So often in my profession I am asked the question about fresh fruit/vegetables vs. frozen or canned. It has often been said that fresh veggies and fruit are the best choice over canned or frozen. I have always taken this position and in my view, when it comes to taste and texture for me, fresh simply tastes better. Even though I love fresh fruits and veggies, it is important not to discount the benefits that can be found in canned or frozen fruits and vegetables.
It is important to understand a few facts. First off, that canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are processed immediately after harvesting. Second, Studies have shown that this fact does keep nutrient losses to a minimum. Nonetheless, the fact that the canning or freezing process can also cause some loss of nutrients must be acknowledged. Although, this loss is not found to be equal “across the board” in all fruits and vegetables and nutrient loss may vary. It is also important to note that studies have found that these losses are not always large or significant and may not differ substantially from the nutrient losses that can occur in your refrigerator at home before eating them. Also, important to point out is that it has been discovered that some nutrients are increased during the canning process, such as lycopene. Heating tomatoes can increase the amount of lycopene, as the process of heating tomatoes breaks down plant cells allowing Lycopene to me more bioavailable. Hence, canned tomatoes are more nutrient dense in this essential nutrient.
You can find the nutrient content for all types of fruits and vegetables in various national databases. The long and short of it is that it is important to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, to include canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. Doing so, will increase the variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet that sometimes may not be available fresh. For many of us, it can be difficult to always have fresh fruits and vegetables on hand.
Having some canned and frozen on hand can keep your diet full of the important dietary nutrients our body needs to stay healthy and keep that plate balanced with half your plate veggies or veggies and fruit, without having to worry about continually keeping the refrigerator stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables.
As far as economics depending on the time of year this can determine as to which way is more economical. When fruits or vegetables are in season, they can be cheaper fresh. Some would argue that canned and frozen fruits and veggies are more economical choices if you find your fresh produce spoiling before you can eat it. Buying fresh more often can keep this from happening but this also requires more trips to the store.
As a dietitian the downside to the canned veggies is the sodium content, as most of them are preserved with high amounts of sodium. My advice would be, when choosing canned choose low or no sodium. This is especially important if you have any health concerns like hypertension or heart disease of any kind. Or if your Dr, has you on a sodium restriction for any reason. But even for those of us without restrictions choosing lower sodium now can always be a health benefit.
In conclusion if we eliminate one form of fruits or vegetables, we may be eliminating some of the benefits that each form can provide, not to mention we are limiting ourselves to something that may be available in different forms. Although I prefer fresh, I too keep frozen and canned on hand. It is my opinion that one should consider choosing a variety of different forms of fruits and veggies, keeping in mind that filling our plate with more fruits and veggies no matter how we can get them is always a better choice than not.
Carrie Gustafson RDN, LD