Do you ever wonder if frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are as nutritious as fresh foods?
It is a question I get asked from time to time in the office and even out of it.
My short answer is to opt for fresh produce whenever possible, however, if fresh variations are unavailable, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can be a great alternative. Contrary to popular belief, canned and frozen variations can be just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts when the fresh version is not readily available. But there are a few key guidelines to keep in mind when shopping for canned and frozen fruits and vegetables.
For both canned and frozen foods, it is important to focus on the identity of the food. Is it a pure food without any additives or are there mystery ingredients riddled throughout it? Look at the ingredients list. If it takes more than a couple of seconds to read, it is probably too processed. Ideally, if you are buying canned beans, for example, you want the ingredients to be as close to just beans as possible. The few ingredients that are included in it should be easily pronounced – you do not want to buy food with lots of tongue twister ingredients in it because long names are an indicator of unnecessary additives and preservatives.
When buying canned foods, pay attention to any juice included in them. For canned fruit, look for statements on the labels such as “packaged in its own juices” because a fruit’s natural juice typically contains less sugar than any syrups that are added during processing. You should also look for label descriptions such as “unsweetened” and “no added sugar” for indications that you are purchasing the healthiest canned fruit possible.
You should also be cognizant of the sodium levels in your canned vegetables. Opt for labels that include statements like “no salt added” or “reduced sodium” because many canned foods are loaded with salt. If you cannot find a canned version with no or low salt, then rinsing the vegetables in water can help to reduce the amount of salt.
Another point to be mindful of is whether cans contain bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is an industrial chemical that is used to make resins and plastics. It can have negative health implications, so it is ideal to get canned foods that have “BPA-free” labels. Another great option is opting for dried bulk legumes whenever possible.
Most evidence suggests that freezing vegetables and fruits typically preserves the nutrient quality and that fresh and frozen produce boasts similar health benefits. In some cases, frozen vegetables are actually slightly higher in nutrients than the fresh variation. When studies do identify a decrease in nutrients from fresh to frozen produce, it is typically minimal.
When shopping for frozen foods, avoid those that contain sauces and other forms of added fat and sugar. I always recommend seasoning veggies with spices and herbs at home to limit unnecessary additives and other unhealthy ingredients – especially since at-home seasoning typically tastes better, too. And, believe it or not, some frozen fruits contain added sweetness, so make sure you are only buying plain fruit.
Single-ingredient canned and frozen fruits and veggies are great alternatives when fresh produce is not available or if you are looking for a more affordable option.
Avoid products with added ingredients and choose variations with no BPA.
Check out my book Happy Gut Healthy Weight for more information on how to make sensible food choices and optimise your Gut health.
Helping You Discover, Empower & Prosper
Dr Arun Dhir | GI Surgeon, Health Reformist & Passionate Educator.
About Dr Arun:
Besides having a busy private practice at Melbourne Gastro Surgery – Centre for Weight Loss, Dr Arun is an active member of the ANZ Association of Gastro-Oesophageal surgeons (ANZGOSA), ANZ Society of Metabolic and Obesity Surgery (OSSANZ) and Australian College of Nutrition and Environmental Medicine (ACNEM).
Dr Arun is also a senior lecturer (University of Melbourne) and yoga and meditation teacher, with a strong interest in the mind-body-gut connection. He regularly writes and speaks about gut health, gut microbiome, obesity, gastrointestinal surgery and healing. Arun’s published works include Happy Gut Healthy Weight (Balboa Press 2018), Creating a New You – Health Journal (Metagenics 2019), and Your Mess Has a Message (2021).