Frozen fruits and vegetables (FV) are the same as fresh right? WRONG! There are actually many differences in the two, and it’s important to make a note of these, as it can make your life so much easier. Frozen FV may actually be a better option; especially during these winter months we’re about to endure. We won't be able to access fresh produce as easily; and if we are, it's crazy expensive because it's most likely out of season. Canned fruits and vegetables are also a good choice when fresh produce is limited. Some differences between fresh, canned, and frozen FV include the preservation process, price, convenience, and nutrient value. I’m going to explain a little bit about each of these and show you why frozen and canned FV are totally ok to eat when fresh produce isn't available.
When you pick out that bunch of bananas that are still green because you want them to last all week, you’re being slightly deceived that they’ll ripen to their full potential. Fresh produce is picked prematurely and often before the FV achieves its optimal nutritive value. These FV’s need to be picked early in order to survive the travel they go through to make it to the grocery store. I know for bananas in particular, they are gassed throughout their ripening so they last until they get to the grocery store. I went on a tour at a local produce factory a few years ago and they showed us the gassing process for bananas and other produce in order to keep them as fresh as possible before, during and after they’re shipped. This isn’t a harmful process, but gives you an idea of the things that come into play to keep produce lasting longer for the shipping process. Shipping alone can alter nutrients in FV’s as well. The heat and light that’s exposed to produce during travel can affect nutrients very easily.
Getting back to those bananas, they’ll continue to change color as they sit on your counter over the next few days. The color changing does show a ripening process occurring, but because these bananas were picked before their nutritive “prime,” they won’t gain any more nutritive value. So yes, these bananas appear to be ripening, but only on the outside. You’ll still be eating a banana that was shortened of its nutrition because it was picked early. The same goes for any other FV, which is why frozen FV’s are pretty awesome; they’re preserved at their optimal ripeness.
When you buy a frozen FV, you’re getting something that was picked at it’s prime, flash frozen, and preserved in that state until you decide to cook or thaw it. This is just one of the things frozen FV’s have over fresh. During the winter months, it’s hard to get yummy FV’s like corn, peaches, strawberries, and cherries because they’re not in season. Sometimes you can get these foods, but they’re going to be much more expensive then getting them frozen. They’re already cut, washed, and preserved without additives. So when the price is right, why not go with the FV’s that are going to give you all the nutrients they possibly can? While frozen is a great alternative to fresh, canned FV’s may not always be the best choice either.
With canned FV’s, preservatives (salt especially) are added to keep their shelf-life high. The canning process itself exposes the FV’s to heat, chemicals, and other elements that can alter the nutrition. Preservatives are probably the biggest reason why canning isn’t always the safest method to preserve FVs. This is not to say that all canned FVs are bad and shouldn’t be consumed, but just to shed light on the choices you should make when buying canned FVs. Make sure to buy fruits that are in their own juice or water, as well as buying vegetables labeled with “no added salt.” Sodium can be really high in canned FVs, so it’s important to pay attention to the labels. Buying fruits canned in heavy syrup adds calories and sugar to fruit that’s normally low in calories, so be sure to pay attention to what that label says! Canned FV’s are certainly a cheap option, just be sure to make the best choice.
Probably like everyone else, I eat the most produce in the summer and spring months. It’s easier to find and cheapest because that’s the growing season. I find it harder to eat better in the winter months because fresh produce isn’t more available. That’s when I turn to the frozen FVs. They’re always available, as fresh as they were when they were picked, and affordable. So to sum up my points, frozen FVs are a better option over canned and sometimes even fresh FVs. Now that we’re approaching the holidays, colder weather, and the New Year, think more broadly about the frozen produce that’s available year round. It’s always picked at its optimal time, washed, cut, and preserved without any added chemicals. So next time you’re browsing the produce section, being underwhelmed by the lack of fresh produce because nothing’s in season, keep the canned and frozen vegetables in mind. You can get delicious fruits and vegetables year round; just think outside the box a bit! Remember when buying canned FVs, check the labels. Otherwise, always use all your options when it comes to adding more produce into your diet in those long, winter months.