Canned and frozen foods are the Rodney Dangerfield of produce: They “don’t get no respect!” They’re often thought of as the ugly stepsisters of their fresh equivalents found along the grocery store’s perimeter.
But a chef and a couple of dietitians are coming to their defense. Canned and frozen goods allow you to stay stocked with goods, often at the same or lower cost than fresh. You’re not necessarily sacrificing nutrition.
And considering that “Americans toss about 19 percent of fresh vegetables and 14 percent of fruits they buy,” according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you’re less likely to have excess that needs to be thrown away, which saves you money.
Let’s look at the advantages of the two beyond the cost.
David Cook, chef and co-owner of Gather Food Studio & Spice Shop, says canned or frozen is often the fresher way to eat produce.
“When you get commercially grown fruits and vegetables that are not picked at the peak of season, they go to a gas-ripening warehouse to continue the ripening process,” he said. “They are then shipped halfway across the country to your local grocery store. By then, there are not as many vitamins and nutrients left in them. Canning and freezing processes are actually great defenders in nutrient retention.”
Patricia Kulbeth, a clinical dietitian with UCHealth outpatient nutrition services, agrees. “Let’s say that two heads of broccoli are picked on the same day,” she said. “One goes to the stores to be sold for fresh purchase, the other one to be processed and frozen. Which one might actually have the most nutrition? The frozen food might, in this case.”
That’s because all produce starts degrading from the moment it’s picked and continues as it sits on the shelf – which could be as long as a week. The broccoli that was processed and frozen on the day it was picked hasn’t degraded and may have a higher level of nutrition, she said.
And it’s easy to prepare. Just place frozen broccoli in a bowl, add a little water, cover and microwave. Or you can purchase steamer bags of frozen vegetables, which are placed directly in the microwave.
“How easy is that?” Kulbeth asked.
“There’s a big misperception that canned food isn’t healthy, but this isn’t entirely true,” said Lindsey Janeiro, a dietitian and blogger based in Jackson, Tenn. “Protein, fat, carbohydrates, and most minerals and fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K are entirely maintained in the canning process. Water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins like folate are heat sensitive and may be lost slightly during the canning process, which has a heating step. However, with certain foods, this heating step actually brings out more antioxidants, like in corn and tomatoes.”
The other thing to be aware of with canned food and health benefits is Bisphenol A (BPA), a compound in cans that is a known as an endocrine disruptor.
“This is definitely something to be avoided, but it’s pretty easy to do that now,” Janeiro said. “Just look for cans that say BPA-free on the package or buy canned goods in glass containers.”
You need to read the label and watch for any added sodium and sugar, which you don’t want. Federal dietary guidelines and the American Heart Association recommend limiting sodium to 2,300 milligrams per day. Kulbeth suggests keeping the amount of sodium per meal to about 600 mg. She offers these tips:
• Most canned vegetables have about 250 mg of sodium per 1/2 cup serving. (By comparison, canned soup may have as much as 1,000 mg of sodium or more per one-cup serving!) “Reduced-sodium” vegetables have 25 percent less sodium; “low-sodium” options have 140 mg or less per serving. “No-salt-added” products only have the amount of sodium naturally found in the food.
• Purchase canned fruit packed in juice or water, not syrups. Fruits that are canned in syrups will have a firmer texture and look nicer, since sugar goes into the cells of the fruit and keeps the texture similar to when it’s fresh. However, extra sugar adds up to a lot of calories.
Another bonus: Products that are canned are cooked and recipe ready, said Cook.
“Keep in mind that frozen foods, for the most part, require less preparation as the washing and chopping have already been done for you,” he said. “For fun flavor combinations, think of ways to incorporate your favorite frozen or canned foods into recipes like dips or soups.”
Two of his go-to recipes follow: a spinach artichoke dip, which uses frozen spinach and canned artichokes; and loaded potato and corn chowder, “That’ll make you wish it was winter all year long,” he said.
Canned fruits and vegetables can be eaten as-is or used in dishes like smoothies, parfaits, soups, casseroles, and quiches. You can use things like canned artichoke hearts or roasted red peppers on pizzas, sandwiches, or as a flavor-packed salad topping.
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