Options to Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
For many, spring is the time of planning and planting seedlings of fresh produce. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to harvest and enjoy. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a little longer to enjoy those fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers. However, that does not mean you have to forego your fruits and veggies. We are very fortunate to have a food system that makes canned and frozen produce options available year round, at a very affordable price, and has the ability to last a really long time. But best of all, studies have proven that these options are healthy!
Canned, frozen or fresh vegetable; which is best?
According to Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts’ HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, "For the most part, frozen vegetables and fruits are processed close to the point of harvesting, and ... have the same level of nutrients as fresh." Lichtenstein also states that because of this short time between harvesting and processing, some frozen vegetables may even be more nutritious than fresh: "Fresh fruits and vegetables — more so than frozen or canned — can vary in quality, depending on when they were picked relative to when they are available to purchase and the conditions under which they were transported and stored, the length of storage time and the conditions under which they are displayed."
This means that nutrients in fresh produce diminish during lengthy transportation times and when improperly stored and handled. So in some instances, frozen/canned produce can be healthier options over fresh since their nutrients have been protected by their processing and packaging.
Lichtenstein did remark that while canned produce is still a healthy option, there is some nutrient loss due to its processing. "They may be a bit lower in the nutrients that are destroyed when heated during the canning process. However, in some cases they are good options because they have a long shelf-life, contain no waste and are ready to use directly from the can."
Canned vegetables; read the labels
When choosing either canned or frozen produce, it is important to avoid purchasing items that contain any additives. Many canned and frozen goods will have added salt or sugar to boost their flavor profile. And while this may be a tasty addition to some, these additives diminish their healthy attributes. The best way to locate any additives is to find the ingredients listing on the back of the product. This list is usually near the nutrition facts panel and is always in itty bitty print. But, this list is the only way to find out if you’re consuming more than just produce. And the difference between the non-additives and the added salt/sugar/syrup products is significant.
For instance, the sodium (salt) content on one brand of canned green beans is 440mg per serving while the sodium content on a “no salt added” variety is 4mg per serving. That’s a huge difference, especially if you’re trying to monitor your sodium intake. If you can’t find products that don’t have additives, you can strain the canned produce in a colander then rinse in cold water to remove up to 40% of the additives.
One of the biggest complaints about using canned or frozen produce is that it doesn’t taste as good as fresh produce. I cannot argue with this statement. Fresh produce — when it’s in season — is a healthy, delicious pleasure. But when fresh produce is out of season, its flavor tends to be sour and off, plus it’s usually more expensive! My recommendation to folks is if you love the flavor of fresh produce, then enjoy the different varieties when they’re in season and only if you plan to eat them raw. But, if you’re making a dish that requires out of season produce, or if you’re planning to cook the produce anyway, try using canned/frozen produce. You’ll save some pennies, and you won’t sacrifice the nutrients. For a listing of in season produce, check out the following website: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/what-fruits-and-vegetables-are-in-season
How much fruit and vegetables per day do we need?
It’s important that we have options when it comes to produce because it is recommended that we consume 3 to 6 ½ cups per day. How much you need depends on your age, activity level and gender. But, instead of doing the math, just keep it simple with this strategy: Fill half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack!
Everyone knows that we can’t be truly healthy unless we eat our fruits and vegetables. They contain essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber) and other healthful substances. Studies show that people who eat generous amounts of fruits and veggies as part of a healthful diet reduce their risk of getting a chronic disease, including stroke, heart attack and certain cancers. Eating fruits and vegetables instead of higher-calorie foods can help you lose excess weight and maintain a healthy weight. The water and fiber in fruits and vegetables will add volume to your dishes, so that you can eat the same amount of food with fewer calories. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories, yet are filling.
Since it is recommended that half of our plates consist of fruits and vegetables, it makes sense logically that half of our grocery bill be reserved for fruit and vegetable purchases. Investing in canned and frozen produce is a great way to stretch the grocery budget while making sure we’re getting all the fruits and veggies we need to maintain, restore and enjoy a healthy life.