During the dead of winter, fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables become slim pickings. However, eating fewer fruits and vegetables is not an option if you’re looking to stay healthy. According to the 2015 dietary guidelines for Americans, 80-percent of us don’t eat the daily recommended amount of fruit, while 90-percent of Americans don’t take in enough vegetables. Now is the perfect time to turn to canned and frozen produce, as they absolutely count towards your servings of produce, plus they’re brimming with good-for-you nutrients.
But Isn’t Canned Bad?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that fresh is the only healthy option. Because produce is easily perishable, both freezing and canning were created in order to extend shelf lives. Further, the 2015 dietary guidelines specify that canned and frozen also count towards your daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
Canned fruit retains much of its vitamin C, which can be diminished in its fresh counterparts if it is stored for a long period of time, or shipped long distances. Canned produce is also packed at the peak of ripeness and within hours of being picked from the fields. This summer I visited a tomato farm and cannery in Sacramento, California and I saw tomatoes picked in the fields and quickly delivered to a nearby cannery within several hours to be processed and packed. In fact, tomatoes are an example of produce that actually has higher nutritional value when cooked or processed since canned tomatoes contain 2 to 3 times more lycopene compared to fresh. (Lycopene, naturally found in tomatoes, help protect against the damaging effects of oxidative stress and inflammation.)
What About BPA?
Although BPA (Bisephenol A) has been around since the 1960’s, numerous studies have raised question to its safety. Although the FDA concluded that the amount of BPA in canned products are safe for human consumption, many want the industrial chemical banned from our food supply. If you’re worried about BPA, many BPA-free cans are now available at grocery stores. Several companies that are BPA-free include Eden Organic, Earth Pure Organic Tomatoes, and Muir Glen.
What About Frozen?
Fruits and vegetables are frozen at their peak of freshness in order to maximize the nutritional value. Plus, frozen produce is usually trimmed and cleaned before being packed, which is a huge time saver on busy weeknights. You can also find good deals on frozen produce, which is a great money saver, especially when out-of-season prices are high.
You can also choose to freeze fresh produce at home when fruits and vegetables are bountiful. For example, there are lots of extra zucchinis at the end of the summer. Slice and freeze for the winter months, when fresh varieties are pricey and not easily available.
Read the Label
When buying canned or frozen fruits and vegetables, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Look for canned fruit in their own juice or in water. Avoid those canned in heavy or light syrup, which are high in sugar.
- Select low- or no-added sodium versions of canned vegetables. If they’re not available, then rinse the vegetables to reduce sodium by up to 40 percent.
- Avoid frozen vegetables that contain high calorie sauces made with oil, cheese or butter.
- Choose frozen fruit that contains one ingredient, the fruit itself, without added sugar.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.