Mind & Body

Canned and Frozen Veggies Are More Nutritious than Fresh Ones

If you're trying to get the most nutritional bang for your buck, it seems obvious that shopping in the produce section is better than shopping in the frozen aisle. In reality, however, the opposite is often true: frozen and canned produce can have many more nutrients than its fresh counterparts.

Fresh From the Can

How can this possibly be true? Well, the moment produce is picked, its nutrients start to degrade. Plucking a fruit or vegetable from the tree, bush, or vine takes it away from its food source, so it starts using up its own nutrients to stay alive. The produce you find in the grocery store may have taken days or weeks to get there and experienced significant nutrient changes as a result.

In order to keep it from spoiling before reaching its destination, fresh produce is also usually picked before it's ripe, so it doesn't even contain all the nutrients it could. Canned and frozen produce, on the other hand, is processed right when it's ripe, so its nutrients are locked in and aren't given much of a chance to degrade over time.

If You Can't Stand the Heat

Then why do people say the opposite? It's true that canning and even freezing can expose fruits and vegetables to some amount of heat, which can destroy nutrients. But compared to the natural degradation that fresh produce experiences, that nutrient loss is often pretty minimal. The biggest losses are in water-soluble vitamins like vitamin B and C; according to a systematic review in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, broccoli loses 13 percent of its vitamin C when refrigerated for 21 days but a whopping 50 percent when frozen. But the same review found that other nutrients, in particular antioxidants like polyphenols, hardly degrade at all in the freezing and canning process, and many are higher than in their fresh counterparts.

Of course, processing always leaves room for unhealthy additives like sodium, and produce picked and eaten that day is healthier than any alternative. But in general, there's no need to avoid canned or frozen produce. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the amount you eat is more important than the form they take. If you prefer fresh produce, great. But if grabbing 'em out of your pantry or freezer is the way you know you'll eat your veggies, do it knowing that you're not missing out on the nutritional benefits.

Nutrition science can be a minefield. To clear it up, get advice from an expert in "Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?" by Dr. Mark Hyman, New York Times bestselling author and director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. The audiobook is free with a one-month trial of Audible.

Which Produce Is Healthier: Fresh or Frozen?

Written by Ashley Hamer August 27, 2017

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