harvested when their nutritional content is at its peak. They are then blanched in hot water, which kills off bacteria, but may also cause them to lose some water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins. However, most of the nutrients remain in these fruits and vegetables through the blanching process and are then sealed in by a flash-freezing process.
Canned vegetables and fruits are prepared in much the same way as their frozen counterparts. They are usually picked at their nutritional prime and then blanched for cleanliness. However, their packaging process differs in that they are placed in water, juice or syrup (or a combination of these liquids) when they are canned. Also, sugar, salt or preservatives are sometimes added to fruits and vegetables that have been canned for taste and longevity.
Reading Labels to Make a Decision
In the case of both frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, there are some products that are healthier than others. For instance, you should always look for the term "flash-frozen" or "blast-frozen" on the packaging to ensure that the nutrients have been locked in just after harvesting. For canned products, look at the ingredients list closely to ensure that salt and preservatives have not been added. Also, choose canned fruits and vegetables that are placed in water or natural juices rather than in syrup.
In general, many frozen fruits and vegetables are healthier than canned ones because they are less likely to have lost their nutritional content due to flash-freezing and they are also less likely to have added sugar, salt or preservatives in them. However, just as not all frozen products have been flash-frozen, not all canned products contain salt, sugar or preservatives, so reading labels is a necessary step for choosing which fruits and vegetables to buy.
Tips for Keeping Your Frozen and Canned Products Healthy
Once you buy frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, it's important to make sure you get the most nutritional value out of them. Here are some tips for keeping frozen and canned products in top shape:
- Don't boil veggies: When vegetables are boiled - regardless of whether they are fresh, frozen or canned - they lose significant amounts of their water-soluble vitamins. Instead, steam or microwave your veggies to minimize this nutritional loss.
- Keep your freezer cold: The freezer should always be kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder to preserve the nutrients in your frozen products.
- Avoid dented cans: When buying canned fruits or veggies, avoid any cans that look rusty, dented or in any way damaged as this may indicate that the contents have been compromised.
- Check expiration dates: Although frozen and canned produce last much longer than fresh produce, they also lose nutritional value over time. Always check the expiration dates on your canned and frozen fruits and veggies before eating them.
Comparing Frozen and Canned Products with Fresh Products
Surprisingly, buying fresh produce is not always healthier than buying frozen or canned products. For instance, fresh produce is generally harvested before its peak ripeness, which means that it doesn't get the advantage of developing all of its vitamins and minerals like frozen or canned produce do. Additionally, some fruits and veggies lose some of their nutritional value while being shipped due to exposure to light and heat.
Produce that is "in-season" is usually healthier than frozen or canned products because they can be picked closer to their peak ripeness and may not have to travel as far to arrive at grocery stores and supermarkets. If a fruit or vegetable that you want is out-of-season, you will likely get more nutritional value from buying the product frozen or canned (as long as it is packaged in a healthy manner - e.g. flash-frozen or without salt, sugar and preservatives).
It also helps to keep in mind that, even if you buy your produce fresh, every day that it sits out on your counter or in your fridge, it is losing nutritional content. If you don't plan to eat your fresh produce within a matter of days, you may be better off with healthy frozen or canned produce instead.
Finally, cost is another important factor to consider. Fresh produce is often healthier, especially when it is in-season, but it is often much more expensive as well. Some families can save a lot of money by choosing healthy frozen or canned fruits and vegetables in some instances instead of sticking to solely fresh produce.