Canned Versus Frozen Fruits and Vegetables: What's Better for You?
As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into 2021, nutrition experts are urging people to stay on top of their health by including fruits and vegetables — essential for overall nutrition and to support a strong immune system — in their daily diets.
But fresh fruits and vegetables have a limited shelf life, and that can discourage some people from purchasing them, especially those trying to limit trips to the grocery store to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.
While stocking up on fresh fruits and vegetables may not be a viable option for many people, canned or frozen are.
Both canned and frozen fruits and vegetables typically are processed within hours of being harvested, which helps preserve their nutrients. But while canned and frozen foods may start out equally nutritious, how they are processed can affect their final nutrient content.
Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, an assistant professor of medicine at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, helps to make the right choices between canned and frozen varieties.
Canning food is a practice that dates back to the 18th century. According to Dr. Surampudi, canning requires a lot more processing, and is likely to have less nutritional value than frozen foods. The process of canning is different for different types of food, but typically it involves three major steps that keep the food safe to eat for long periods of time.
- Processing. Fruits or vegetables are peeled, sliced, chopped, pitted, boned, shelled or cooked.
- Sealing. The processed food is sealed in its can.
- Heating. The can is heated to kill harmful bacteria and prevent spoilage.
“Avoid canned varieties with added sugars or sodium,” Dr. Surampudi says. “Many contain high amounts of sodium to hide the change in taste that comes with age and the heating process.”
Freezing food is a process that has been practiced for nearly 100 years and is a great option to incorporate into daily diet.
Similar to canned foods, the process differs based on the type of food, but typically involves two major steps.
- Blanching. Fruits or vegetables are blanched, or quickly cooked for a few minutes, in hot water.
- Freezing. Immediately after blanching, the food is flash frozen and stored in airtight packaging.
Blanching allows for the food to retain its nutritional value, kills bacteria and stops it from spoiling.
“While we might lose some key nutrients during the blanching process, the nutritional density of frozen fruits and vegetables is almost comparable to eating them freshly harvested,” Dr. Surampudi says.
So, which is better?
It is important that people eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure they are building a healthy immune system. Whether fruits and vegetables are canned, frozen or fresh, making the effort to consume more colorful foods pays off big time for overall wellness.
That said, Dr. Surampudi recommends frozen foods over canned. “As nutritionists, we advocate, ideally, for our patients to eat fresh foods, but frozen foods are a good option when it is not possible to go to the store regularly. Take some frozen veggies and add them to your pasta, rice or other dishes — or some frozen fruit to your morning oatmeal or in a smoothie — and enjoy,” Dr. Surampudi says.