“Is it okay to buy frozen vegetables?”, “What about canned, I heard it’s not healthy?” I get these questions a lot, especially from parents. So, I decided to devote today’s post to breaking down the pros and cons of buying various types of produce in hopes it will help you make smarter choices when shopping for your family.
The question you need to ask yourself before buying fresh produce is “What season is it?” Fresh produce is the best option when the food you are looking to buy is in season in your area. If you’re looking for strawberries in January in New Jersey you’re better off choosing the frozen/canned varieties (see below for reasons why). However, if it’s June and the farmer’s market has fresh strawberries for sale from the farm down the street? Go for it! Fresh fruits and vegetables are obviously ideal since they can be prepared any way you wish (alone, in a smoothie, roasted, baked, etc.) They are in their purest form and if grown locally will have excellent nutrient quality. They also tend to taste better than their frozen/canned counterparts. Then there are those fruits and vegetables that are never in season in your area, like avocado or pineapple in the northeastern United States. In these instances, always try to buy as locally as possible. California versus Mexican Avocados for example. If you can get it frozen and that will work for your purposes, even better.
If fresh fruits/vegetables are not in season or not available in your area, frozen is the next best (sometimes an even better!) option. Frozen fruits and vegetables are flash frozen at the peak of ripeness. That means that nutrient values are at their highest. The longer a fruit or vegetable sits around, the more nutrition it loses. Imagine how many nutrients are lost when a peach is picked in China (yes, a lot of our produce comes all the way from China!), rides on a truck to the airport, then hops a plane to the United States, where it gets sorted, placed on another truck and shipped across the country to its final destination. And then that poor piece of fruit sits on a pile in the store for weeks before someone purchases it. Phew! Sadly, it’s likely its nutrient value has dwindled to mostly water and sugar by that point. The same rings true for vegetables. The downside of buying frozen? You can’t always use it the way you wish you could. Frozen peaches don’t really thaw to a palatable consistency for snacking raw. They’re much better suited to being mixed into a smoothie or baked into a pie. But some foods, like frozen broccoli, roast to perfection.
Last but not least, are the canned fruits & veggies. Most foods in a can are purchased as a convenience item. It’s much faster to pour out a can of beans and serve than to soak, rinse and boil them on the stove. But, they get a bad rap because canned foods are notoriously high in sodium. This can be true. However, if you drain and rinse before serving you can reduce the sodium content by a large percentage. In fact, some companies have started listing two sets of nutrition facts on the can (rinsed vs. drained) for just this reason. However, be aware that some fruits come canned in syrup and some vegetables are canned with oils. The syrup adds an enormous amount of sugar to the fruit, even when its rinsed (read more about why this is not so great for your health here). Oils will add to the calorie content of the vegetables and may change the flavor dramatically. So, if the produce you want isn’t available either fresh or frozen, opting for the canned variety is not such a bad choice. It’s certainly better than no produce at all!
In a nutshell, fresh, local produce is the best option depending on how you’re planning on preparing it. Frozen is always a great option, no matter the time of year. And canned fruits and veggies will do in a pinch, but be careful of the salt and sugar content.