When it comes to fresh, frozen or canned vegetables, do you have any idea which ones contain the most nutrients?
Most people might be inclined to say cool.
But did you know that there is little difference in nutritional value between fresh, frozen and canned produce?
That’s according to our resident Fruit Nerd, Thanh Truong.
Thanh is an advocate for fresh produce, mainly because he says it gives you the best texture experience.
“It’s going to be firm and crispy,” he says.
But that may not always matter – like when cooking vegetables in a stew.
“Especially if you’re going to cook fruits and vegetables before eating them, you’re going to get pretty much all the nutritional value possible from each of those ingredients,” Thanh says.
Why is that?
Mala Gamage of the CSIRO Food Innovation Center says there are similar nutrient losses between the canning process and the cooking of fresh vegetables, for example.
“Carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fibers, they are not affected or reduced by the canning process, but… vitamins [do],” she says.
“Vitamins B and C are more sensitive to heat-related losses.”
But she says when we compare canned goods with fresh produce, we need to consider certain fruits and vegetables that need to be cooked before eating.
“So during the normal cooking process, there can be similar losses,” says Dr Gamage.
For frozen products, Thanh says, because the products are “snap frozen” (i.e. frozen very quickly) when thawed, they are in the same or very similar condition as when thawed. before freezing.
The “backwards” process
Thanh also talks about what the industry calls “the backlog” when it comes to supplying products.
It’s not as simple as picking something up from the tree and bringing it to your doorstep. Fruits and vegetables are often picked before the optimal time, as they can take weeks to reach us as consumers.
“[For example]we have tomatoes here that were picked yesterday, and they are picked at a slightly greener stage,” says Thanh.
“It gives us time to get the fruit here to the markets.
“When you buy it, it may be a bit more colorful and it may last a few more days before you cook it.”
If you eat a tomato at the “wrong stage,” he says, like a little too early, you may not have the best eating experience compared to tomatoes that were canned at the best time.
Additionally, Thanh says that some fruits and vegetables contain a lot of nutrients, but if you eat them raw, you won’t access all of the benefits they contain.
“Some fruits and vegetables actually need to be cooked to access all of their nutrients,” he says.
Thanh’s Shopping Tips
Because there is a difference in price, availability and shelf life between fresh, frozen and canned produce, Thanh has some tips based on how he feeds his family.
Canned tomatoes, he says, are a no-brainer.
“If you’re going to have a salad, of course, get the fresh one because you want the texture, you want the vibrancy,” Thanh says,
“But if you’re going to cook it in pasta, canned tomatoes will do.”
He says not only are they cheap, but they are picked at a more mature stage.
Thanh is also a fan of canned pineapples.
“[They are a] very good option because pineapples are often very fibrous. There’s a lot of string in there, and so when it’s canned, it doesn’t break down much.
“And so it doesn’t turn to mush.”
He says if you plan on cutting it up to add to pizza or granola, for example, you’ll still get that bite of texture.
“And most of the time, let’s face it, we won’t need a whole pineapple for a meal,” he says.
Thanh says frozen berries are a good option if you’re cooking or going to cook them anyway.
“My kids actually eat frozen berries every morning with their cereal.”
He says frozen berries can be better than fresh because they’re picked at the optimal time.
A fresh strawberry may have been picked “upside down” and be a little white and/or green.
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