Diet & Nutrition

Fruits and Vegetables: Fresh vs. Frozen and Canned

By Sondra Forsyth

Plenty of people assume that fresh produce is healthier than the frozen and canned versions, but that’s not always the case. Flash-frozen fruits and vegetables are actually better for you than most fresh produce. The same goes for many canned vegetables if the salt content is low, and for many canned fruits if no sugary syrups are added. (Tip: Rinse canned vegetables to lower the salt content, and buy canned fruits packed in their own juice.)

Why Frozen and Canned Products Are Healthy

Fruits and vegetables that end up in your supermarket were almost always picked before they were ripe, so they never reached their full nutrient potential. Adding to the problem, the antioxidant content gradually diminishes when the produce is shipped and while it sits in a store waiting for you to buy it. Unless you grow your own veggies and fruits or you frequent farmer’s markets and stop at roadside farm stands, you’re better off buying produce that was flash-frozen or canned at peak nutrition. That means the produce needs to be frozen or canned right after being harvested, before its nutrients begin to degrade. A 2007 study at the University of California, Davis found that the loss of nutrients in fresh products during storage may be even more significant than most people realize and that exclusive recommendations of fresh produce ignored the nutrient benefits of canned and frozen foods.

In 2006, the American Dietetic Association, since renamed the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, came out with a statement in favor of canned fruits and vegetables as good substitutes for fresh produce. It noted that canned produce might sometimes be healthier because it’s picked and canned at peak freshness. Heating during canning does destroy some vitamins, but most of the nutrients remain. The statement went on to say that—as a result of the canning process—canned tomatoes, corn, and carrots provide higher levels of some antioxidants than their fresh counterparts.

An Interesting Aside

The commercial frozen food industry was invented in the 1920s by Clarence Birdseye (his real name!), who got the idea while on fur-trapping expeditions to Labrador some years previously. He observed that the local native people froze food to preserve it, and thus an industry was born. By 1998, the FDA confirmed that frozen produce offers the same essential nutrients that fresh-picked produce does.

Nutritional Value of Fresh Produce Varies Depending on the Season