Fresh is always better than canned or frozen foods. Is there something wrong with our opening statement? Maybe it’s the word always. Our parents and grandparents have told us that fresh is always better. We grew up with that belief and accepted it as absolute truth. Let’s take a closer look and compare the nutrient values across all three forms.
The majority of the results from recent research studies have documented that frozen or canned foods are almost as good as fresh foods. We can’t always buy fresh foods especially if we reside in the city and live active lifestyles. Other things to consider when it comes to fresh foods include some not being available because of the season, the risk of spoilage, and of course, the higher cost.
If you grow your own fruits and vegetables, depend on your neighbour’s beautiful garden or live near a Farmer’s Market, you will get the best possible nutrition from fresh foods. But since nutrient loss starts as soon as vegetables and fruits are harvested, you may not be getting more nutrients if you’re simply getting your produce from the supermarket. The fresh foods in the supermarket were likely harvested several days ago and during transport they can lose nutrients. Some may even be harvested early before they are completely ripe for better travelling.
The Impact of Freezing and Canning on Nutritional Value
Freezing. Fresh foods like fruits and vegetables are harvested during the peak of their ripeness. They’re then frozen to an optimal temperature which guarantees that they retain most of their nutritional value. As long as handled properly, by the time the food hits your table and into your hungry stomach, much of the nutritional value remains intact. Reduced exposure to oxygen and protection from the environment also help a lot in the preservation process.
Canning. Canning the fresh food offers a slight tweak on the nutritional value. Like frozen foods, canned foods are also harvested during their peak, blanched, and finally canned. Important benefits of canning include a long shelf-life and bigger savings. But more often than not, in the case of canned fruits, additional syrup or juice (rich in sugar) is added during the canning process. Blanching prior to freezing can also cause some nutrient-loss. To help preserve the flavour and avoid spoilage in vegetables, salt is added.
Some food manufacturers still use cans or containers composed of BPA. BPA stands for bisphenol A. It’s a harmful substance that can seep into the food and cause brain and behavioural problems among infants and children. Some studies have linked it to the development of cancer and increased blood pressure among adults. It’s best to avoid foods from these types of containers so look for those that say BPA-free.
Essential Notes per Nutrient
B Vitamins. The blanching process during freezing and canning can decrease the concentration of B vitamins in your chosen fresh food. Especially vitamin B1 which is light and heat sensitive.
Vitamin C. Vegetables are best consumed fresh for maximum vitamin C, but must be consumed very soon after harvesting. A lot of vitamin C is lost during the initial process of freezing and canning, but storage loss thereafter is minimal. Vitamin C and the B Vitamins are heat sensitive and water-soluble, this means they can be damaged or leach out into the cooking water.
Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). Loss of fat-soluble vitamins due to freezing and canning is negligible.
Phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds are antioxidants such as flavonoids present in fruit and vegetables. The greatest proportion is found in the skin, especially of fruits. When unpeeled, nutritional values are relatively comparable between fresh, frozen and canned. Though some fruits such as peaches are peeled prior to canning.
Other nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals, and fibre). All these other nutrients across the three types of food preparations remain similar.
When all factors are considered, the greatest loss happens to the B vitamins and vitamin C. No substantial difference in nutrient loss occurs among fat-soluble vitamins and other nutrients.
Tips For How to Get the Best Nutritional Value whether Fresh, Frozen or Canned
Try organic foods. They do not use pesticides and often more nutrients are added back into the soil for optimal plant health. Don’t forget your contribution to the environment (by supporting organic farming).
Buy snap frozen fruits and vegetables that are frozen immediately after they’re harvested. Snap freezing preserves the maximum concentration of nutrients.
Buy only foods canned in BPA-free containers. Look for this on the label.
Avoid canned foods with added sugars, syrup, and preservatives in them.
Try lightly steaming your vegetables instead of boiling them to minimise nutrient loss. Your cooking method can significantly affect the nutrient concentration regardless of the type of processing (fresh, frozen, or canned). In general, the less heat applied, the greater amount of nutrients retained. Some vegetables also prefer a certain type of cooking method. You can also use the leftover cooking water for soups and stews to retain any nutrients leached out during cooking.
Several factors can affect the nutritional value of fresh, frozen, and canned foods. From harvest to your table, these factors are also dependent on the type of fruit or vegetable you’re considering as well as how you store and cook them at home. From a conventional health standpoint and without the addition of substances, frozen and canned foods retain comparable amounts of nutrients (in general) as long as the entire process (harvest to the table) remains optimal. Fresh is the best if you can get fresh produce from your own garden or a farmers market. If you don’t have access to those, then shop by season for your fresh produce as they will have had the least travel time since harvest. You can then purchase the out of season fruits and vegetables in a frozen or canned form. This way you can maximise nutritional value and not break the bank.