Today’s consumers aren’t only experiencing a budget crunch; they’re undergoing a time crunch as well. Fresh fruits and vegetables typically cost more money and take longer preparation time than frozen or canned. That’s why, for many home cooks, a vegetable is something that comes in a plastic bag from the grocer’s freezer case.
The good news is that, according to nutritionists, it’s perfectly safe to take the easy route and add that bag of frozen broccoli or can of cut leaf spinach to your grocery cart.
What Constitutes Freshness in Fruits and Vegetables?
Although they may look inviting, the fruits and vegetables in your grocer’s produce department aren’t always at the peak of freshness. It’s a safe bet that they were picked days ago while they were still unripe, just so they wouldn’t ripen too quickly and spoil during delivery. While there’s nothing substantially wrong with this method, fresh fruits and vegetables start to lose their nutrients as soon as they’re harvested.
Traveling long journeys on a refrigerated truck doesn’t help fruits and vegetables retain their quality, but rather the reverse, because plant starches and sugars break down quickly into water, carbon dioxide and other substances. As valuable nutrients are lost during this breakdown, the fruits and vegetables begin to deteriorate and spoil.
The only way you can guarantee peak-of-freshness quality in your fruits and vegetables is if you grow them yourself, pick them at a self-harvest farm or purchase them at a farmer’s market after they’ve just been picked.
How Fresh are Frozen Fruits and Vegetables?
To get an idea of the fresh factor in frozen produce, it’s important to understand how the flash freezing process works. Vegetables and fruits harvested for freezing are first washed and peeled, then blanched. Although produce can lose some nutrients during these steps, any loss is minimal. After prepping, the vegetables and fruits are immediately frozen at their peak of ripeness and quality, at temperatures low enough to retain all of their quality, flavor and nutritional value. Frozen produce will usually keep fresh in the freezer for up to a year, with no loss of nutrients, quality or flavor.
How Fresh are Canned Fruits and Vegetables?
Canned produce is processed in an entirely different way than frozen produce. Fruits and vegetables destined for canning are harvested at the peak of freshness and immediately cleaned and blanched. During the canning process, however, sodium additives, salts, sugars or syrups are sometimes added to retain freshness and flavor.
Because of increased awareness of sodium levels in food, however, a number of companies are now canning vegetables with no added salt, or reduced salt. By reading the label, you can identify the sodium content of the canned vegetable you’re buying, and in many cases you can even opt for a sodium-free product. Additionally, fruits are now being packed with no sugar/syrup additives. When you’re buying canned fruit, always read the labels and try to select fruits canned in their own juice.
Other than convenience, another reason consumers buy canned fruits and vegetables is that they will keep longer than fresh or frozen. On average, you can keep canned produce for two years in your pantry without any loss of flavor, quality or nutrients.
In the end, you can buy frozen or canned fruits and vegetables and rest assured that you’re getting a quality product with very little, if any, loss of nutrients. They’re not only cheaper and require less prep time; they also can taste just as good, when cooked, as their counterparts in the produce aisle.
American Council of Exercise: How Much Difference is There in Nutritional Value Between Fresh and Frozen Fruits and Vegetables?
Mayo Clinic: Nutrition and Healthy Eating
National Institute of Health: Fresh vs. Frozen or Canned
Columbia University: Nutritional differences between canned, frozen, and fresh veggies?
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